12th September 2019
Clouds Rest junction – Happy Isles Yosemite Valley
8.2 miles + 4 miles round trip half dome
Total miles: 246.6


It was so warm last night. Although I did sleep with my puffy on, but without my bag zipped up. It was so nice, and the ground retained heat so I could even bend my knee up and rest it on the ground. I was toasty. I slept with the fly open in the hope that I would see the stars, but the moon was so bright it was like a spotlight in my tent and obliterated all the starlight. 

It was the first morning I woke with the urgent need to go to the toilet. Normally I could just hold it but not this morning. 

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How I feel about today

We packed up, the weather is weird, it seems warm in the night and then starts to cool off around 5:30am, so it was a bit chilly to start, enough for hat and gloves and jackets. We only had a short walk before we got the the junction of Half Dome. The ranger in the wilderness permit centre had advised us not to stash our packs anywhere on the Half Dome trail, but the sign at the start said if you are going to stash your packs make sure you remover your bear canisters and put all smelly items in there. That would be difficult because absolutely everything I own stinks, but we walked up the trail a little way and found a tree hollow to hide our packs in. We took out the bear cans and only took with us the essentials in our fanny packs. 

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first view of Half Dome

The reason they say not to leave packs is because the critters … the squirrels and chipmunks etc will chew through everything so we just had to hope everything would be ok. Yesterday I was pretty apprehensive and nervous about this little side trip but today I was just excited. 

The trail to the top is 2 miles and it’s about 1.9 miles to the cables which gets you to the tippy top. The first part is just switchbacks through forest. Normal shady dusty trail. We had our coats on and we took our hiking poles. It felt really strange hiking without a backpack, my arms felt like they were swinging wildly but of course it also felt nice not to be weighed down by all our stuff. We only saw one other person on the trail and she was really moving, we assumed she was a PCTer just by her look and we later found out that she was. 

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The trail flattens out a bit and there are a bunch of areas which would be amazing campsites. You would have to haul water up and we aren’t even sure if camping is allowed up there but it looks like people have camped there before. We saw a couple of groups of people who must have been camped up there. 

We reached the permit area a little before 7:30am, there was no one checking permits at that time. There was a sign saying you need a permit passed this point and think about the weather before preceding. Thankfully our day couldn’t have been more perfect. Clear blue sky with no chance of rain. In hindsight if there was any chance at all of even slight dampness I wouldn’t even attempt it. If there was a chance of lightning I wouldn’t even leave the house, the last place I would want to be in a storm would be holding onto steel cables on an exposed slippery slab of granite. Here’s a tip for you, someone was up there when a lightning storm rolled in and he tried to hide in a crack in the granite, don’t do that, lightning seeks out the cracks in the rocks and the guy got fried. 

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Anyway. We had the perfect day. After the dusty forest trail you start going up very steeply on exposed rock. There are lots of steps built from and into the rock. It seems a shame in a way that they have done that, of course they have made it accessible to many more people but it still seems a shame that they have built a staircase.

The staircase gives way to sheet rock and we came across a girl who had lost the trail and was a bit nervous about the height and where to go, so we got her to follow us. You go up up and up and then you get your first glimpse of the cables. And oh yeah they look scary. They look totally vertical and the people going up look like they are defying gravity. 

We got to the bottom of the cables about 8:15am and we stashed our jackets and poles under a rock. I ate a handful of Skittles to give me an energy boost and as we didn’t bring any water with us I thought that would help put some moisture in my mouth. 

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There are some gloves stashed at the bottoms of the cables, to the dismay of the rangers because it is encouraging people leaving trash, but for us they were really helpful. If you’re hiking the JMT you aren’t going to be carrying suitable gloves to use on the cables, although we didn’t take our gloves with us just in case. But I think they would have been too slippery, these were the rubbery grippy kind. I honestly don’t think I could have done it without them. 

