Yosemite, CA: My Half Dome Story

Six days ago, I conquered Half Dome.

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It feels unreal to say those words and part of me is convinced that it really isn’t real: did I actually climb Half Dome? I must be dreaming. But it’s real. Really real.

It seems that every person who has climbed Half Dome in Yosemite has their own story, so I figured I would add my own to the mix. But let me start from the very beginning.

Around March, an old friend of mine asked me out of the blue if I was interested in visiting Yosemite and climbing Half Dome with her this summer. She was coming to California for a week or so and Half Dome had been on her bucket list for ages – she was eager to finally accomplish this task. I, having only recently emerged in the outdoorsy/hiking/adventure community, had never heard of Half Dome or knew of its legendary hiking stature but was eager to embark on another great adventure. After some extensive research, my anxiety about the hike began to rise dramatically and I worried if agreeing to this had been such a good idea (see my previous post). Each hiker who had accomplished Half Dome had drastic and dreadful stories, stories that could scare away even the most ambitious of hikers, but somehow I was able to convince myself to go on this journey regardless.

And so, last Tuesday, my friend Tori and I set out for Yosemite, crashing at an inn on the outskirts of Yosemite that night before venturing into nature’s sacred grounds on Wednesday morning. Throughout the days leading up to our adventure, we had been continuously applying for a Half Dome permit using the 48 hour lottery process. This permit allows the group to climb the cables on Half Dome and is given out on a completely random lottery basis. When we first failed to receive a permit for Wednesday, we were disheartened, wondering what our options were if we actually didn’t secure a permit during the duration of our trip. But luckily, on Tuesday evening, an email rolled in confirming our permit for Thursday, June 18, 2015. Immediately we were filled with excitement and nerves.

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When we arrived in Curry Village early Wednesday morning, we ambitiously decided that we would warm up for Half Dome the following day by climbing Upper Yosemite Falls. Considered “very strenuous”, Upper Yosemite Falls is a 7.2 round-trip hike, averaged to take about 6-8 hours according to the Yosemite hiking guide. With such a short mileage, we thought “this can’t be that bad” and set out, eager to experience the fresh air, towering redwoods, and impressive cliffs that made up Yosemite.

Boy, were we wrong. First, we set out at about 11am, leading straight into the hottest part of the day, which to our demise was in the 90s (Fahrenheit) and felt even worse with the thinner air of higher altitude. At the bottom of the trail, a sign warned hikers of the extensive switchbacks that this trail took but fresh into the park we ignored the warnings and ventured on. Quickly, we realized why so many hikers before us cursed any and all switchbacks for their hard-on-the-knees incline and endless monotony. Like damn, this trail was ridiculous. During the last third of the hike up, our motivation started to fail us and no matter who we passed as they headed down, they all seemed to say “just another 40 minutes”. After what seemed like eons, we reached the top and enjoyed the stunning views, letting the spray of the mist from the waterfall cool us in our exhaustion. Long story short, the hike ended up taking about five and a half hours (including a 40-50 min stop at the top for food) and took a lot more strength and endurance than we anticipated.

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Coming off the Upper Yosemite Falls hike, both of us were a bit shaky: if we had barely survived this hike, how were we supposed to tackle the 12-hour, 20-mile beast that was Half Dome the following day? Sure enough, when we woke up Thursday morning, bright and early at 4:30am, each of us independently freaked out (Maybe we shouldn’t do this. It’s not too late to back out now. WTF, we’re crazy, what have I gotten myself into?). But by 5:15am we were on road, leaving Curry Village by the Happy Trails trail, munching on a breakfast bagel.

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The great thing about the Half Dome trail is that it’s nicely portioned out into distinct milestones that really makes you feel like you’re making progress (as opposed to the endless switchbacks of Upper Yosemite Falls). Once we reached the actual trailhead, the first leg is the 1.5 mile paved-road hike to the Vernal Falls bridge. This portion had it’s steep sections and it’s flatter sections, but the big thing we learned early was to really pace ourselves: one step in front of the other, never letting ourselves get out of breath. The other thing we established early was that it’s okay to stop every 20-30 minutes for a quick break to grab some water and to stop every hour-ish for a 5-10 min snack break.

