Half Dome Postmortem

Eight years ago, a group of friends and I went hiking up to Half Dome (16 miles round trip).  It was a scorching hot Summer day (~90F degrees) for Yosemite.  We didn’t leave camp until around 7 AM.  By the time we reached the base of Half Dome, it was around 1:30 PM and we had run of out water.  Still, some of us managed to climb up to the top.  On the hike down, I borrowed a small bottle of water from another hiker.  Five of us shared it, taking small sips mindful that it was our only water supply.  By the time we returned to the Yosemite valley (6 hours later), we were dehydrated, hungry and exhausted.

Over the Labor Day weekend, some of us returned to Yosemite to go camping and to redeem ourselves on the slopes of Half Dome.  It was a similarly hot day (~85F degrees).  However, we were more mentally prepared for the challenges ahead.  Learning from our prior experience, we left camp by 5 AM.  We reached the base of Half Dome before Noon, and we started the hike down around 2 PM.  We brought ample water.  And we managed to avoid the congestion on the Half Dome cables and the extra strain of hiking/climbing up, under the blistering afternoon sun.  Overall, it was a very successful trip!

Eight years is a long time to recall everything, which is why I’m writing this blog.  This is a postmortem on what went well and how we might improve, should we decide to try again in 8 years.  If you are planning to hike up to Half Dome, I hope you can benefit from our lessons learned and the checklist below:

  • Half Dome PermitReserve in advance and bring a copy of the Half Dome permit for each person planning to climb up to the top of Half Dome.  When we were there, a ranger was at the base of Half Dome checking for permits.  Only about 400 permits are issued each day, although it’s possible to find people with extra permits along the trail or on the following website.  If you’re really desperate, you can try to beat the ranger to the top, since the ranger doesn’t live on Half Dome 🙂
  • Leave early – Start the hike early enough to beat the heat during the Summer and the crowd on the Half Dome cables, but not so early that you’re hiking in the dark on the treacherous part of the trail such as the Mist Trail (very slippery when the waterfall is pouring) right before Vernal Falls.  Bring a small flash light for the hike in the dark.  We left camp (Upper Pine campsite near the trail head) around 5 AM and reached the Mist Trail at the onset of the sunrise.  It was perfect timing.
  • Bring protection – Mosquito repellents and sun screen are essential when hiking in the Summer.  Always checkout the weather forecast before the hike and dress accordingly.  Dress in layers and wear a hat and shirt that offers UV protection.  I personally prefer the convertible pants that can double as shorts in hot weather.  On warm days, also wear shirts and socks that wick away the sweat.
  •  Stay hydrated – The NPS website recommends 1 Gallon of water per person if you are hiking up to Half Dome.  That seems fairly accurate.  My friend Eric actually packed a 1 Gallon water bottle in his backpack and drank all of it.  However, unless you have strong legs like Eric or you’re a descendant of the mule, I recommend that you pack less water and bring a water filter.  Be sure to pick up water at the river near the Little Yosemite campsite, since there are few water sources past that point.
  • Eat along the way – For maximum efficiency, you want to eat before you get too hungry.  Energy bars and gels, high in protein and vitamins, are compact and perfect for the hike.  Our friend who works at Clif Bar provided us with some samples that were quite tasty.  At the end of the trip, we tallied up and found that we consumed on the average 1,000+ calories per person.  Your needs will vary, but it doesn’t hurt to bring a little bit more and share.
  • Don’t forget the camera – Yosemite is one of the most beautiful place on Earth.  The John Muir trail and the hike up to Half Dome offers plenty of opportunities to take great pictures.  I brought my iPhone and it took some great pictures (see links to pictures below).  Unless you’re a serious photographer, leave the SLR at the camp.  There’s no need to be weighted down.
  • Wear a climbing harness – About 1/4 of the climbers on the slopes of Half Dome wore a climbing harness when we were there.  I really think it should be a mandate for everyone.  The harness allows you to clip yourself to the cables and prevents serious injuries or even death, should you loose your grip and fall off Half Dome.  We didn’t have the climbing harness, but noted it down as a “must have” for next time.
  • Muscles, shoes & gloves –  To reach the top, you need to pull yourself up the slopes of Half Dome (400 feet ascend at up to 45 degrees) with the help of two cables and wood planks that are laid approximately 10 to 15 feet apart.  You need to be physically fit, with strong legs and lots of upper body strength.  As the cables and the granite rock can be quite slippery, you also need to wear shoes and gloves that have great traction.  Our friends who wore tennis shoes this past weekend had no traction on the granite and had to abandon the climb 😦
  • Be Safe & repectfulRecent news of people falling off Half Dome and the waterfalls along the John Muir trail should serve as a reminder that Yosemite is not an amusement park.  There’s danger lurking everywhere.  If you ignore the warning signs or choose to act stupid, nature will take a bite out of you!  Despite the warnings and recent events, we still saw many people wadding in the water just about 15 – 20 feet from the edge of Vernal Falls.  Pity.

