Lactic Acid!

We went to Yosemite with a group from church last Thursday-Sunday. Camping, frolicking in rivers, etc, etc. It was good. One of the most beautiful places on the planet, I'm sure.
So...Half Dome
Saturday morning, we got up (I won't say "woke" because I didn't sleep) at 4:30 so we could potty, grab our lunches and breakfasts we made the night before, try not to wake up the non-Half Domers, and get out of there. The point in starting so FREAKING early was to be out as little as possible in the 100 degree weather. Believe me, I was out there anyway.

Anyway. Nervous, wishing that more bathroom-ing had been done, I hit the trail with my group around 6:30am. We were the slowest of our 3 groups heading up, but we were really the average speed. Nevertheless, we had to put up with radio shenanigans and trash-talking from the fastest (read: psychotic) group at various points throughout the day.

Even within the first mile or so, it was the hardest thing I'd done. Here's the trail: The first/last part of trail. To Vernal Falls. Frikkin steep. I can tell you that it sucked.
After this steepness, there are stone stairs of various heights going up to the first waterfall. ..That sucked, too. Do you sense a theme? In case you don't, I'll spell it out: The Theme Is- Suck, Pain, Fear, Beauty, and Triumph. (I jumped a head a little bit.)

Anywhoodle, two waterfalls, lots of stairs/rocks/rubble. Fear of neck-breakage. About 6200' up, there is Little Yosemite Valley, which was great. It doesn't appear that anyone took any pictures, probably because when you get to it, you're so thrilled to have flat ground, that your head is filled with delusions of speed and making good time.

After a while of traipsing across flat (yeah!) stretches of sandy (yuck!) trail, it starts heading up again through the trees. It's all very lovely- the trees looked like cartoons, they were so bright copper on their bark. Big trees, rocks, sloping hills. It's quite lovely. We knew we were stopping to rest at a spring so that we could get some more water, and we were expecting a lovely, burbling pond, something we could maybe put our feet in. Nope. It was a puddle. Barely noticeable. But a spring it was, and we were able to pump out some cold water to refill our bags and bottles. Most of us had already drank about 2.5 liters.

Around mile 5.5 or 6, you can see the dome and the cables that you have to use to go up them. This? is not heartening. It feels so far away, and also reminds you of the insane task you are undertaking.
At the bottome of the dome part, there are the stairs called Quarter Dome. Here's a picture I swiped from May's facebook: The steps up to Half Dome, often called Quarter Dome. Taken by May, stolen by me. . The picture makes it look a bit tamer than it was. You may be able to tell that it is a series of switchbacks made of stone, often on the edge and making me feel like I'm going to fall to my death!

I went up these stairs mostly on my hands and knees. I'm not sure how much of that was necessity versus fear. Again, they were all different sizes, some with gravel on them, some slippery, all steep and scary. The altitude mixed with fear also made my breathing pretty wonky. After a while I had to sit down every 10 feet or so, even though I tried to just power through and get the dang thing over with. When resting at one point, I just started crying. I was so scared, and I didn't want to keep going. I didn't want to go down, either, though, and that was a problem. The marvelous Sylvia encouraged me, though, and assured me that I could do it and I was just tired. I also knew that no helicopter was going to rescue me from my perch, so I forged on.

In my mind, I was waiting to see the cables up-close, look at the angle, and then I would decide if I was going to make it to the top. This is what I saw:No. Seriously. I did this.

And I decided not to do it. There is a wider part before the cables that you can't see here, and I sat on a rock near some friends who had already made it up and down again, and I was content to wait there for my group. When Korie came to ask me why I wasn't going, I just started crying again. I was more scared than I think I've ever been. I just couldn't do it. But the marvelous Thomas (you've heard of Thomas & Sylvia in my tales of Mexico) came up and asked me if I wanted to just try it. He said that he'd go with me, and I could just get out on the rock and go as far as I wanted, then turn around. I agreed that I wanted to try, and we set out. Thomas got all Zen Master on me and told me that I was not to look to the right or to the left, but only at my feet, the rock, and the next board. I would only hear his voice, and he would clip & unclip me from the line.

