Today was my longest day yet. 30.2 miles but none of it on the PCT. This is a really long entry but I hope you read to the end because, and don’t take this lightly, someone died. I put my big bag in a bear-proof locker and was on the trail by 6am. Most of the day was on the JMT as it wound up through dense forest, past Cathedral Lakes and a number of the big imposing granite domes that are the hallmark of Yosemite. With only a small day pack I was making great time and came to the Sunrise Meadow area fairly early. I hadn’t seen anyone yet and the place was so serene. No clouds to mention, rolling granite hills with assorted pine varieties and only me there to witness it. Me and about 3 million mosquitos. I didn’t have time to stop to take pictures because the little blood suckers were on me in a flash. This also made stopping for other reasons unbearable too, so on I marched.
At Cloud’s Rest the summit route from the north is just scrambling over rocks. I got to the top and spent a long time staring down the magestic Yosemite Valley. I’ve been there three times before, summiting Half Dome twice but I’ve never seen it from above like this. The valley looks so much steeper and more dramatic from up there removed from it all. I stayed long enough to take some photos and eat a snickers bar then I gingerly made my way down the incredibly steep steps on the southern end, kudos to the trail engineers who did that.
The gradiated switchbacks were very gentle so I ran a mile or two on the way down and came to the junction to Half Dome before 1pm. At this rate I thought I had enough time to bag that peak too and still make it down for a pizza this evening. So I rushed on up finding the way totally unfamiliar though I’d done it before. The closer I got to Half Dome the better I could see the cables* and the hundreds of people clinging to them. It was going to take me over an hour to get up if I too had to wait behind every wanna-be rock climber taking ten breaths for every step, so I jumped the queue. Yeah I felt bad but I wasn’t slowing anyone down.
I scrambled up the first dozen meters before it became too steep then pulled myself up the outside of the cables. “excuse me”, “sorry”, “coming through”, I said as I overtook the crowds on the steps. I went far too fast and for the last dozen meters I felt like I’d just run a marathon. I knew the view already but it didn’t stop me from grinning like a mad man as I approached the edge to stare 4,000ft down to the valley floor. The grin turned to open-mouthed amazement as I saw two climbers beneath the big over hang us walkers like to pose on. That’s a crazy long way to climb, totally crazy. I’d rather BASE jump off it.
When I’d crept close enough to the edge for some scary photos and gotten my breath back I descended the cables in the same reckless manner as my climb. Sometimes with one hand but mostly with two, I passed people who had been waiting at the bottom when I arrived. Pausing next to one guy who looked comfortable with his location I asked if he wanted a photo coz right here was very cool. He was too nervous to get his camera so he took mine and got one of me casually leaning back one hand free. I did slip twice, but only an inch or two. I got down, did a victory wave and made a rush for the valley floor. Just before 3pm I was back at the junction unaware of what was going on at the cables. A guy slipped. No equipment failure, no pushing, just slipped, fell and died. Right from where I had been so cavalier. I must have seen him amongst the crowd and rushed by without thinking. I wonder now if he saw me. What if I inspired him? I didn’t have a sign saying “don’t try this at home ” or “I trust these shoes with my life”. Like I said I wasn’t aware of the tragedy yet. I pushed on down the trail passing things I should have recognised but didn’t until I reached Vernal Falls and The Mist Trail. Finally, 10.5 hours and almost 30 miles since that morning I came to the bridge at the bottom and just before I saw him I figured Dad would be there. We walked the last little way to the car park and came upon a ranger with a sign asking for photos of the cables. This is when I found out about the fall. It took a little while to sink in but it’s doing so now.
*two long cables about 2cm thick. In summer metal posts are inserted into drilled holes in the rock and wooden steps go between them.
Some links for details of the tragic accident:
More photos of this day’s journey can be found at Tuolumne Meadows to Yosemite
Location: Tuolumne Meadows – again