Below are some pictures that I took at Yosemite and along the hike up to Half Dome.  BTW, WordPress sucks for not supporting the Google Picasa slideshow widget, so you will need to click on the picture to see my web album.  Enjoy!

Yosemite, September 2011

Rock ‘n’ Roll San Jose

This past Sunday (Oct 3rd), I ran in the Rock ‘n’ Roll San Jose Half Marathon.  It was my 3rd half marathon, and it felt good!  I ran in my 1st and 2nd race in July.  With a couple half marathons already under my belt, I was feeling pretty confident about this event.  But since I didn’t put in as much effort as I did in training for previous races, I had no expectations of my finishing time.  My main objective was to enjoy this event.

I arrived at the downtown San Jose around 7:15 am and the place was already rocking.  Music was blasting in all directions.  Some runners congregated in their corrals in anticipation of the race while others wait in the long lines for the portable potties.

I have learned from previously events to take care business at home, so as to avoid the long wait right before the race.

By 8am, I was warmed up and ready to run, but not before the national anthem and the introduction of local celebrities.  The announcer mentioned that Brandy Chastain was running in the race and that the flat course was ideal for new personal records (PRs).  I hadn’t given it much thoughts till then whether I was going to try and improve on my existing PR of 2:16:15 from the SF Half Marathon.

By the time I reached the 1 mile marker, I knew this was going to be a fast race.  Following the crowd from the starting line, we reached the 1 mile marker under 10 minutes.  That’s a much faster pace than I typically run, especially at the beginning of the race.  In the first 4 miles, it felt like there was a band playing on every street corner, and my adrenaline was definitely flowing.

I was flying through the streets of downtown San Jose, and no temptation was going to slow me down.  Besides, there was no bacon.  What’s up with the false advertising?

Around miles 5 and 6, I found my rhythm fueled on by the rocking bands and cheered on by the cheerleaders from local schools.  I started pacing myself a bit, running behind a group of runners and a gal carrying the 2:10 sign.  At that moment, a 2:10 finishing time felt achievable, so I decided then that was my target for the race.  Meanwhile I saw Meb Keflezighi, the winner of the man’s half marathon zoomed past us in the opposite direction.  He was somewhere near the 12 mile marker, on his way to another victory with a final time of 1 hour, 1 minute and 45 seconds.  WOW, that is superman speed!

Turning on to University after mile 6, we entered the affluent Rose Garden neighborhoods.  Many home owners were outside watching the race from the comfort of their front yard.  Some were enjoying their morning coffee and donuts.  But where was the “free donuts” sign?  By then, I was a little bit tired and feeling a little bit hungry too.  Note to the course planners for next year, please move the Gu Gel Station up by a couple miles.

I pushed forward knowing that my wife and daughter were waiting for me around mile 8.  When I finally turned the corner from Monroe onto Hedding, I was greeted by the most beautiful smiles.  I stopped to give my daughter a hug and a kiss for my wife.  It was uplifting and the boost that I needed.  Despite loosing over a minute in time, I enjoyed every moment of it.  My daughter even offered me a bagel, but I decided to hold out for the Gu Gel near mile 10.

When I finally resumed running, the 2:10 pace group was more than 2 blocks ahead of me.  I can barely make out the sign held by the lead runner.  I try to increase my pace, but it was an arduous task of closing the gap.  The next 3 miles was the most quiet stretch (maybe I was tuned out) of the race and provided little inspiration.  I didn’t wear my head phone for this race, and by this point I was wishing I did.  The Gu Gel at mile 10 helped a bit.  When I finally reached The Alameda and saw the 2:10 pace group just 1/2 blocks ahead, I was both happy and somewhat exhausted.

