Half Dome — Page 8

Yosemite - Half Dome Precipice

VIII. Atop Half Dome

Half Dome began miles beneath the Earth's surface, when a mass of magma cooled and crystallized under tremendous pressure to form a "pluton"—a really big rock, basically.

As geologic shifting gradually raised Half Dome to the surface, the pressure on it diminished, causing fracture sheets to form parallel to its surface. These sheets over time eroded in layers much like the skin of an onion, giving Half Dome its rounded shape.

Yosemite - Approaching Half Dome's Summit

Nearing the Summit

Yosemite - Andy atop Half Dome

The Author Atop Half Dome

Yosemite - Half Dome - the Visor

Standing on the Visor

Yosemite Valley Panorama

Yosemite Valley

Yosemite - On the Edge of Half Dome

On the Edge

Glaciers in Yosemite Valley and exfoliation finished the job, eroding the missing portion of Half Dome, forming the iconic peak we see—and climb—today.

Having successfully run the gauntlet clogging the wires, I at last exit the top of the cables. From here, it is a short stroll over the hump of Half Dome's rounded summit, where I join perhaps a hundred fellow hikers and commence some serious gawking.

We can argue endlessly as to which of Yosemite's big walls is more spectacular: Half Dome or neighboring El Capitan.

El Capitan forms a higher continuously vertical drop (or nearly so) than Half Dome, though Half Dome is obviously and considerably higher overall.

Perhaps it's best to simply marvel that two of the world's greatest walls of rock happen to exist mere miles apart in this extraordinary valley.

On to the view...

If the drop at the guardrail atop Nevada Falls was electric, the plunge off the north end of Half Dome is otherworldly.

I creep cautiously toward the naked edge and take a peek at the void below.

A wave of vertigo puts a little bobble into my legs.

From Half Dome's 8836' summit, it's nearly a vertical mile down to Mirror Lake and the Yosemite Valley floor, elevation 4000'. Horizontally, that drop occurs in roughly the span of half a mile, making it feel as if the whole of the plunge is dead vertical.

To the west, the encampment of Curry Village is clearly visible, looking much like it would if we were flying over via airplane. In all directions there is this charged sense of danger. The safest way down is the way we came up—the cables. Everything else is vertical.

Despite all this technical rock, most people do indeed seem to make it to the top of Half Dome. This, as I've noted, is a direct consequence of the cables' existence: they allow people to go where they otherwise would not. But is is also a testimony to the fact that humans on the whole are a scrappy lot, capable when pressed of far more than they tend to suspect of themselves.

Of course, we all still have to get back down. Time spent on the congestion of the cables has already put me well behind schedule. I wander back to the cables and find yet another queue of people waiting to descend. Wouldn't you know it, once again no one is moving in either direction. Aw, heck. It looks like it's going to take me at least as long to go down as it did to get up.

I find a flat rock by the top of the cables and take a time out, eating the rest of my food and drinking my remaining water. I wait here a bit for Bill, in case he decided to come up. Fifteen minutes pass. Not a single person has successfully come up the cables in all that time. Figuring I may as well get in line now, I pack up my things and saunter over to the cables.

photo courtesy William Henry — DON'T DO THIS! In order to take this photo safely, the photographer was roped in place (you were roped in, weren't you Bill???)

next: Descending