I know this is a long way from home, but I thought I'd post it anyway - hey, even us northerners like to visit warmer parts every now and then!
My wife and I just got back from a vacation to Yosemite park in CA, where we hiked the famous Half Dome - a 15 mile round trip with 4800 feet of elevation gain, culminating in a climb up the infamous "cables". The hike was exhausting, the views were amazing, the cables were frightening, in other words, we had an incredibly great time .
We started out on the trail at about 5:30 am so we could get to the cables before the crowds (which never showed up). We hiked for about :30 to :45 in the dark before the sun began to light the sky, giving us our first peek at the surrounding granite walls.
Being September, the water flowing over Vernal and Nevada falls wasn't terribly strong, so I'll skip ahead closer to Half Dome. As we really started gaining in elevation, the views of the surrounding peaks were unreal. This was just starting up the base of the sub-dome, which was probably the most grueling part of the hike - the steps were nice, but the air was thin (8,000 feet above sea level), the climb was relentless and we had already covered some 7 miles. We had to stop frequently to let our heart rate come down before continuing, but the views made it all worth while.
As we crested the sub-dome, the view was dominated with the massive Half Dome. This thing is huge... the photos just don't convey how large this chunk of granite really is. If you look close, you can make out the cables and a line of ants... errr... people climbing up the center.
Here's me standing near the base of the cables, and yes, it's THAT steep. Leading up to the trip, I kept looking at photos and telling myself it's probably just an easy location to take a dramatic photo that makes the cables look steeper than they really are. I mean, it CAN'T really be that steep. Well, I'm here to tell you that it is, indeed, that steep. They're every bit as steep as they look in the photos... and then some! Oh, and that's our 14 month old son on my back!
Here we are on one of the more gentle sections of the cables, we didn't dare get the cameras out and try to take pictures on the steepest part. Don't worry, we both used our rock climbing harnesses and clipped into the cables with some carabiners - something I'd do even if I wasn't carrying our son.
On top, the summit dome was so large and so high, it actually blocked a lot of the view of the surrounding land. Totally exposed, it's not a place you want to be in bad weather, luckily the sky was totally clear on that day.
Here's me standing on the "visor" just feet from a sheer cliff of over 1300 feet. I was actually getting some major vertigo standing there, and wished my wife would hurry up and take the darn photos!
The hike down was uneventful save for almost crossing paths with a 4.5 to 5 foot rattle snake that was just starting to cross the trail as we came upon it. No photos, sorry... risking a rattlesnake bite with 6 hours still to hike wasn't something I thought a good idea!
We returned to our car at 6:30 that night, just as the sun was setting, making for a 13 hour hike. An hour longer than the average 12 hours, but not bad considering I was carrying about 45 lbs worth of our son, water, the pack and other gear. Amazingly, aside from being out of the pack for probably not more than :30 minutes for feeding and diaper changes, our son was as happy as could be all day long. Then again, who wouldn't be being carried along on that hike!
So I'll end with a shot of the family... During the hike, I wondered if some day our son will return to hike Half Dome himself, and how he might feel to know that he had been there many years ago, being carried on my back. Or maybe he'll return with his son or daughter, carrying him or her on his back.
It was an incredible trip, and an incredible experience, on so many different levels - the strenuousness of the hike, in length, elevation and duration, the breathtaking views, the cables, and sharing the experience with my wife and son. If anyone gets the chance to do the same, don't hesitate for a second!