Life on the Edge…(Chapter 10)

Ms. Rosemarie and I hiked together until we met up with the rest of the group at the Vernal Fall Bridge. I had made it a point not to take many photos on this hike since we had done a portion of the trail earlier in the week and I had already taken, literally, hundreds of photos. My aim was to concentrate on the hike itself and not worry about trying to be the next Ansel Adams.

The sun had come up by the time we made it to the bridge, so we put away our headlamps. The next leg of the journey was the Mist Trail, which would lead us to the top of Vernal Fall. This was my third time hiking the Mist Trail, the second within three days that week. On the Mist Trail was a seemingly endless set of about 700 or so stone steps that passed right in front of the seriously gushing Vernal Fall.

The reason for the trail’s name is that you get doused with mist from the waterfall as you proceed up the steps. Depending on the time of year you go, the mist could be refreshing or it could make you turn into an icicle. Most people wear ponchos or some other type of rain gear when going up the steps. I wore my poncho, but even with that protection, I was soaked to the core.

I got separated from the group on the Mist Trail steps. Even Ms. Rosemarie passed me up this time. It wasn’t because I was taking pictures, though. I got left behind because of the frequent stops I made to catch my breath. Those steps were no joke. I was also feeling more and more fatigued. The lack of sleep was catching up to me in a major way.

This is my favorite stopping point before ascending the next set of steps.

Finally, I reached the top of Vernal Fall where I got to take a bit of a break with the rest of the group. After we passed the Emerald Pool, which is a cool-looking emerald colored body of water that supplies Vernal Fall with its beautiful, gushing torrents of water, we began the ascent up toward Nevada Fall and another set of stone steps. There were probably about as many steps there as at Vernal Fall, if not more.

The view of Vernal Fall from the stone steps.

Looking down from atop Vernal Fall

The Emerald Pool filled with logs

After we crossed over the Silver Apron Bridge, I fell further and further behind and became so fatigued that I was a bit disoriented. I was coherent, for the most part, just extremely exhausted. I made slower progress and became worried that I would never catch up to the group.

Getting ready to cross the Silver Apron Bridge toward Nevada Fall

Before I completely gave out, I remembered the Gu drops I had stashed into my backpack. Filled with caffeine, Gu drops give you a fresh wind when you feel like you’re on your last leg, which I certainly was at that point. I ate a package of Gu drops as I walked through a section of trees. I could hear the waterfall nearby and when I got a visual of it through the trees, I knew I was getting closer to the next segment of stone steps.

Nevada Fall beyond the trees

I cringed at the thought of tackling yet another set of those atrocious steps when I already felt like I had been run over by a truck.

Life on the Edge…(Chapter 6)

We had just left the Happy Isles Nature Center and arrived at the trailhead. The steady incline began shortly afterward and, as I foreknew, I began to lose the lead. I had such a rush from being in front of the group that I hiked faster to try and maintain the lead. That was a bad idea. I was already tired from the lack of sleep and by exerting myself so much at the beginning, I used up what little energy I had in reserve and became instantly exhausted.

I’ll just stick with Ms. Rosemarie, I thought. Rosemarie is a beautiful woman in her mid-70s, who accompanied us on the hike. This was her fourth trip to Half Dome. She was my inspiration. I believed that if a 70-something-year-old woman could do that hike, then why couldn’t I,being less than half her age, do it too?

Rosemarie knew the art of pacing. She steadily walked at the same pace, using her walking stick, and never stopped. I also knew the art of pacing. I had trained for weeks at the gym on the treadmill with the incline as steep as it would go. I practiced my breathing technique as well. However, training doesn’t amount to anything if you don’t utilize the skills you learned.

There I was, keeping time with Ms. Rosemarie, and thinking of my mission to Half Dome. The trek was a mission for me. Other than food and water, my backpack contained another piece of precious cargo. Just as Frodo’s mission in The Lord of the Rings was to take the One Ring back to Mordor to be destroyed, I carried something that I wanted to leave at the top of Half Dome, which represented a piece of me that needed to be destroyed.

Life on the Edge…(Chapter 5)

First of all, I have a back condition called scoliosis. It’s not some contagious or debilitating disease. It just means that instead of being straight, my spine is curved. It has never hindered me from participating in any of the activities I like to do, but I try not to lift or carry things that are too heavy.

What a normal spine looks like

My spine looks like one of these

Second, I was tired from lack of sleep and my energy level was probably at just 35% or less at the beginning of the 16-mile trek. Come on, let’s say it altogether: C-R-A-Z-Y. Third, the big toe on my right foot was broken years ago and healed wrong, so occasionally, I have pain when I put too much pressure on it, such as when I do strenuous hikes.

When I was in my late teens, I trained in figure skating and also joined a company ballet troupe. Although I was never a skinny girl, I was much smaller than I am now, so I was able to do those activities successfully. Somehow, and apparently without my knowledge, I fractured my toe. My guess is that I must have broken it while dancing en pointe in ballet class, or maybe during one of the tough rehearsals for a production.  Yeah, somebody say, “Ouch!”

My ice skates were too sturdy and stiff for me to have broken a toe that way. To make a long story short, my mom took me to a podiatrist after I had been complaining of moderate to severe pain for a while. I had an x-ray done and the doctor told me that my toe had been fractured at some point and had healed incorrectly, causing the pain. He told me that he could re-fracture the toe and allow it to heal normally, or he could leave it as is and I would experience occasional pain. I chose the latter.

To this day, I still experience that occasional pain in my right foot, but it doesn’t prevent me from hiking or any other exercise. However, the hike to Half Dome was pretty miserable because I had hiked earlier in the week and aggravated the toe. The one day of rest in between didn’t help much, so I tried my best to ignore the pain.

The fourth challenge was that I wasn’t in the greatest shape as I had not participated in the rigorous training schedule that our leaders had designed for Team Half Dome several months prior to the hike. I went on a few more hikes than I normally would and chose some fairly difficult ones to do, but there’s nothing like getting up at 5am to run up and down stadium stairs to get you ready for the Mist Trail and Vernal Fall steps, as well as the dreadful Sub Dome steps.

Mist Trail Steps Leading to Vernal Fall

Steps Toward the Top of Nevada Fall

My fifth and final challenge, which was perhaps the greatest one of all, was that my backpack was overstuffed. Our leaders, who didn’t accompany us on this hike, had told us in our briefing not to fill our backpacks up with too much water because there were people hiking with us that had water filters. We would be able to refill our Camelbaks with spring water along the way if we ran out.

Well, I wanted to be over prepared rather than under prepared, so I packed a lot of food and filled up my 2-liter bladder with water. (For those of you who are non-hikers, the “bladder” I’m referring to is a sack that you fill up with water that fits into a special slot in a backpack with a tube that allows you to conveniently drink water while hiking.)

This Camelbak is similar to the one I carried

In addition to that, I carried an extra liter of water in a plastic Camelbak bottle.  I packed all those things because I didn’t really know what to expect on this hike and didn’t want to be out in the wilderness starving and/or dehydrated. I later discovered why our leaders advised against overstuffing our backpacks.