I eventually caught up to the 2:10 pace group around the 12 mile marker.  I trailed the group for a 1/4 mile, before deciding to push ahead of the group.  The final mile was tough!  My mind was filled with determination, but my legs and feet were screaming for mercy.  A guy ran past me singing out loud (run with a guitar next time and you’ll be a superstar) , so I decided to follow him.  Eventually, I reached the final stretch where the crowd cheered on my every stride.  My feet was heavy, but I finished strong.  I was so happy to cross the finish line, knowing that I ran a good race and successfully set a new PR.

After the race, I was greeted by my daughter and wife.  It was a nice surprise, since they originally weren’t planning to meet me at the finish line.  My daughter gave me a thumbs up for my accomplishments.

I also had opportunity to meet the Endorphin Dude in person.  This was his 25th half marathon in 1 year, and he earned his Rock Legend metal for running 7 Rock ‘n’ Roll events.  Congratulations!

Overall, I enjoyed the Rock ‘n’ Roll San Jose Half Marathon tremendously.  I cannot wait to return next year.  My goal will be to complete the race under 2 hours.

Running with bunch of Turkeys

No, this isn’t a blog about the annual Turkey Trot.  Nor will you find any silly jokes about running among overweight couch potatoes.  I have been there and I was one of them.  This blog is about my wild turkey encounter this past weekend.

For the past 4 months now, I have been running at Rancho San Antonio on the weekends.  Along the popular running trails, there have been frequent wild life encounters.  I spot quails, rabbits, deers and wild turkeys regularly.  Although  I generally run right past them, this past weekend I was so intrigued by a large school of adolescent wild turkeys that I stopped to observe.  I took some pictures and videos which I’m sharing via this blog.

It was 6:50am on Saturday.  Although the parking lot was full already, there were relatively few people in sight.  It was a cloudy day.  As I exit the parking lot and ran toward the hills, I encountered a large school of adolescent wild turkeys.  They must have been hatchlings from early Spring.  They were feeding on the grass near a popular walking path / running trail.  I approached them with caution, trying not to disturb them.  With the adult wild turkeys, they will generally move away from the human presence.  These turkeys didn’t really care I was there.  I was able to observe their natural behavior up close and personal.

Rancho San Antonio Wild Turkeys Part I

These wild turkeys are such beautiful animals.  It was such a pleasure to start off my run with the opportunity to hang out with them.  It sure gives a whole new meaning to “running with bunch of turkeys”.

Rancho San Antonio Wild Turkeys Part II

Training for the S.F. Half Marathon

After hearing about the San Francisco Marathon last December from a friend, I decided to signed up for it (1st Half Marathon).  As someone who didn’t run regularly, I was uncertain whether I could even run 13 miles, let alone finish under the 3 hour course limit.  But, I was undeterred.  I figure I should give it a try, before I get too old (add to my bucket list).  Besides, how often do you get the opportunity to run (or walk) on the road bed of the Golden Gate Bridge.

Although I recognized the need to start training as early as possible, I procrastinated.  I did very little running between December and March.  In fact, my workout regime consisted of  just a weekly flag football game with the guys at work.  I was also doing little to shed the holiday weight gains, eating out 4 to 5 times a week.  Around mid April, I finally started running on the treadmills at the gym, twice a week.  But, I would either get bored or exhausted after about 25 minutes of running.

I needed a plan as I quickly realized in May that there wasn’t much time left to get in running shape.  I still didn’t know if I was capable of running a half marathon.  For some (stupid?) reason, I decided to also sign up for the Los Gatos Jungle Run, a half marathon just 2 weeks prior to the S.F. Half Marathon.  It was meant to be a warm-up run so I can gauge my readiness.  I never intended to finish the race or run the entire course, so I thought.

I probably should have consulted the experts, but I devised my own training plan based on the amount of training time left.  My plan was simple.  I needed to increase my running distance by at least 1 mile per week while maintaining or improving on my pace.  My baseline for the plan was a 5 mile run at Rancho San Antonio on May 31 (pace:  13:00 / mile).  It was definitely an aggressive plan.

