The Half Dome Hike  - Sept. 1999
As you may remember last year I sent (most of) you a letter on my trip to Yosemite with 3 of my Swiss co workers. We did not get up Half Dome (the premier hike in the park) as the steel cables used to pull yourself up the final mile face were taken down in October. So this year we arranged our international meeting in Palo Alto a month earlier.  Eight of  us went to Yosemite this year but again I was the only American. (interestingly one of the Swiss had been to Yosemite 7 times, some of the Americans working in Palo Alto had never been there). Anyway despite a Hurricane Floyd delay I got to Yosemite Friday night to find that 5 of my coworkers were going to take a more mellow hike and only the two serious mountaineers (both 40) were going up Half Dome. Despite my desperate attempts I could not get any of the slower, older or more out of shape members to join us, they all felt the two I was going with would drive too fast a pace. Half Dome is rated as a 12 hour hike (7 up , 5 down) . Many people do it in two days camping way up. We of course planned to do it in one, leaving our hotel a 6:15 am as the road only opened then due to construction.
In the morning the weather looked horrible and after numerous attempts I was finally able to get a weather report. It was suppose to rain, turning to heavy rain with hail and thunderstorms and possible snow in the higher elevations. Half Dome is the highest and most exposed peak in the valley area and the steel cable need to pull yourself up the slick finally rock face are well know to act a lighting rods.  If you are caught in lighting in the last mile your choices seemed to be possible electrocution or trying to avoid falling off a rain soaked slick cliff wall of a 1000 plus feet. It seemed to me that maybe we should consider joining the others on Saturday and try Half Dome on Sunday. The only comment I got was that my attempts at getting the weather report had now thrown us 15 minutes behind schedule. Off we went. When it started to rain on the drive in I again threw out the suggestion that we could still go back and catch the others at breakfast. A short "no" was the only response. At 7:15 we started up in the rain (I had only a $1.29 emergency poncho, as rain gear, they had gore teks outfits). It was then announced that due to the late start and the weather likely turning worse in the afternoon it would make no sense to take breaks and we should go at a even faster pace. [ I know that there are some of you who have hiked with me in the past who are having certain thoughts right now, but I would like to point out that those are not very nice thoughts]. On we went, up what is perhaps the most stunningly beautiful and incredibly spectacular one day hike in the United States. Or at least so I am told since lifting my head to look at the scenery was not on our schedule. Fortunately I had a camera with me. This was incredible practical as it gave me an excuse to take an occasional 20 second break to fiddle with the camera and take a photo. After about 3 hours we met a ranger posted on the trail who strongly warned us not to proceed explaining how the thunder we now heard always hits Half Dome and the obvious dangers of having to depend on the steel cable (a.k.a. lighting rod) in a storm. He explained he was not authorized to prohibit people from continuing but could only explain the consequences. This meeting was a real blessing as it gave me a full 60 second break while chatting with the ranger. Of course on we went. An hour later three amazing things happened. The 1st was the rain stopped and we even got partial sun. This also dried out the cable and cliff.  The 2nd  was I was asked if I felt like taking a break. "Why yes" I panted, and we stopped for a full 10 minutes. The 3rd, and most amazing, was that as the weather cleared masses of hikers started to show up from nowhere. I assume many were in the campsites half way up, and were now making a try for the top. The cable (really a double cable) had a line of hikers, many nervously frozen, or moving very slowly up the cliff . We ended up hiking around them on the outside of the double cables which made this part especially interesting. So in what seemed like record time, after only five hours we ,made it to the dramatic and breath-taking summit. Now my partners got concerned about the weather and wanted to head right down as soon as I got to the top. (They were there 10 minutes before me as they climbed around more hikes on the way up).  I insisted on eating some of my lunch before heading down around a continuing stream of hikers on the cable coming up. All together it was a strikingly picturesque hike and well worth the effort. On the next day I convinced my two partners that instead of hiking Mt. Dana, the 2nd highest in park and now covered in fresh snowfall, we should make a sacrifice and for social/work reasons join the other group on a shorter hike up Sentinel Dome and to Taft point. This was a lovely "walk" in perfect weather where we also go to do a little bouldering. I even made it up one boulder that the other could not. Next year they told me they want to do Mt. Whitney (the highest peak in the continental US). Of course by then maybe I will be reassigned to some other function.                                                             Martin F Sept. 1999