Half Dome

By J.R.

All good adventures begin with a question. This one began with “Do you want to climb Half Dome?” Without a clue as to what Half Dome was and only judging by the way the question was asked, I replied “of course.” Half Dome is a 16 mile round trip from the valley floor where the elevation gain/drop is 4,800 ft each way. After hearing that our group won the lottery for a Friday climb, I was definitely in for this trip of a lifetime.

I had just purchased a BMW R NineT and figured this trip was as good a maiden voyage as any. This gave a completely different perspective to the whole trip, as motorcycles tend to do. Blasting down the 10 at 5 am, I was on my way to meet up with the crew for the next 4 days. The drive up went smooth and the Central Valley was, well, the Central Valley. Pollution from agriculture and the ever-rising temperature made getting to Fresno a welcome site. After a stop at Costco, In-N-Out, and a petrol station, we were off on Route 41 heading for our destination.

For those who appreciate pushing a vehicle to its limits, the ride into and out of Yosemite is one of the best roads I’ve driven or ridden on. Twists and turns are set in the dramatic context of an ever-climbing elevation of large sequoias.

To get into the valley, you need to go through a tunnel, and what lies after it is one of the most picturesque, beautiful sights I’ve laid my eyes on: to the left, El Capitan, and Half Dome right in front of you. I pulled over to let the significance of what I was seeing sink in. Giddy with excitement, I hopped back on the cycle to finish the last leg of the trip to the campsite.

Our site was nestled on the banks of the Merced River, a waterway with more than its fair share of rapids and slow currents fed by the melting snow of the western Sierras and surrounding ranges. We set up the campsite, everyone’s minds on the Half Dome hike and climb the next day. Going to sleep early was key, and we were able to get an early jump the next morning. As we ascended the trail through the morning mist, the sun’s first rays created unique shadows and rainbows. After passing Vernal Falls we came to Nevada Falls, a quick 1-2 to begin the day. 

After Nevada we came to a meadow that marks the hike’s halfway point. Flat ground never felt so good. After a rest, we continued on a 5-mile hike that criss crossed through a forested mountain, the summit looming large over us, everything turning to granite. Approaching the Class 3 cables we would need to climb the back of Half Dome, my mind drifted to how tired I was, trying to not think about how I would eventually get back. Forgetting that nonsense and staying in the moment, we put on gloves and ascended. 

Then the top, and one of those feelings so complex that words fail. A feeling of team success, personal success, humility, clarity of your smallness in the universe—and a deep fatigue that washes over you brought by a mix of high altitude and physical strain. This was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done.  

But things were easier the way down; casual and relaxed, passing the foot traffic of late risers. By the time we were back to Vernal Falls, I wanted all tourists to get the hell out of my way so I could ice myself in the river with a bottle of Mama’s Little Yella Pils in my hand. The rest of the day was more defined by what we had done than what we were doing; some Templeton Rye, burgers, s’mores, and a clear night sky before a sleep that left a smile on my face the next morning. 

The next day we checked out Lower Yosemite Falls, El Capitan, and Camp 4. Later we grabbed a few drinks and a dip in the pool at the Ahwahnee Inn to concluded our last day in the Valley. That night, ribs and burgers and more Templeton. Early the next morning, we packed our camp and headed back to the Southland. I could barely get back to LA on the bike, I was so exhausted.  

At the start of this trip I didn’t fully understand someone’s comment that “Yosemite is the Disneyland of National Parks.” There it is. The Magic Kingdom. The Happiest Place on Earth. I do believe there is something in the park for everyone. If you live in California, there is no excuse; this should be your next weekend destination. Don’t overthink it. Just go.