North Dome

Sat, Aug 20, 1988

With: Eric Meyer
Ron Burd
Ray Bloker
Judy Robinson
Tom ?
Krishnan Sampathkumar
Theo Mulder
? ?

  Etymology Story Photos / Slideshow Map Profile
later climbed Sat, Nov 2, 2002

In my younger days, peakbagging was not yet my primary focus on heading to Yosemite. I used to join groups of friends who went there with the primary purpose to party and have a good time, and generally causing trouble in the Group Camp that was associated with the North Pines CG back in those days. A keg tied to a tree sat in Tenaya Creek, and it was not unusual for the lively hours to extend well past the 10p curfew established at the campgrounds but weakly enforced. Having already done the standard Half Dome Trail in previous years, I was looking to explore the Valley rim on other long hikes starting from the Valley floor. I had not yet gained a reputation for death marches, and as a result there was as yet no shortage of friends willing to join me for a "challenging" hike. Even though I made it very clear that the proposed hike of 22 miles and over 5,000ft of gain would be very difficult, little of that actually sunk in for the eight participants that joined me. And so, very early on a Saturday morning our group of nine eager hikers set off on the most difficult hike I'd planned or done to date, and the beginning of a reputation I would never shake.

The hike started off easy enough, several miles of strolling through the tree-shaded paths along the Valley floor in the cool, morning hours. We had not gotten as early a start as had been recommended, primarily due to late hours the previous night accompanied by the expected hangovers. But we were a young group, and needed to show our superior physical conditioning in combining late-night partying with next day adventures. The stroll took us westward past the Ahwahnee and Yosemite Village. Once we started up the Yosemite Falls Trail, the stroll quickly turned into effort, effort turning to toil, laughter to sobering reality. Because of the late start, it was already quite warm when we got to the exposed climb (exposure to sun, not to a fall). Our party spread out over the steep uphill section, each taking a place roughly equivalent to their physical conditioning. We were not a group of superhumans, it was clear. I never thought to check to see if the others had brought adequate supplies of food and water, and confessions began to be heard that most had brought too little, 1-2 quarts, a few had poured some out on the uphill climb to lighten their loads, and two members had brought no water at all. It became fairly clear even before we reached Yosemite Creek that we had nowhere near enough water to complete the hike as a group. To make matters worse and at the same time more incredulous, the two who had not brought any water had stopped along the trail to get high. So if thirst from the hike wasn't going to be enough to do them in, they piled on the dry mouth that usually accompanies the smoking of weed. The part that was really irksome was that they didn't think to share their goods with the rest of the group but expected the others to share their water.

We took a break to rest and regroup when we reached Yosemite Creek above the Valley rima sometime around noon. Even at 6,600ft it was quite warm. The cool waters helped relieve thirst even if we just wetted our faces. Knowing our campanions were hurting without water, we had been sharing what we brought collectively but trying to use it conservatively, and we still had some left when we took our break. At this point, Judy (or only female) decided she'd gotten more than she expected on the hike, and planned to return. She hadn't been too thrilled with the party atmosphere and low maturity level exhibited the previous evening, and wisely chose to disassociate herself from this motley crew before she regretted it further. Her boyfriend Ray chose to escort her back. They had been two of the more prepared in our group, and with the departure of their water bottles, all hope of finishing the hike without dying of thirst evaporated. I was very loathe to give up on this hike that I very much wanted to complete. Obviously this called for a new plan. Checking our map, we noted a handful of creeks along the route beyond Yosemite Creek - Indian Canyon, Lehamite, Royal Arch, and Snow Creeks. We had no filter or iodine tablets with us at that time and only the basic fear of giardia preached by the Park Service that made us afraid to drink from the streams. Our only choice (aside from the more prudent one of turning back) was to risk the contraction of giardia in order to keep us hydrated for the duration of the hike. The remaining members or our party all agreed to share the risk, and the water bottles we had between us became community items for the duration of the hike. We decided we had just enough water to make it to the next creek, and so lessened our risk by not choosing to refill at Yosemite Creek. If the other creeks were dry, we would be in serious trouble.

As expected, we were completely out of water by the time we made the next few miles to Indian Canyon Creek. Wild water, ripe with the fear of deadly disease, never tasted so good and we all lustily took our fill. The next two creeks came in the next few miles and we had no worry about running out of water between them. At Royal Arch Creek our map indicated we had at least seven miles until we reached Snow Creek and we did our best to take our fill as we topped off the last of our water bottles, which totaled less than three quarts. It would be a long stretch for seven of us, but we reckoned we were up to it and heartily continued on.