Then it was time to go up the cables. The PCT girl went ahead of us then I went and Catwater was behind. The cables are wide enough apart so you can use a hand on each cable comfortably and there are wooden planks spaced about every 1.5 metres. Thank god for the wooden planks! The rock in-between is really slick in some places, and there were a couple of points where my shoes slipped and all that went through my mind was how the hell am I going to get down this thing! The first 5 or so wooden planks were fine, then it started to get really steep. I was hauling myself up the cables using my non-existent arm muscles and feeling it a bit in my shoulder where I have the injury. 

I’m ok with heights. I didn’t really get that scared but a little bit of fear was creeping in. I could feel it in my legs and my heart was racing slightly. I used every plank of wood as a reason to take a breather, to calm my heart rate and control my legs. As we got nearer the top I could feel the build up of lactic acid in my legs and just had to stand for a moment and shake them out. I was breathing really hard but I don’t think it was just from pure exertion, it was from the adrenaline as well. 

The girl in front of me said she wasn’t scared of heights but she was feeling this. I felt exactly the same. I did turn around and look at Catwater and I was ok with that. I guess it was just the thought of slipping and falling. You slip you’re a gonner for sure. We had been hearing about a woman who slipped and died recently, but the details are hazy, I will need to google the facts, but most people had heard about it and it was on a lot of people minds. (Exactly a week before we were here a lady slipped on the cables, fell 500ft and died. It is a horrible thing to happen and my thoughts go out to her and her family, but I was also thinking about the people that witnesses it, who tried to reach out and save her and who heard her scream. How do you get over something like that?)

Around half way I regretted eating those skittles. My mouth was so claggy and syrupy. I felt like I had no moisture in there, it was just thick and sticky. I needed water! 

Eventually we managed to haul our way to the top, one wooden plank at a time and then we could relax a bit. The view up there was awesome and just being up there, having looked up at it in 2012 and not even realised it was possible to climb it, and now there I was standing on that iconic point overlooking the valley. I couldn’t be happier that we had done this. What an awesome moment. 

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We stayed up there for a while soaking it in. There were about 8-10 other people already up there, so a few people but no where near as many people as there could have been. Catwater, having done this a few times before, was conscious of getting down before the crowds appeared and we would have to pass loads of people of the cables coming down. Not a situation I liked the thought of! 

So after about 20 minutes we started the descent. I was more worried about the descent than the ascent but it turned out to not be that bad. I straightened my arms and slid my hands down the cables – that’s why the gloves were so important – and pushed my bum backwards so if I did slip I would just sit down rather than fall forwards. Some people ahead of us opted to go down backwards. Forwards was fine for me. As we got nearer the bottom 4 people were coming up. I crouched down on one of the wooden planks and held on to one of the poles so the people going up still had access to the cables. One lady said to me “this doesn’t look like your first rodeo”. Well, it was but I was just copying what the man coming down had done on our way up. It seemed to work. 

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When we got to the bottom, the lady who had lost her way and was scared on the way up didn’t even attempt the cables. She knew she wouldn’t be able to do it and that was absolutely the right decision. The problems occur when people freeze with fear half way up the cables. She was cheering everyone on and congratulating them when they came down. It was nice of her. 

One lady who passed us going up had to come back down because she was so scared. She was shaking and crying and I am not surprised. It’s scary. 

We went back to our belongings and had a snack and watched the people gathering on the cables. There were lots more on there now and we congratulated ourselves for doing it at the right time. We spoke to a group of guys who were about to take on the cables and they were nice guys. Then we watched them go up and one of them was like spider man. He was running up and he was going up the outside of the cables, just holding on to one side, overtaking people as he went. I couldn’t watch. I didn’t want to see someone fall to their death, although he was very confident. Later on we heard that he was just wearing Vans on his feet, those skater shoes with no grip! 

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As we made our way down we passed so many people going up. It will be a busy day on Half Dome. At the bottom of the steep rocky bit there was a ranger checking permits. Catwater was really excited that our permit was being checked and even more excited when the ranger (who looked about 18) told her that she was the first Alaskan he had seen this year. There was a queue of about 6 people waiting to go up and get their permits checked and the poor ranger had to give his same speech over and over again. 

As we continued down the trail more and more people were coming up. I estimated that around half, maybe two thirds of the people we saw coming up wouldn’t make it up the cables, I was unsure if some of them would even make it up the steep rocky bit. 