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From Vernal Falls, we followed the Mist Trail up toward Nevada Falls. Even though it was early in the morning, there was plenty of morning light to illuminate our way along the steep steps, but definitely be advised, this trail is not for the light-hearted. While the steps wind next to the waterfall, exposing miraculous views of water’s power to carve it’s way through a mountain, this isn’t a sight-seeing trail as every foot hold is a careful balancing act. In the bottom corner you can see some of the winding staircase that makes up the Mist Trail, although most of the trail is not so friendly or fenced in.

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At the end of the Mist Trail, it was just a bit farther before reaching the top of Nevada Falls. A number of people were resting here once we reached the trail split so again we took a break before venturing on knowing that only a couple miles remained to the top. From Nevada Falls, the trail wound a bit into a sort of mini valley where a few campsites were located and the trail leveled out to almost completely flat: just a simple walk in the park. This gave our legs a nice rest before we entered the dense forest switchbacks that led to the sub-dome or quarter-dome.

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So far the trail hadn’t been too difficult, especially compared to the steep switchbacks of Upper Yosemite Falls the day before, but the forest switchbacks put our energy level to the test. Again, we paced ourselves and took breaks regularly to ensure we conserved our energy. During one of these breaks, we were able to peer through the trees to see the upcoming cables stringing their way up Half Dome and it all became real. This was Half Dome and we were about to conquer it.

When we surfaced from the trees, we found ourselves at the base of the subdome. Unlike the dense forest, the subdome was almost extremely bare of trees – just sheer rock rounding upwards toward Half Dome itself. Like many of my fellow hikers, I found the subdome almost as difficult as Half Dome itself. There are no cables here to keep your balance and there are any number of paths to take to summit the dome, with still a steep slope eager to pull you down with one false step. But again, we paced ourselves and watched our footing, making it to the base of Half Dome itself.

Now, before we embarked on this journey, I had read that the cables are far more intimidating and terrifying-looking than any pictures you might come across. And holy shit, was that true. Standing there, with my lungs starting to strain for oxygen at the high altitude, with Half Dome looming up in front of me, I honestly wasn’t sure I would make it. Aside from when I first woke up, this was my first moment of doubt all day. I mean, these things looked like death just waiting to happen.

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A couple who had been hiking nearby us all day – passing us as we rested and resting as we passed them – was already at the base of the cables, looking up and thinking about turning back. After a five minute psych-up though, we convinced ourselves to go on. We had come this far and couldn’t turn back now. I wouldn’t let myself live it down if I gave up now.

So we pulled on our gloves (tip: bring your own gloves that fit) and started up the dreaded cables. And, pardon my French, but holy fuck was it terrible. Being almost 6 ft, Tori was able to tackle the cables head on, focusing on leg strength to push her up the sixty degree incline and using the cables more for balance. But for me, being a measly 5 ft 2 in, it was a completely different story. My short legs required me to take much shorter steps and, at times, the cables came up near my shoulders and head, requiring a whole different set up upper body muscles that I had not prepared for. It was almost about 40 minutes of heavy panting, pure agony, and perpetual “YOU CAN FUCKING DO THIS MEAGHIN KEEP GOING” thoughts to keep me going.

But at 11:11 (I’m not joking), I summited.

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Pictures really can’t do it justice. It’s actually breath-taking (and not just because of the high altitude/thin air/lack of oxygen). It’s stunning. Majestic. Powerful. Gorgeous. You can see for literal miles. You are eye level with snow-topped mountains, rising above them on this outcropping of rock that you fucking climbed. This, I believe, is what it feels like to stand on the shoulders of giants.

Let’s be real – I got up there and I cried. I’m not totally sure what it was – an outpouring of relief, happiness from the beauty around me, or pride at proving myself wrong when I thought I really couldn’t do it. Because I did it. And it was all worth it.

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After about an hour resting and refueling, we ventured back down. Despite the height of the cables compared to little me and even with my fear of heights (did I forget to mention that?), rappelling backwards down the cables was far easier than ascending. Once on the bottom, descending the subdome was far trickier since no clear path quickly presented itself. Slow but steady, we did reach the base though and continued back to the forest switchbacks that had led us to the amazing peak.

From this, it was a pretty uneventful descent. As with most hikes, descending was much faster than ascending, although also much tougher on the knees and feet. Since the hike had been so well sectioned, each time we reached a point of interest (Nevada Falls, Vernal Falls, etc.) we knew we were one step closer to a shower and a bed.

