Sunday, October 4, 2015


Today I need to talk about the cables at Half Dome.  The cables allow the hikers to ascend the final 425 feet to the top of Half Dome. This last part of the hike makes the first 4312 feet of ascension seem like a piece of cake by comparison. Rick Deutsch, author of "ONE BEST HIKE: YOSEMITE'S HALF DOME" has the same sense of humor as my brother when it comes to minimizing just how harrowing that final ascent is:

...the Half Dome hike becomes an extremely strenuous one.  Included is a harrowing 425 foot vertical climb up the approximately 45-degree incline on the back side of the granite slope.  Not to worry; this is accomplished with the aid of two steel cable handrails.

Not to worry...Two steel cable handrails?  Really? This makes it sound like one is holding onto a bannister while walking up a staircase. It is not quite that way. In discussing this hike with my brother two days later, we were trying to remember how many sets of poles we had traversed in order to get to the top.  I found my answer in Deutsch's book

Each of the two cables is actually assembled in thirds, with each run anchored to the granite rock.  The cables are held upright by 68 pairs of 3-foot pipes placed into 5-inch holes drilled into the rock.  To allow a hiker to stand vertical, 2-by-4-foot boards are loosely fastened to the pipes.

Although Yosemite National Park is open year-round, the trail to the top of Half Dome is not.  Again, I return to Deutch's book.

The pipes and boards are put in place by the NPS (National Park Service) trail crew every late May (weather permitting) and removed in early October (usually after Columbus Day).  It takes about 20 skilled people to carefully handle the pipes and boards.  They are secreted away in the off-season.  The cables themselves remain on the mountain year-round.  Although not prohibited, it is not advised to ascend Half Dome during the off-season unless you are a skilled big-wall climber.  It is very dangerous to use only the cables to rappel up and down. 
As I re-examine the passages of this book that speak of the cables - I discover that the author of "ONE BEST HIKE: YOSEMITE'S HALF DOME" is a master of understatement.  That he wrote that it is not advised to ascend Half Dome during the off-season is unintentionally funny.  As far as I am concerned that would be the equivalent of saying: It is not advisable to jump out of an airplane without a parachute! Both statements clearly good advice, and both statements seemingly unnecessary!  Just one man's opinion.

About 6 miles into the hike up the mountain, I was asked by my brother if I would consider making this same hike again.  At this point along the trail, I had not seen the final ascent other than pictures on the internet.  I emphatically replied that I would definitely do this again.  Shortly after making the final ascent and managing the cables back down to the sub-dome, I quickly amended my previous statement.   No, I would not be interested in making this hike again.  I would like to now amend this statement one time more.  I would make this hike again.

I realized that the biggest obstacle to climbing the cables and overcoming the 45-degree slope to the top of Half Dome was my increasing worry with every advancing step that I was going to have to figure out a way to get down.  As it turned out, navigating the cables down was much easier.  It did not require great strength.  Compared to the trip up, it was no problem.  This is not to say that it was simple, just that it was much easier.  Certainly the result of slipping would have been catastrophic, but one is not battling gravity in quite the same way on the way down.  And that makes a world of difference!

According to the Rick Deutsch book, more than 40,000 people attempt the Half Dome hike each year and most are successful.  This seems like a counter-intuitive statement at first.  If one takes into account the planning needed to secure a permit, and preparing for the hike by bringing the proper equipment, food and water after completing the proper physical training - I can see why a group drawn from this set of people would be successful.  There are no requirements set by the National Park Service restricting anyone based on age, size or strength.  THERE ARE MORE RESTRICTIONS FOR RIDES AT DISNEYLAND THAN THERE ARE AT HALF DOME.  At Half Dome there are NO restrictions.  Although no official records are kept, it appears that the common lowest age of successful hikers up Half Dome are as young as 10 years old.  Rick Deutsch claims to know people over the age of 80 who have made the ascent.  I made my ascent 42 days before my 58th birthday.  I can IMAGINE having the physical strength to do this again for a few more years - although I am guessing that that window will be shutting down before too long. That particular biological clock is ticking away inside of me...

The last tidbit of information that I want to share today is the length of the final ascent. As mentioned, the elevation of this ascent is 425 feet.  Rick Deutsch in his book uses the Pythagorean Theorem to divine the actual distance a hiker has to travel the cables.  He assumes a 45-degree angle (which might even be understated) and estimates the distance at a bit over 600 feet.  Climbing up that mountain that final 600 feet of an 8.2 mile hike from the trail head was the hardest 600 feet I have travelled in my life.  And absolutely worth it!  Getting down again also had it own rewards!

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On the way down from the summit of Half Dome I managed a selfie. In the photo my left hand is holding onto the cable and you can see the a part of the cable on my right.  As I remember it, I was about  2/3 down when I thought it was selfie time.

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 Saturday MENU
breakfast  oatmeal, bacon, three poached eggs                                550 calories
lunch        three KIND bars: Almond & Coconut                            570 calories
dinner       Homemade Chili, red delicious apple                             968 calories
SNACK   three Keebler fudge cookies                                            255 calories


Two days after the Half Dome hike soreness kicked in, big time.  I felt a tightness in my thighs that made it difficult to climb up or down even one flight of stairs.  This did not prevent me from taking a 90 minute power-walk on the Chicago lakefront while my daughter was attending an enrichment class in preparation for a high school placement test.

MapMyWalk 6.74 miles  (14104 steps)  90 minutes                 1287 calories

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Saturday net calories 1056 calories
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fitbit day 31
20926 steps
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final thought for the day:
According to the sign at the trail head, the trail to the summit is 8.2 miles.  According to Rick Deutsch, the cables portion of the trail is approximately 600 feet.  Those cables are the most talked about part of this trail.  Mathematically, they represent a tiny fraction of the distance: 

Total trail length=5280 ft/mile x 8.2 miles=43296 feet

600ft divided by 43296 feet=1.3%.

That last 1% of the Half Dome Trail is a portion of the trail that one will never forget.  I know I won't.

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