Reaching the summit of North Dome was the highlight of the day. Under beautiful skies we were treated to an amazing up-close view of Half Dome that none of us had ever seen. Though we were only halfway through the hike, we celebrated reaching our highpoint and had quite the festive atmosphere. At this point, brother Ron revealed the hidden stash he had carried from the start - a packet of whippets and the dispenser for consuming them. Nitrous Oxide had been all the rage at that time, though no one had thought of it as a Wilderness experience until Ron pulled them out of his pack. I can't say I was shocked, but my surprise and not a little amount of disdain was quite evident. Ron had even brought a portable tape player (portable CD players weren't around at that time) with Pink Floyd cued up to enhance the experience. Though I made fun of him for choosing drugs over water in his packing list, I didn't turn down the opportunity to take my turn at the nitrous. Afterwards I even admitted it had been a fine idea. We took a group photo, "Moon over Half Dome" that summed up the light mood.

Continuing on, one of our party, Theo, began to show signs of weakening and mild distress. This surprised us because we expected Theo to be our top athlete. He was an avid cyclist that put in something like 50 miles a day on a bike. Having done numerous centuries and even double centuries on his bike, endurance was certainly one of his strong points. But as we were to find out, hiking endurance is quite a different matter from cycling endurance. Consulting our map, we decided the quickest way for Theo to end the hike was to continue out to Tioga Road to the north. It seemed counterintuitive to head away from the Valley, but the shortest route to North Dome by trail is from Tioga Road. Theo suffered through next few miles to the junction where our routes diverged. Krishnan decided he'd had enough as well and went with Theo for the two mile hike north to the road. We gave them one of the three water bottles and bid them well. They were able to reach the road without incident and hitchhiked back to the Valley faster than the rest of us could complete the hike - they were already resting in camp by the time we got there. Theo could hardly walk by the time he got to camp and his legs stiffened up on him like he'd never experienced before - he was in a good deal of pain. When he still couldn't walk the next morning, he got on his bike and road it all the way to Glacier Point and back, in about half the time any of the rest of us could have even if rested - that's how conditioned his body was to the bike.

Continuing the hike, the remaining five of us turned east after leaving the other two at the junction. The dope had long worn off and no one was much interested in getting high any more. Mostly we just wanted the hike to end. Amazingly, the two least prepared among us, no water at the start, were still with us on the hike. That in itself was quite impressive. By the time we reached Snow Creek in a few more miles, we'd long been out of water and our thirst was growing acute. We thanked the gods that there was water in the creek and made the most of it. For the second time in one day, we drank the best water we'd ever tasted, giardia be damned. We gulped, we washed salt off, we drenched our clothes in the cooling water.

We still had something like eight miles to go, but there were no long stretches between water sources any more. And everything was downhill from this point. This didn't mean it would be easy however. The hike became a plod, which seemed to drone on for countless hours. The heat of the day was behind us, the coming of sunset still several hours away. On our descent from the rim near Snow Creek, Half Dome loomed ever large before us in the softened light of the afternoon. It was a sublime scene, but was almost completely lost on our weary souls. The steep trail down to the Valley grew painful on our bones and tendons with the relentless pounding on our knees and ankles. Who would have thought that downhill could be so hard? Ron and I were the first to reach the Valley Floor and with little to say to each other we quietly walked out past Mirror Lake. We were brought out of our stupor momentarily by the appearance of a coiled rattlesnake in the middle of this busy path. I had never seen a rattlesnake in Yosemite before then nor since, and we kept an appropriate distance from it, watching it until it uncoiled and slithered away. When we reached camp we were about as beat as we could possibly care to be. The other three came in over the next 45 minutes, not long before sunset. There was no partying that night for any of the hike participants (our group size was over 20, so there were plenty of others to fill in for us). Stiffness and soreness plagued us for the next several days. It was my strongest taste of suffering on a hike to date, and I found it both taxing and rewarding. We felt like returning heroes with stories to recount of our dangerous adventure, and there was much we had learned about ourselves and our abilities.

That was the last time I ever hiked with a large group of unprepared companions. Having conceived the hike in the first place, I had felt guilty as the suffering started, and somewhat responsible for the others' well-being. I felt like I needed to manage the crisis - reading the map, rationing water, motivating the laggards. It was a bit overwhelming at times on top of my own difficulties, and I wasn't able to enjoy the outing as much as I'd have liked. The term "getting Bobbed" was coined among friends and family after this, referring to the experience of pushing beyond one's physical limits while hiking with me. Fortunately, this gained reputation for such hikes steered most of my friends clear of me on such outings in the future. I would need to find new friends to compliment the old ones if I was going to continue on such outings...


Submit online text corrections or comments about the story.

Michael Golden comments on 03/18/05:
"The part that was really irksome was that they didn't think to share their goods with the rest of the group but expected the others to share their water. "

Genius.


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