JMT Day 2: Things Don’t Always Get Worse

Date: 8/19/17 | Miles Hiked: 17 (7 Half Dome, 10 JMT)

I woke up this morning at 5 a.m. to hike Half Dome, carefully adjusting my tent in hopes it would dry from last night’s downpour while I was gone.

With nothing but a light daypack filled with water and a few snacks, hiking this Yosemite classic was freeing.

The difficulty of steep switchbacks and rock stairs toward the end of the hike — even without my giant pack — caught me by surprised and wore me down just in time for the infamous cables section.

For those who don’t know, the final 400 feet of Half Dome gets hikers to the top of the slabby dome by using pieces of wood as steps and cables as railings. Gloves on the cables are encouraged, with a pile to choose from at the base of the section. A permit is required, although no one was around to check mine. In fact, I only saw a father hiking with his daughter — who looked to be about 12 — during my entire hike to the top. (It pays to start early.)

Half Dome Cables Yosemite

Over the summer I tackled Telluride’s Via Ferrata and Zion’s Angels Landing, so the cables section of Half Dome didn’t seem as big of a thrill as it was built up to be. Yes, I somehow managed to do three of the nation’s most fear-inducing hikes in one season, from most heart-pounding to least.

The cables gave my arms and legs a good workout; I thoroughly enjoyed sitting down to a snack at the top. Views were a bit hazy, possibly from the morning light, nearby forest fires or both. A group at the top was celebrating someone’s birthday, singing and all. I took a few photos before making my way back down.

Top of Half Dome Yosemite

I practically ran down the trail, giving cheery hellos to those struggling on the way up. The number of people I saw ascending the trail on my way to the bottom made me happy to have started early; I couldn’t imagine how crowded the cables would be later in the day.

When I got back to camp my tent was in the shade and still soaked. I took it apart to lay it out flat and a couple offered to help me move the pieces to the sun.

While I waited for the sun to do its work, I snacked, packed and filtered water. The trail would lead me back over the bottom section of Half Dome with my backpack, which I wasn’t looking forward to.

I finally deemed my tent “good enough” and shoved it into its stuff sack so I could hit the trail. Before I left, the daughter from the dad-daughter duo with extra fuel canisters found me to give me the last of their fuel. I thanked her and offered to pay but she wouldn’t accept, saying they were flying home and would have to throw the fuel away if they didn’t give the canister to someone else.

Before leaving, she told me exactly what I needed to hear.

“My dad is an ultra-runner, and a few years back I hiked the Appalachian Trail. We both want you to know that things don’t always get worse. You’re going to do great.”

I almost started crying as I thanked her again, feeling stupid about getting so emotional for something so simple. But being brought to the brink of tears over simple, usually primal matters turned out to be a big part of trail life for me.

The 10 miles I put in on the trail was uphill, slow-moving and never-ending. On different sections I briefly hiked with two men I had met at camp. After chatting for a bit with each, I ended up passing both and didn’t see either of them again.

Trail life had officially started. I became a vagabond, only knowing people and places briefly.

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