The sun is setting. We arrive a little later than planned but thats okay. Sometimes things don’t go according to plan and ‘improvise’ is my middle name. As long as you’ve got the right gear and the skills to use it, anything is possible.
I hoist the pack onto my back. It is heavy.
We need to hump it 4 miles into the forest and while this doesn’t seem too far I have a 52 lbs on my back and we need to climb 2000 feet up and into the mountains of Yosemite National forest. We only have 45 minutes of daylight left in the day. This will be a night hike and the first one I’ve done on this terrain. Life is all about the experiences and this will be a good one.
When you’re rucking over ground like this, after hydration, your feet are the most important thing to concern yourself with. If they go then you’ve got some serious problems. Luckily I have friends looking out for me. The crew at On Running and ARM A Runners Mind know what I get myself into so they’ve set me up with the Cloudventure trail runners.
Call the vet because these puppies are sick.
Not only do they have the Swiss engineered Cloudtech to help keep the heavy pack on my back feeling like its part of me; with every step that I take the fit becomes more like an exoskeleton for the foot. It conforms to the terrain as I move over it. My feet are reflexive and responsive. Sticky to the smooth granite under foot yet still sympathetic to my movement.
Now a night hike is a digestible task when the trail is well worn and clearly marked. However, trouble brews on the vast open spaces of the granite flats. When there is no guide but the halo of light emitting from your headlamp things can get tricky.
We find ourselves on just such a granite expanse and wander off the main trail. After a few minutes of hiking on a side trail the smell of fresh water gets strong and we can hear its flow clearly. When we come to the side of the Merced River we know that we have lost the trail.
In a situation like this the last thing that you want to do is panic. 😃
After several minutes of deliberation we backtrack almost half a mile. This is slow going with such a large pack on. We find the main trail again and continue upward towards the backpackers camp in Little Yosemite Valley.
The climb is slow but it is steady and we make progress. 3 hours later we make camp in the pitch dark and bed down for the night. I shed my pack and with it a significant load. Without the gear strapped to my back I’ve gone from a sturdy but sluggish 240lbs back down to a much more manageable 190lbs.
In the night we get a light rain and wake the next morning to a totally silent forest. There is a dense fog enveloping our campsite. This place is pristine and virtually uninhabited compared to the parking lot that is the valley floor of the eastern entrance of Yosemite.
Last night we camped at 6000 feet. Where the view once extended no farther than the shine of my headlamp now I can see unabated through the pines and the mists in front of me. The forest laid out before me is crisp before the fog. It is dynamic and damp and it is alive.
It’s time to conquer this mountain.
The gravel beneath me is loose pack with small stones, sand and dirt. I move with it as it shifts and my body shakes off the 16 bit movements needed for carrying heavy loads and morphs to a flowing 4k rhythm, symphonic with the terrain.
I open up and find my stride.
The shoes on my feet are now well connected with my body. We communicate as the earth reminds me that with each step that I take I am even further into my element. My toes navigate through light underbrush, protected by the thick rubber and engineered mesh on my new pegs. 11 separate pods give me feedback from below as I move faster up the mountain towards the Dome.
As the air gets thinner my lungs are tested and the blood pumps faster to meet the needs of the engines in my body. I feel good. Without these moments that test us we can never adapt and get better. This terrain is adverse and I feel that I am growing. The mico-engineered soles on my feet keep me in tune with the earth as I churn it out beneath my legs.
My destination nears.
Half Dome. A granite monolith crowning the 1,169 square miles of Yosemite National Forest. I arrive at the lower dome where the terrain switches from the loose pack, that my footwear craves, to granite stairs that will soon deliver me upward some 800 feet- abruptly and with aggression. I’ll see your challenge mountain and I’ll raise you focus and intent.
As the steps climb they contort themselves into smooth granite and I must change my approach. No matter, this is adaptation and these cleats are meant for the task at hand. Where I once chewed the ground beneath me I now need to use the full weight of my frame to grip the carved glacial surface and pull myself upward. With just a hair more down stomp in each stride the pods grip and I go. Onward and upward.
On the last ascent there are 400 meters of steel cables that beckon the adventurer in all of us. Along this path is a shear rock face of 88 degrees vertical at it’s steepest grade. This rock is not to be trifled with.
Along these cables are 37 wooden planks provided for some idea of footing. They beckon upward, angle sharply toward the top and all but disappear in the distance. Gloves and safety lines are advised but not required. I am confident in my ability so I attack this challenge with ardor.
My grip is met with a sharp chill from the cables. It runs to my bones and now the slight fatigue of my legs are acquainted with the new task that is required of my upper body. In the thin air the familiar feeling of lower chain fatigue now has company with the languor that grows in my upper body as I pull myself higher towards the top.
Upward and forward. Grip. Pull. Don’t look down. Repeat.
For the next 20 minutes my focus is solely on my breath, my aching muscles and my clutch of the cables.
When ascending a mountain like this one the relationship of your hips and torso to the ground are paramount to the hold you have underfoot. Leaning back provided me the opportunity to drive my feet into the rock face so I am then able to pull myself forward and up. In times such as these- in order to shut out discomfort- it is important to focus on the rhythm of the movements.
I find a balance between the limbs of the lower right side and upper left side of my body. Then switch the pattern. I continue setting the foot, then the hand, pulling and alternating in between. Wash, rinse, repeat. Before you know it we are nearly there.
The line of cables bolted into the smooth surface of the rock eventually terminates and the landscape opens up onto a wide and rounded surface of grey stone that truly feels like a reward for the task required to reach it. There are absolutely no visual constraints before the scene in front of me. I am now 8336 feet above sea level and have just climbed 4000 to experience this spectacular view. I can see for 30 miles in every direction. To the north is Indian Rock and Mt. Hoffman. The Yosemite Valley lies vast and wide to the west.
Miles out, down and far away into the distance each tiny tree and sliver of rock is brilliantly defined. The view stretches as far as the eye can see. It truly feels like the top of the world. Without a doubt this is a place of wonderment. This barren, almost sacred haven above the surrounding wilderness is unique and it is beautiful. It is, in all its majesty, one of the most magnificent places I have ever climbed.
I scan the horizons, intent on creating the most vivid mental imprint possible. I jam down an energy bar and take those all important, last looks from the top of this place. My legs feel a gentle fatigue but still very much alive. I take one last long gaze at the wilderness at my feet.
Slowly I turn and begin my descent down the helm of the dome and pick up speed as I venture deeper into the forest beneath me.