Yosemite and Half Dome - Part 2

“Yosemite and the Hike to Half Dome”

**Part 2**

By Brian K. Brecht and Rico Prate

**Our Story Continues**


Climbing… it seems like all we’ve been doing is climbing. We’re about 4500 feet above sea level, and I feel like my heart is about to beat out of my chest. I’m saying to myself, what in the world was I thinking!

But perhaps, I’m a little ahead of myself.


“Camping sleep is typically low quality sleep, and the first night in Yosemite was no exception, thanks to squawking ravens, owls, and many other birds not at all heard outside my apartment in Chicago. Predictably, Rick is up before Brian or me. He wanders around for who knows how long before running out of patience, returning to the tent, and waking the two of us up by saying, “We’ve got 8 hours of hiking to do today ladies – time to get up!”

Our goal from the beginning was to hike to the top of Half Dome. Again this is the part where one really needs to do some research before understanding what you’re getting yourself into. Rick kept saying “Are you sure we’re hiking the dome, do you know what’s actually involved?!” We knew we needed a permit and to that we didn’t have one. But we also knew people will hike to the base and see if there are any no-shows. So after series of conversations while driving, our goal was to see how far we could get. We’d shoot for Half Dome base camp, and if we made it, we’d assess if we could make it to the top. If we couldn’t so be it, it would provide an excuse to come back.

Crossing the Merced River

We shot back to the valley and took the drive as far in as we could, finding the parking lot that leads to the Happy Isles Trailhead. The trail started easily enough and meandered through the tall pines, and across the Merced River. Again due to the draught, the river was extremely low, so for some reason Rick felt we should walk through instead of over. No worries, jumping from boulder to boulder was pretty easy with just a small daypack. Rick on the other hand felt he needed to carry his full pack. Now he wasn’t carrying all his gear, but he had felt the need to push himself and at least know what it would be like to hike this volume under weight. So as Rick hurried across boulders, Rico and I gradually followed along.

Again the trail was paved and we assumed it would turn into a gravel trail soon enough, but what we weren’t expecting was the immediate and profound incline that started within the first few hundred feet of our hike.


“We start out from the trailhead, just off the parking lot at 10:40am. We hike about a half-mile through the nearby woods – on a paved trail – before we start gaining elevation. I should correct myself. The phrase “gaining elevation” does not nearly convey the physical struggle of what we are doing. “Locked in an all-out war against the evil and malevolent forces of gravity,” describes what it feels like much more accurately. I mean, this is no fucking joke. The climb, while still on a paved trail, and in the presence of many hundreds of others about, is absolutely grueling – particularly for three guys, pushing 50, who, as I just referred to, had done no physical training for such an endeavor, whatsoever.”

And now we come back to our first words, “Climbing, it seems like all we’ve been doing is climbing,”.

The first real milestone you encounter on the hike is Vernal Falls footbridge, but this alone is an elevation gain of 500 vertical feet over the course of only one mile. For us with the intent of getting as close to Half Dome as we can, that meant continuing to the top of Vernal falls which was another 500 vertical feet. From here we’d continued to climb to Nevada falls, making its base at approx. 5500 vertical feet. All this in only 3 miles horizontal distance.

I have gone from valley floor to the base of Nevada falls without much highlight, simply to point out this was a much tougher hike than what I had ever imagined. Granted I did it, and would definitely do it again, but for me it was a moment of realizing the sedentary nature of my office job is quickly becoming not for me. Not only do I long for the fresh air, but also the toll the lack of exercise it’s taking on me is staggering. I have to change my life and I need to do it before I find myself stuck this way.

So regarding the assent, to be honest words cannot truly describe my feeling at seeing the vistas that were put in front of us at each step. Climbing up the initial rise along the paved well-maintained path was tough. You’re climbing out of the valley and most of your views are of a thickly wooded landscape. But the higher you go, the grander it becomes. Sheer rock walls reach skyward; towering over the pines that I was sure couldn’t be topped.

climbing out of the valley

Rico on his way to Vernal Falls

When you arrive at the Vernal Falls Bridge, you’re met with an expanse of rock and mountain debris, having been forced down from above by the rushing water. At this time of year there was very little water and certainly no torrent of rapids, but with the exposed rock and riverbed, you could truly appreciate the force and power that must exhibit when the river and falls are in full flow.

From the bridge, the trail becomes mostly dirt and the climb a more severe. Now with the falls in plain sight you’re headed to their base. Again due to the season, there was much less activity to the falls than what we expected, but no less impressive as the water that is flowing, tumbles over it’s 300+ foot drop.

climbing the stairs to Vernal Falls

We stop and sit, now having climbed all of those 600 steps, and take in the full picture of the falls. Rick has been steadily marching ahead of us, at some points as much as a half-mile ahead. Rico, in his mercy, is hanging back with me as he realizes how badly I’m struggling. This is frustrating to me in so many ways. The hike is tough, no doubt, but as a little girl bounds past me practically running up the stairs, I realize this is pathetic. I have no intension of stopping.

Vernal Falls