Preseason Moonlight Hike
By John P. DeGrazio
Sunrise with Clouds Rest by John P. DeGrazio
On a hike that started under an almost full moon, we finally reached the Sub Dome and could turn off our headlamps for good. The sun crept up to the right of Clouds Rest and continued to light our way. We welcomed its warm touch on our weary faces as we took each giant step up the carved stone. Tired, but undaunted, our group continued to the cables and a date with destiny. For Tim and Cole, it would be their first attempt. Pat had one ascent under his belt, but never under these conditions. I had been on this rock several times in all seasons and can honestly say that moments like these keep me coming back for more.
First Light on Mt. Hoffman by John P. DeGrazio
Two weeks ago, I hatched my plan at a charity function and received three commitments from the aforementioned volunteers. I explained to this group of friends that I had yet to summit Half Dome in the month of March, and the dry winter had opened a window I was looking to climb through. I wanted to wait until the end of the month to allow the above average temperatures to melt away as much snow as possible. Although I squandered many opportunities to round back into shape, I was able to lead a few extended hikes that had me feeling pretty good but still round in the middle. Trips to Texas and Las Vegas will do that to a foodie. I must also admit that I probably gained about ten extra pounds in pretzel weight this offseason. My good friend and part time guide Zeb decided to add Bavarian pretzels to his repertoire as a fine accompaniment to his craft brewing hobby. It’s so good once it hits your lips. I did visit my good friend Robert for some hiking in Aptos the past weekend that had me feeling a little better, but I was resigned to the fact that it would not be a record setting attempt. It didn’t need to be.
By midweek, the only thing stopping us was the weather forecast. Sunny skies and warm temps filled the forecast until our planned date of Saturday the 30th. On Friday I led a group to Dewey and Crocker Points on an amazing hike with clear blue skies. All indications pointed to rain from 11 am Saturday through Monday so I started making some calls. “What if we started the hike at 2 am?” I floated. I was somewhat surprised by the positive response I received. To be honest, I didn’t think they’d go for it, especially Cole. But there we were at midnight on Tim’s front porch packing up and moving out.
We arrived in Yosemite Valley lit by a nearly full moon and killed the lights to view what we later considered the most spectacular sight of the trip. El Cap was glowing, and we were giddy with excitement. Seeing Yosemite Falls in similar brilliance gave us a final spark before hitting the trail. The moonlight guided us until we encountered the uneven terrain of the Mist Trail where artificial light became a necessity. Before I continue this story, I would like to first mention this was a private group of friends, and I would not lead a guided tour under these current conditions. Next, I would like to say that although, moonlight hiking is an exhilarating thrill a minute experience, it is no fun if you are not in the company of someone who knows the trail extremely well or do not know how to navigate in the dark. This is no boast, but I have completed this hike more times than most and have a high level of confidence at every turn. I will add that recent augmentations from the trail crew left me a little puzzled at times and can openly admit to momentarily straying from the path on more than one occasion before making a correction. With that said. I do not recommend this hike at all until the season officially begins at the end of May.
Moonset on Sub Dome by John P. DeGrazio (iPhone)
The impressive thunder of Vernal Fall was matched by its beautiful 317 drop into the dark pool below. We moved at an exceptional pace while constantly checking cloud formations overhead. Nevada was next and was such a welcome sight after months between outings on the Mist and John Muir Trails. The group breezed through the halfway point and realized the chance of success was increasing with every step on dry dirt. We didn’t encounter any snow until we were well above 7000 feet and then it was only in small easily navigable patches. And then we met Sub Dome as the moon set. I was able to capture this crude image on my iPhone and heard traditionalist photographer Walter Flint’s distinct voice in my head clearly saying “Where’s your tripod?”
It was a Good Day by John P. DeGrazio
We geared up at Sub Dome with trekking poles along with Yak and Polar Tracks in lieu of the crampons some of us also carried. Gear is so important for this hike and anyone making an attempt needs specialized equipment in any season they attempt to summit. By now, the soft rays of the sun on this chilly morning were welcomed by all as the headlamps were eschewed for the greatly needed natural light. Surprisingly, most of the Sub Dome was already uncovered after the first 50 feet of climbing on good solid hard pack. We even removed the traction devices for the majority of the walk up the steps and slabs before making the final push with them reattached. The beautiful warm light greeted us at top of Sub Dome where wispy clouds floated above us. With no imminent threat of rain, the team decided to have some fun and shoot some photos.
TKI’s Return by John P. DeGrazio
Half Snow Dome by John P. DeGrazio
Mt. Hoffman with Clouds by John P. DeGrazio
Cole’s Requisite Jump Shot by John P. DeGrazio
The Snow Visor by John P. DeGrazio
Layers of Half Dome by John P. DeGrazio
I sensed some apprehension at the cables, but we were clipped in and used some time tested techniques. No system is fail safe so extreme vigilance and practicing proper safety is always best. The rock was completely dry, and we cruised up the steel ropes. It was Pat’s birthday and the celebration began the moment we dropped the cables. The high man in the group had about 3 hours of sleep the night before, but we were all literally walking on air. Everyone ate a little while posing for and shooting some photos and videos. Funny thing, as tired as we were, no one had time to really rest.
A good part of the dome was still covered by snow and we journeyed to the other side for even more spectacular views before descending close to 9 am. 9 am descent? From Half Dome? Unheard of!
The anticlimactic return trip was uneventful but we did make a game out of how many people we would see setting the over under at 400 then 600. Considering the crowd total was at 75 just before the top of Vernal Fall, we did count 739 total on the trail. That included the 5 hikers heading up to the cables, but we could only confirm 1 made it to the top as the group of 4 we met from Seattle were admittedly pressed for time and unprepared to try. As we drearily trudged through the final miles, we were motivated by the thought of Premium cheeseburgers from Priest Station Cafe. They did not disappoint and were the perfect capper to a perfect day. Some may read this and think we took a lot of risk that day. While I don’t doubt we faced an increased risk, danger is relative and risk can be managed. Besides, the exponentially increased reward and true wilderness experience made it all worth it, and that is what keeps us coming back for more.
Feed from YExplore Yosemite Photo Blog: http://yeblog.yexplore.com.