Half Dome - Yosemite Cable Route

July 22 - 25, 1999

Dave Svilar, Fred Sheffield, Chuck Schelle


Chuck, Fred, and Dave standing in front of the cables en route to the summit of Half Dome.  What looks like a trail of ants above Chuck's right shoulder are really people ascending the cables.

I was looking forward to this weekend for a number of reasons.  First, I had managed to get Friday off from the stuffy confines of my lab at the University of Nevada where I was pretending to be a chemistry grad student for the summer.  Second, whenever I go somewhere new I realize how much I appreciate my friends from home, so I was excited for Fred to fly into town and to see Chuck in Yosemite.  Finally, I had been enjoying exploring trails in the Sierras on the weekends, so was eager to check out what Yosemite had to offer as the Svilar family had somehow never made it on our many forays into the national parks. 

The first thing Fred wanted to do when I picked him up from the Reno airport was to go blow some money at the casinos.  I cringed watching Fred quickly lose $50 at a blackjack table.  I was up on Reno for the summer using my strategy of hitting the sports books and placing my money on the Diamondbacks when Randy Johnson pitched.  Next we joined a couple of the beefcakes from the chemistry department at my favorite Thursday night haunt, the Flowing Tide.  We soon tired of this, and decided we might as well start our drive to Yosemite. 

Fred didn't know how to drive a manual transmission, so I drove the four or five hours to Camp 4 in the Yosemite Valley myself.  It was nearly 3 a.m. when we arrived, and without going into details I had tried nearly everything on the drive to keep myself awake (Fred slept most of the way). One interesting sidenote to this drive is that we obliviously passed by the scene of the now famous "Yosemite murders" within minutes or hours of the tragic events.  Waking up in the front seat of the Maxima in the morning I was greeted by a most spectacular sight: sheer, granite cliffs rose so high in every direction I couldn't even see the tops.  Of course, I had seen pictures of Yosemite, but driving in during the night made it seem like we had just been dropped there.

Camp 4 is known as the dirtbagger campground in the valley attracting mostly climbers.  We gawked at the amount of gear big-wall climbers around camp were organizing for their climbs and finally picked a quiet spot at the back of the campground.  We slept most of the morning waiting for Chuck to arrive from his summer internship in Santa Barbara.

To our pleasant surprise Chuck rolled into camp early.  Chuck's lanky frame was still covered with glistening white skin even though he had spent the entire summer within a few feet of the beach.  It was obvious by his pale complexion that Chuck had lived up to his reputation and spent the summer working and studying.  Think you studied a lot in college?  Meet Chuck Schelle.  When they closed the WWU library at 11:00 p.m. Chuck was never  done with his studies.  He would find a building on campus and climb through the second floor window to finish studying into the wee hours of the night.  He may have been the only student in the history of the school who was on a first name basis with the graveyard shift custodians.  Chuck was the jerk that got me into chemistry, and the previous year had been especially rough, so in addition to being good buddies and roommates, we spent endless hours studying chemistry.  I had never been burdened by a girlfriend, but leaving Chuck at the beginning of the summer, whom I had spent so much time with during the school year was difficult.

The hills are alive...  That's Fred and Chuck frolicking in the meadows near Camp IV on the way to the river.

We spent the rest of the day sitting in a river, catching up on our summers, and drinking Milwaukee's Best.  At one point Fred disclosed his plan to pack up after college and head to Africa for the Peace Corps.  "Whatever Fred," we thought.  Sitting in the river we felt motivated for a Saturday hike, so we made plans to do the Half Dome cable route on Saturday.  Half Dome is shaped exactly as it's name would suggest, and is arguably the most recognizable of all Yosemite's rock towers.

Fred and Chuck at the river.

The next morning we caught a bus that dropped us at the popular trailhead that not only serves Half Dome, but also provides access to the John Muir Trail (Pacific Crest Trail).  What the trail lacked in solitude it made up for in beauty.  Maybe it's just that I'm used to the dense forests of the Pacific Northwest, but I always enjoy hiking in trees that are more spaced out with less undergrowth.  In addition to the pine tree forest the trail passed two large waterfalls and several crystal clear pools.  If my memory is accurate the trail gains over 4,000 feet in nearly eight miles of hiking with the last few hundred feet providing the obvious climax.  Cables embedded in the rock are used for railings in order to aid hikers up the final steep section to the summit.  As you can imagine this section bottles up on a typical summer day as the line to the top goes only as fast as the slowest hiker. 

Chuck and Fred wait in line as we ascend the cables to the summit of Half Dome.

By the middle of the day we reached flat summit where we joined hundreds of others.  The hike was long, hot, and had several thousand feet of elevation gain, but examining the crowd on top it didn't seem to matter whether you were young, old, or fat - there were all types.  We spent time resting in the sun, peering over the edge and admiring views down the valley before making our way back down the cables. 

Me looking over the edge a couple of thousand feet straight down.  The profile of El Capitan can be seen farther down the valley.

The only highlight that stands out in my memory of the way down was swimming in one of the pools.  Can't remember what time we reached the valley floor, but we cleaned up and made it back to Curry Village for pizza and beers before it got dark.  The next day we drove to a few viewpoints and then Fred and I made our way back to Reno where Fred caught his flight back to Seattle.  I returned to the stinky confines of the graduate chemistry labs feeling refreshed enough to screw up a few more experiments. 

-written February 2003

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