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By the end of the day, we had hiked 20 miles in 12 and a half hours. God were we happy to see our tent.

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Overall, I would highly recommend Half Dome. I know it’s on many adventurers’ bucket lists but if you work for it, I know you too can do it, whoever you are! Hit me up for more Half Dome tips and tricks and never stop exploring!

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Life Between the Waves

Land! As the LA Harbor fades beyond a veil of fog, the gentle peaks of Catalina rise out of the horizon. “Hoist the foresail!” Three of us run forward against the salty spray of the ocean. We’ve caught the wind again.

Where did this all begin you ask? Well, as part of my last semester of university, I decided to utilize my last few free units and take a sailing class. The first half of the class is spent in the classroom, learning about types of vessels, navigation indicators, and who turns away in a “you’re coming right at me” situation – basically, the rules of the road, or should I say, sea. The last portion of the class though, before the final, is a two-day sailing excursion from San Pedro harbor to Catalina Island.

Thus, under the guidance of our Captain (who is also our instructor), I and four other sailing class students sailed to Catalina! And when I say “sailed”, I mean sailed. We hoisted and lowered all the sails, plotted our course by hand, and even steered our sailboat for a majority of the journey! While we still couldn’t have done the trip without the constant direction from our Captain, it still felt like we were in control, holding the ship afloat amidst varying winds and guiding the ship through various manoeuvres as sails were adjusted.

When we first set off, we were all a bit nervous, questioning our ability to raise and lower sails or even wondering about the threat of seasickness. Due to some high winds near the coast, we began our journey on a 50-60 degree tilt as the boat leaned with the wind and we got our first taste of real sailing. It was simulataneously exhilarating and terrifying because even though I knew our Captain was a professional and would never capsize the boat, my brain still freaked out everytime the boat swung closer to the water.

After a while, however, the winds calmed and we enjoyed a peaceful ride to Catalina. If you’ve never sailed before, you’d be as surprised as I to learn that once you’ve caught the wind, most of sailing is just steering the boat and maintaining course. With so many of us on board this led to a fairly peaceful journey – blue waves, warm sun, and the quiet of being the only breathing souls for miles. Even as I was holding on against the tilt of the boat, there’s something so calming of being out amongst the waves, just you and your thoughts.

It puts the whole world back into perspective for you – we are tiny little creatures amidst a world full of so much beauty, danger, and excitement. Sailing really proved that to me.

After a night’s sleep in the Avalon Bay at Catalina (with the boat gently rocking us to sleep), we journeyed back LA, running the motor for most of the trip as the wind had officially died down from the day before. It was incredible to imagine sailors from centuries past piloting vessels through month-long voyages, navigating without any electronics to verify position calculations or trying to sail when there was no wind to be found. Luckily for us, we did have the luxuries of modern technology and we returned safe and sound.

Overall, the entire experience of sailing was eye-opening and exhilarating. While I may not throw away my current career plans for a life between the waves, I would eagerly sail again. And I encourage anyone who has even the slightest interest – give sailing a shot!

St. Louis, MO: Make the World a Little Bigger

So last weekend, in honor of our lovely presidents who generously gave us a long weekend, I traveled to St. Louis to visit Washington University. Okay, fine, I actually just took a weekend off to travel and visit a friend there – why not! So anyway, while everyone else was home being cutesy and romantic for Valentine’s weekend – cooking homemade dinners and sending chocolate and rose sales through the roof, I ventured from LA to St. Louis to spend Singles Awareness Day with another single friend for an adventure weekend filled with Mardi Gras and plenty of tourist attractions.

Adventure, as I like to call it, has become a huge part of my life recently. In an effort to get out of my comfort zone and really experience all that the world has to offer, I’ve started encouraging(forcing) myself to explore, try new things, and DO things. This isn’t to say I didn’t do this sort of stuff before but it wasn’t until recently that I really started putting my heart into it. It’s become such a part of my life that if I don’t get out and do something different or unique or new at least once or twice a week I begin feel restless and almost anxious.

It all started with my “LA Bucket List”, a list I created at the start of this past school year listing off all of the places, activities, restaurants, etc. that I hadn’t gone to or experienced since living in LA. Many of these things were quintessential LA things that I’m amazed I somehow avoided up until this year – LACMA, Griffith Observatory, Umami Burger. But with the dawn of my last year in college and with uncertainty if I’ll ever move back to LA, I felt compelled to complete as many of these experiences as possible before I left. Thus began #adventurefridays. With a number of my friends also not having class on Fridays this semester, it was the perfect day to do some exploring while most people were in work or school. I’ve already crossed a number of items off my LA Bucket List and hopefully will continue to in the coming weeks – I’ll keep you posted!

