Hello there! Thanks for checking in on my blog. I go by Will and my trail name is PanCanMan.
About 6 years ago, a friend and I were having dinner with our wives and the discussion of getting back into physical shape arose. Neither of us found the gym idea an appealing option. I mentioned that we should do some local hiking, as living here on the Central Coast of California affords us access to many trails. I also mentioned that a few year back my brother had hiked up to and climbed the cables to the top of half-dome. Jeff (my friend at dinner) asked what “half-dome” was and I explained it was a large granite edifice located in the Yosemite Valley. I said we should set half-dome and its famous cable climb as a goal sometime into the future. Jeff thought that a great idea, and we were pumped up to get start hiking.
The following weekend, Jeff and I started with the Pt. Sal Trail near Santa Maria, CA. I had hear this was a pretty hike with great views. The trail climbs up about 2 miles, levels out for a mile or so and then sharply declines 2 miles to a secluded beach with wonderful views of an elusive part of the California coastline. Overall, its a 10 mile round trip hike. The trail is actually an old road, intermittent with sections of earth and pavement. We loaded up our day-packs with snacks and water, don on hats, light tee-shirts, some shorts and an old pair of tennis shoes. The first half mile was flat and we talked about how good it was to be out in the fresh air. Soon, the trail quickly rose up and curved sharply around a hairpin turn. I could feel the strain on my calves and thighs and sweat started to drip down my face. My open-mouth breathing was loud and soon my dried-out tongue demanded water. I gulped down a mouthful of water.
At the one mile mark, both of us had stopped several times to rest, suck in some air and drink more water. “Holy crap”, I thought. “This is harder than I thought”. Still, not wanting to concede my deplorable physical condition, we pressed on. Within the next half mile, I had stopped several more times. The exposed terrain let the sun beat down on us and the reflective heat rose up off the road. My heart was pounding and my legs felt like lead. “Oh my God, how does anyone do this?” I asked myself. Jeff was doing better than I and he encouraged me to keep pushing and that the “top” was not that far away. At two miles, we crested the hill only to find the “flat” area of mile three was a series of small undulations which rose and fell with the terrain as it made our way toward the downhill section to the beach. We pushed on to an overlook and a beautiful view of the Vandenburg AFB missile launch area to the south and the jutting point at Pt Sal to the north. We also realized that the steep two mile hike down to the beach, would mean that we would have to climb back up the way we came. I sheepishly admitted to Jeff that I could not go any further and that I had pretty much exhausted all my water and had a nasty blister developing on my heel. We turned around and staggered back to the trail-head and the car.
Thus went my first hike. A butt-kicking for sure that told me much about my physical condition. That night, as I lay in bed, sore from the days efforts, I thought about the experience and wondered if I was cut out for this “hiking” thing. Half-dome now seemed like some distance dream and folly. I resolved to do some research on hiking and to see how people go about getting into shape for this activity. This realization required a couple of things. First, I had to reset my expectations to our current physical condition and start slow. Second, I had to build up to these more aggressive and strenuous hikes. And Third, I had to equip myself with the proper trail knowledge and equipment.
I’m going to leap forward now to let you know that I (and Jeff) are still hiking. One year after starting, Jeff and I won permits to do half-dome. We had applied for 7 slot and won them in the lottery. I invited my 3 kids and Jeff invited his son. Our wives were somewhat incredulous to the undertaking but supportive of the process. Oct 7th was our hike date. We trained hard. As the Half-dome hike neared, Jeff and I were doing the full 10 mile Point Sal hike, even taking a steep “short-cut” up on the return leg. We felt ready and confident. Two days before half-dome hike, a small early pacific storm blew through the Yosemite Valley and dusted the tops of the local peaks. We made the decision to make the 7 hour drive to Yosemite, not knowing the conditions on top or half-dome was even accessible. Upon arrival, we heard various reports about the half-dome. We were not daunted – we had worked hard to do this and we would go as far as we could.
We awoke at 3AM in Maricopa (where we stayed the night) to get to the mist trail by 5:30 AM. We parked and geared up. We now had good hiking boots. We had trek poles. We had lighter weight day-hike packs with water tubes and we had water filters to refill on the way. Our shirts were designed for hiking and wicked off sweat and kept us cool. We had learned a lot! The hike took us up the beautiful mist trail with a clear, robin-egg blue sky above us. We admired Vernal Falls in the cool, shady morning where the sun had yet to penetrate. We pushed on up to Nevada Falls, pounding down on rocks with a roar. We transited little Yosemite Valley, whose river sand trail made for a tough tred and soon we started to climb through the trees up to half-dome. We felt the altitude sting our lungs and the forced breath of the effort but we pushed on. Our hopes soared as we approached the steps to the sub-dome and then it happened.
Ranger Frazier was a nice enough man, decked in his nice looking ranger outfit. He asked us for our permits which we happily provided and feeling good about our “legal” status. It was then that Ranger Frazier asked us if we had crampons and an Ice axe. Of course our response was no, I barely know what they were. H