There are 2 cables coming 400' from the top of the rock down to the base, and you're mostly using your arms to pull yourself up. Every 8' or so, there are two poles with a wooden plank between them- these are where you can rest. Sort of mini-goals that seem to be 10 miles when you're out there. The incline is probably about a 45-degree angle at first, and then it gets steeper. Most people go between these two cables and slowly pull themselves up, but Thomas told us all that he would rather we only held one cable because it's not as slippery on the outside, and it's more stable just holding on to one. I think that all us fearful folk ignored him at first and started between the cables. I thought it would be better to be behind people, then I could just concentrate on the back in front of me, and not look up. The problem with that was that there was a bit of a traffic jam. I was going to wig out if we didn't move, so I went on the outside of the cables with Thomas. Then I was a woman on a mission. I was passing people like crazy, because I just wanted the thing to be over!! I would hurriedly pull myself to the next pole and hold on to it for dear life while Thomas calmly told me to take a drink of water and get my breathing under control. Like on the stairs before, I was almost hyperventilating. One of the poles was loose in its hole, and I almost had a heart attack, I tell you.

Like in races, everyone on the whole mountain is like one, big team. Everyone encourages one another, so I had plenty of people, including my friends on the way down, telling me how great I was doing, how close I was, etc. I finally had to tell one stranger who said, "You're almost there!" (without looking at him, of course. The pattern of that granite is etched on my brain.) that people kept telling me that I was almost there, yet I was most assuredly still on that rock. Finally, 7 hours after leaving the trailhead, I was on top of Half Dome.
If you squint, you can see me. Im sitting down, I think Im the 3rd from the edge.  Top of Half Dome.
It really is quite beautiful up there, and I have a huge sense of accomplishment, but I don't think I'm saying, "Oh, it was totally worth it!" It sucked. And the suckage wasn't even over yet.

After about 15 minutes up top, it was thundering, and we had to head back down. I was not thrilled with this, either. Thomas did his Zen mojo on the way down, and I slid/hopped down backwards, with only 1 or 2 near-death moments. My foot slid and kind of flew out at one point, some of those boards felt MUCH farther away than the others, oy. It was rough. Then we had the stairs again. The beautiful thing, though, is that pretty much nothing is scary after that. Hard and painful? Sure. But not as scary as on the way up. It's just that going down irregular, slippery steps is much harder, at least for the short girl with bad knees, than going up. Basically, Thomas walked in front of me, I had my hands on his backpack, and I baby-stepped each one. On the regular trails, I was great. I jogged, I was ahead of people, but those stairs kicked my butt. I would say that they added at least 45 minutes to my time. Knees on fire, being force-fed shot blocks every once in a while, I made it. About 4.5 hours to get down.

After the last of the stairs, I got to that steep, paved trail I pictured up above. Everything in me wanted to just run all the way to the bottom- I was FREE of those evil stairs! I wanted to get to dinner! I wanted to see my husband! Jogging downhill is so much easier on my knees than walking! But I felt like an ingrate running off and leaving Thomas & Sylvia, who had helped me so much. So I ran a bit, then I sat and waited for them.

We had been under the impression that the other groups had already moved on to the pizza place for dinner because they had led us to believe so via radio. The Irreverend Mark even thought he was a funny guy and radioed to say that Seth had broken his other ankle. Plus, you burn an ENORMOUS amount of fuel doing this. We were eating almost non-stop, and my stomach still growled on the way up and the way down. We figured that everyone else would be racing to dinner. But as I neared the bottom, I almost cried when I saw almost everyone at the end of the trail, jumping and yelling and holding a toilet paper finish line. I thought, "I have good friends!" and started running for themMe running for the finish line. I guess theres a video.
It was all high-fives, pictures, cheers, and hugs. Thomas at the line!
Everyone was quite impressed that Seth had been sitting in his chair at the trailhead, waiting for me for about 5 hours. He got to be everyone's welcome team, and they started the finish line about halfway through.

We stuck our feet in the painfully cold river, which was good and bad, and then walked the mile or so over to dinner. (It never ends!)

My feet hurt so bad that I couldn't fall asleep until Benadryl knocked me out, I now have a stress fracture, and every muscle in my body hurt for about 5 days, but I did it!

My official "I made it to the top!" t-shirt tells me the stats: 17 miles (gps says 20, though), 4800' elevation gain, 8842' above sea level. In 12 hours, which I'm told is a "nice" pace. Argh. I'm sure that many of you are braver, stronger, taller, in better shape, smarter, saner than I, but I will tell you that climbing this mountain was the hardest thing I've ever done- mentally or physically.
When buying my t-shirt the next day, the girl in the store looked at us, asked if we had done Half Dome the previous day, and then said with a strange look on her face, "You're doing alarmingly well." Rock!

Will I ever do it again? Doubtful. I sort of want to, but those stairs are the worst. There is a trail that may skip most of them. If that's true, I'll probably do it again. It definitely would have to be a group effort, though. Most of us would have turned back without a second thought if it hadn't been for our friends.
(Read Marks' blog for some deep thoughts on this.)