Which brings us to St. Louis. I had booked this trip months ago to visit my friend Annie, essentially returning the fun favor of when she visited me in LA last year. It was honestly one of the best travel weekends of my life – the ideal balance of work and play, excitement and relaxation. We kicked off the weekend with Mardi Gras, a giant party and parade in the streets filled with too many beads and beers to count. After an exhausting day celebrating though, we countered the weekend with plenty of tourist attractions, including the famous Gateway Arch and City Museum, forcing ourselves to trudge through the 17 degree cold (something I had no experience in being from California) to experience the sights around us.

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I could go on and on about this trip and how truly great it was, or I could tell you how stupendous my Annie is for letting me sleep on her floor for three days, but really I’ve led you through my rambling thoughts for this long to come to one point: we should make the world a little bigger.

With the onset of global travel, Internet, and social media, people continue to talk about how the world is getting smaller and smaller. Globalisation has caused cultures to mix and people to stay more connected than ever before, shrinking the world down to digestible 140-character chunks of information from one side of the globe to the other. Air travel allows anyone with a passport to start their morning in California and end up in Hong Kong before 24 hours has even passed (if we’re ignoring time zones). Yes, these things have connected us all in an amazing and complex way but what I realized this weekend (on my short 4 flight from Missouri to California – a journey that would take days by any other form of travel) is that even while the world may be “shrinking” it still is by no means small.

While the internet connects us in incomprehensible ways, there is nothing that beats traveling and actually seeing the world for what it is. There are over 7 billion people on earth, 196 countries, and who knows how many things out there to experience. It is so easy to get sucked into a comfortable bubble of location, a comfortable bubble of schedules and convenience and “I’ve done this before but it’s fun so let’s do it again.” Even if you live in a diverse area, you may still feel like your world is plenty big enough. But are you going out and experiencing it?

The world is so much bigger than our minds can comprehend and while we may be able to pull up pictures of the Taj Mahal from our computers at home and imagine what that must be like, it is not the same as going there and experiencing it in person. So instead of sitting inside today (like I am right now to write this post), I challenge you to go out and do something different, something you’ve never done before. And I challenge you to keep doing these different things, to get a sense of how much is really out there – a challenge to make the world a little bigger.

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7 Types of People You See in the Airport

Today I’m flying to Chicago. Flying is not an unusual thing for me – I’ve been flying since I was 6 months old (not by myself, but you get it). I’ve got the airport routine down: check in for your flight 24 hours early to get the best boarding group, wear comfortable clothes that you don’t mind sitting in for 4-8 hours and don’t require dis- and re-assembly during security, show up to security with your laptop and tiny bag of liquids (if any) already out and ready to dump in the bin, board the plane ready to stow my overhead bag (if any) asap and get out of the aisle so others can go by, etc. But if you’ve ever travelled, you know that most people are not this prepared for flying (and you know that you might be one of them).

People watching in the airport (because security only took 10 minutes and you’re now 2 hours early for your flight – hi, that’s me today) can reveal all sorts of interesting characters. Where are these people going? What’s their purpose in flying? Why today not tomorrow? But no matter where these people are going or why, it’s easy to distinguish a few different types of people that you really will only come across in the airport.

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1. The College Kid

While all the flyers that fall into this category are probably in fact not in college, it is easy to assume that these trawling travelers might still spend their nights cramming for exams. Usually clad in yoga pants or chubbies and often sporting a college sweatshirt (or any sweatshirt), these flyers are the kings of comfort. They don’t give two shits what they might actually look like (some of them have literally rolled straight out of bed) but they are going to be the most comfortable people on the plane. No stiff jeans or fancy shirts to confine these travelers – they can practically do yoga while they’re squished into their tiny coach seats. And by yoga, I mean finding the most odd (but oddly comfortable) sleeping position to pass out in once the flight starts its ascent. With their no-shits attitude, these travelers tend to be nonchalant in their traveling, not rude but not always kind either (sometime they roll out on the wrong side of the bed) and ultimately easy to exist around during the uncomfortable situation that is airports. Maybe that’s cause they are built for comfort.

