June 6, 2019
Half Dome, Yosemite National Park
16 Miles Round Trip
4,800 Feet of Elevation Gain.
400 Feet of Steel Cable assistance.
12 Hours up and back from the Valley
It wasn’t supposed to happen—at least the odds were totally against me.
- There’s a 2-7 percent chance of receiving a permit to climb the Half Dome Cables (the final 400 feet of the 8-mile-one-way ascent). People apply for years without getting a permit. I applied and received one for the first full day we were set to be in California.
- The cables generally go up around Memorial Day each year, but the date is approximate—not official, as the set-up of the cables depends on the aftermath of winter. This winter, for Yosemite, was brutal. On April 1 of this year, the park measured at 176% of it’s average snow pack, making it difficult to estimate when the cables would be safely put in place and available to climb. From mid-May through June 3 – there was no estimated date of the cables opening. The hike was likely to be cancelled. My hopes dwindled. But then, by some miracle, Yosemite announced that the cables would official open on June 6, 2019. I don’t know what those odds were compared with receiving a permit, but I know they were small.
I had my permit. The cables went up. The only other thing out of my control was the weather the day of the hike: which fortunately, proved to be beautiful.
From mid-March through June 5, I trained, hiking over 70 miles in preparation for the challenge ahead. I used my days off to go to the Catskills, the Hudson Valley, New Jersey, and PA – where I could get an elevation gain I couldn’t get from city streets. I worked out at the gym 2-3 times a week and followed the program my trainers provided. We built my lower body strength, my endurance, and my upper body strength so I could pull myself up the cables. I didn’t want to just complete my challenge—I wanted to enjoy it. I wanted to reach the top and not dread the 8 mile return. I wanted to reach the top and feel like I could do it all over again—like I’d want to do it all over again, like I could keep going and reach the top of any summit I wanted to reach.
The trek was unlike anything I ever experienced. I woke up at 4:15am, drove to the base of the mountain, met my guide, Maddie, from Lasting Adventures, and we took off. What began as a gentle incline quickly took the form of a steep ascent through the Mist Trail where Vernal Falls crashes from above. With the high snow pack/snow melt the Mist Trail may have more aptly been referred to as the Monsoon Mountain, as the wind and water whipped at us: the climbing steps with deep puddles. Not even an hour into our hike and we were drenched, our boots filled with water. In another scenario—I may have been miserable–but instead, the moment felt magical. This was the mountain’s territory—and it gets to choose the conditions: not us. We wrung out our socks, poured the puddles out of our shoes, and got back to hiking, quickly. We followed the trail up to Nevada Falls where we took a twenty minute break. Two hours in and we still had 4.5 miles to go to the top. The views were amazing, but there was little time to waste: the journey was still long ahead. We continued on, passing Little Yosemite Valley and meeting other hikers. As we gained altitude, my pace slowed, and my breathing became heavier. Every few steps, we took a break. We closed our eyes and listened to the rushing water through the park. We slowed our heart rates. We continued on. The only worry now was the threat of storms. But the clouds were moving – and it was clear, nothing was going to stand in the way of the cables and me. As I grabbed a hold of each cable I began my climb. My arms tired after each big pull, but that did not stop me. As we reached about halfway up the 400 foot incline, I took a few deep breaths. I let some of the people who were going down pass me. I forged on. And then. I was there—the top of Half Dome. I had made it. The emotions began pulsing through me like the creeks and streams and rivers and falls through the mountain.
After six hours of hiking – taking in the views, scrambling up parts of the sub dome and then ascending the cables –I had done it. I had reached the summit. I looked down at the Valley floor below. Tears began to stroll down my face. I imagined this moment. I changed my screensaver at work to Half Dome. I closed my eyes and envisioned it. The hard work – it was all worth it. But it wasn’t just me who had reached this summit.
It was my guide who was next sitting next to me sharing in lemon scones. It was my fiancé who had patiently sat through my stress and anxiety whether the cables would ever go up: who supported me and cheered me on each week as I woke up before dawn to head out to another mountain. It was my trainers at the gym who listened to my goals and pushed me each and every day of my program to exceed expectations. It was my friends and family who knew of the challenge I had set out on—and encouraged me to do it. We were all on the summit in that moment. We were all there breathing it in. It took about 6 hours to return to the base of Half Dome–6 hours of which I was in spectacular awe of the journey I was lucky enough to go on.
Life is unpredictable. Some things just aren’t meant to be—and other things—well they just are. I truly believe this journey was meant to be and I am forever grateful for the opportunity I had to climb Half Dome: To see the whole valley with a bird’s eye view; to stand 8,000 feet above sea level and feel the rush of accomplishment in completing a challenge, I set out, so long ago to do. I am forever grateful for this memory, for Half Dome inviting me to experience it–for getting to meet this mountain.
That’s so cool Libby! I’m so happy you had beautiful weather at the top. The photos look magical.