We walked happily without our backpacks until we found where we stashed them. Nothing had been chewed through, I even accidentally dropped my cake (which I ate for breakfast) wrapper and no animal had been near it. They missed out on the cake crumbs. I guzzled the rest of my Gatorade I had leftover from yesterday and crammed in a few Doritos and we loaded up our packs again and we were on our way do to the last 8 miles down to the valley. 

We were still seeing loads of people coming up, most of them would be attempting half dome and some of them where just starring out on the JMT journeys. It was all downhill to the valley and that’s tough in itself. The knees are crying out to stop. 

We walked until we came to the top of Nevada falls and where we started to see all the casual valley visitors and day hikers. It was crowded. The falls were awesome but there were too many people. We sat in some shade as the lower we got the hotter it got and we had some squirrel friends coming right up to us begging for food. They were brazen and came within a few inches. Stupid tourists feed them and I saw one munching on a huge bit of rice cake!

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We carried on and the trail, although still sandy, was wide and we didn’t have to step aside for people coming up anymore, there was room to pass, and we also had stopped saying hello to everyone we met. There were just too many people. As you go down you can look back and see the falls and it’s awesome power, even though the water is quite low at the moment. And you walk along a walk way where you get sprinkled with water which is nice as refreshing. 

The down hill feels endless and the heat is draining. I didn’t want to drink water because I would have to pee and there was literally nowhere to go. 

With a couple of miles to go you really start running into the tourists. Such a variety of people and such a variety of attire. From the man wearing tiny shorts and a bright red lobster body with his music blaring out loud to the Asians with every inch of skin covered. The hiking boots to the platform shoes to the flip flops. The last two miles of the trail covered all walks of life. I did feel like I was being started at like a circus act for a lot of the time. And I didn’t feel like I belonged with these people. We saw the foreign couple (I’m not sure where they are from but we ran into them at VVR and Reds Meadow and a couple of times on the trail, they never seemed that friendly, but I’m sure they were just unsure of their English) and I said congratulations to them, the smiled and communicated with me for the first time, a breakthrough. They looked very relieved to be done, and they asked me to take their picture. Of course! 

We got to the road, and found a line of portaloos. Worst experience ever. They were almost full and the urinal part was full of wee. I had no choice but to close my eyes and hold my breath and hover to pee and get out as fast as possible. I saw the foreign couple. I pointed. There, no, I said. They understood that! 

Then we walked up the road to ‘Happy Isles’ and the finish which is an uneventful affair. No monument, no sign saying John Muir Trail. Nothing. So no finish photo. Just the queue for the valley shuttle, which we got on and got off 4 stops later at curry village. We made our way straight to the eatery’s and I got a soda and pizza to share with Catwater, and she got a beer. Of course I burnt my tongue on the first bite of pizza. Is it possible to eat pizza without burning your mouth? 

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Hard to believe we were on the top of that just a few hours ago!

We sat and decompressed. A little later on Jim, who hiked with us the first 4 days, Joan who gave me a ride from Bishop to Lone Pine and Catwater’s sister Annie came and found us. They were in Yosemite doing a volunteering week. We had a few drinks and then they drove us to Noreen’s cabin in the woods.

What an awesome place! On the balcony you get a view of El Capitan and Half Dome. This place rents for $325 a night but we are here for free as her guests. Had we not come here we would have been camped in the valley. Not a big deal but how nice not to have to put up our tents. And we could take a shower and wash our clothes. The dirt will take a few washes to scrub off. Especially around the toes, and I didn’t have the strength to finger comb my hair. It made me too hot and sweaty so I just tied it up and pretended the knots weren’t there. 

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We bought food from the valley to have for dinner, although I was still really full from that pizza. So my dinner was a Dr Pepper and a tube of salty pringles and some guacamole! 

Perfect end to the hike really. 

The cell service had been rubbish. I had service last night which was enough to receive a bunch of notifications but not enough to do anything. In the valley was the same. I managed to send a message to my parents which took about 5 minutes to send.

After that I switched it off and forgot about it. I don’t want to have to deal with real life just yet. 

 

 

 

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