Special features: Neck pillows, expensive headphones (not uncommonly of the Dr. Dre variety), and exotic printed leggings/shorts.

2. The Business Man

We all know this one: the men and women clad in full business suits, complete with tie and bluetooth ear piece. Most often seen at night during the odd flying hour known as the redeye flights, these travelers live lives unbeknownst to the common man. How can they be comfortable in a suit and tie, we plebeians ask, and still not get their shirt creased after hours sitting still. They are a mystery amongst us. Depending on where you’re flying from or to, these flyers can range from obnoxiously loud as they complete business deals via their bluetooths to uncharacteristically stoic, entranced by the New York Times and the Economist. No matter who they are, you know they’ll be the one with infinite-battery laptop, working on Excel spreadsheets more complicated than quantum physics on the plane.

Special features: Amazingly tiny roller bags (how do they fit it all??), foreign newspapers, and waist-clip name badges (so you can identify what crazy company makes their employees travel in a four-piece suit).

3. The Over-Eager Vacationer

Usually composed of a family of four, including two small children and a father dressed in some sort of loud hawaiian shirt, this traveler is the vacationer on steroids. Equipped with god-knows how many suitcases, matching T-shirts, and travel guides up the wazoo, they are so excited to go to (insert beach-y vacation spot) that you’d think they had just found out they had won the lottery. Although not outwardly rude, they can lose track of their airport surrounding while fantasizing about fancy drinks with little umbrellas in them that they can become a slight roadblock to other travelers. Ultimately harmless, the over-eager vacationer has one goal in mind and any length of flight won’t stand in their way.

Special features: Leash children, hawaiian lais, and multiple pairs of sunglasses.

4. The Retired Vacationer

Unlike the Over-Eager Vacationer, the Retired Vacationer has a more casual approach to their traveling experience. Generally in the upper age range, this flyer doesn’t care about hawaiian shirts or fruity drinks on beaches, they’re just going someplace to go someplace. With nothing better to do, they board flights to wherever they can kick back and continue doing nothing. They are living the retired life the right way. And if they’re really doing it right, they’re also playing the wheelchair card to get a free ride all around the airport. I mean, what’s not to love?

Special features: Canes with ornate handles, old fashioned cloth baggage, and sunglasses that resemble the shades your optometrist gives you after you get your eyes dilated. 

5. The Average Joe

You could have literally picked this flyer straight off the street. They camouflage themselves easily into the heard of travelers wearing a mismatch of odd clothing, constantly looking a little lost, just like any other person in a city they don’t know – except they’re in an airport. Who knows where they’re going or why, these travelers seem to have no clear purpose and thus remain the average joe of the traveling tribe. Often with very little baggage and a slow rambling gait, the average joe fades into the background of air travel, acting as the filler persons between the Vacationers and Business Men of the airport.

Special features: Shirt, shoes, and cell service.

6. The Group

Like a herd of wild animals, the group travelers are possibly the most comical of all travelers. Between sports teams and school groups, the group travelers are easily identified by matching something, be it backpacks, lanyards, jerseys, or obnoxious baseball caps. Together they traverse the airport as a human amoeba, usually with at least one chaperone snapping at the stragglers and guiding the individuals to “stay with the group”. Due to their large size, the Group is impossible to ignore, not only because of their uniformity but because of their innate ability to constantly be in the way. But fret not, their matching attire is enough to make even the most frustrated traveler laugh a bit before shoving their way through.

Special features: Tour guide with portable microphone and literally matching everything.

7. Special Sighting Today: The Musician

This was a new one that I spotted today: the traveling musician. Lugging around a giant instrument in what looks like an industrial strength case, this traveler seemed to find issue with every possible thing that happened in the airport, especially when it concerned their instrument. To the everyday person, their instrument was an instrument, but to these musicians, their instrument was worth more than their first born and they made sure everyone in the airport knew it. Eclectically dressed as if they had just come a performance with the symphony but had slept in their clothes, these travelers expected people to bow in their wake as they complained of lugging their enormous instruments across the airport. But fret not, as a traveler, they won’t bother you if you don’t bother them. Music to your ears.

Special features: Bowtie, conductor’s baton, and long locks like Rapunzel.

Now to hit the skies. Tell me about any airport characters you’ve encountered in the comments! Happy flying!

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