In the month of June, I crammed in as much running as possible, without risking injuries or burn-out.  I ran on the average 2 to 3 times a week for a total of about 12 to 15 miles.  On week nights, I ran 4 miles around the neighborhood to stay in shape.  On the weekends, I headed over to Rancho San Antonio to run on the dirt trails.  I enjoyed it much more than running on the treadmill or the neighborhood roadways.  Gradually, I incorporated some elevation to test my mental and physical endurance while I continuing to expand on my range.

The tables below shows my running log for the month of June and July.  Surprisingly,  I was able to stick to my plan and got my self in running form by the end of June.  I did adjust my eating a bit by eating healthier and not eating out as much.  I lost 5 lbs from my training which feels good and definitely helped improve my running time.

Last month, I successfully completed my very first and second half marathon (13.1 miles) runs.  Previously, my longest run was a 10k (6.2 miles) which I ran under 1 hour and 10 minutes (pace:  11 :24 / mile) in the 2009 Silicon Valley Turkey Trot.  I originally signed up for the Los Gatos Jungle Run as a precursor to the SF Half Marathon  run so I can gauge my readiness.  I never intended to finish the race, but I ended up running the entire course under 2.5 hours (pace:  11:28 / mile).  It provided me with the confidence that I needed to not only run in the SF Half Marathon, but to try to improve upon my personal time.

Despite the hilly course and the crowd on the Golden Gate Bridge, I completed the SF Half Marathon in 2 hours and 16 minutes (pace: 10:24 / mile).  It was my personal best time and it totally erased my fear from last December when I signed up for the race that I may not finish under the 3 hour course limit.  Boy, it felt great reaching the finish line in full stride, to be cheered on by a large crowd and my family.  My parents, sister, nephew, wife and daughter were there to congratulate me after wards.

I originally signed up for the S.F. Half Marathon, so I can check it off the list of things to see or accomplish.  Along the way, I have developed a passion for running.  Already, I have signed up to run in another half marathon in October.  No doubt, I’m definitely planning to run in the San Francisco Marathon next year.  I think the only question is whether I should run the 2nd half of the course or train for the entire 26 miles.

Giant Squid Fishing in Monterey

Click for SlideshowOn a day (Feb 13th) when 40 to 60 foot waves fueled the excitement at the Maverick surf contest, Yong, Michael and I went fishing for Humboldt Squids (aka Giant Squids) in the Monterey Bay. Fishing at the depths of 200 to 500 feet, we caught squids that weigh in at 20 to 50 lbs. Their size and strength tested not only the limits of our equipments (Yong’s old reel eventually seized up) but at times our physical endurance as well. It was a tug-of-war between man and the beast. Man prevailed, but a couple “large” squids got away (one snapped my 50lb test line). Collectively, the 3 of us caught 8 giant squids. It was a fun and memorable day, capped off by sightings of Whales, Sea Otters, Seals, and schools of Brown Jellyfish. We enjoyed the outing and came away with a whole new appreciation and respect for the ocean and the Giant Squids. Definitely an unforgettable experience.

Dolphins in the Monterey Bay?

I bet you didn’t know that Dolphins live in the Monterey Bay.  Actually, it’s quite common to spot Dolphins, Whales and other marine mammals, if you spend enough time on the Bay or if you go on a Whale watching tour boat.  What made our recent Dolphin encounter so special is that we weren’t seeking them out.  We were visiting Monterey for the day. We stopped by the Breakwater to admire the SCUBA divers, as we have done on every Monterey trip since we stopped diving.  Amazingly, this is the first time that I have spotted Dolphins so close to the shore, only about 150 feet away.  They hung around for a while, and provided lots of entertainment for the Kayakers, the people on the beach and the tourists on the glass bottom boat (typically not a great way to spot wildlife, just divers).  It was a very unexpected and unforgettable experience.

Click on the image below to views photos taken:

Dolphins Spotted in Monterey Bay – July 2008

Thriving Wildlife at Rancho San Antonio

Over the July 4th weekend, my wife and I went for a short hike at Rancho San Antonio, an open space preserve that borders Los Altos, Cupertino and I-280.  Rancho is one of my favorite outdoor playgrounds, since it’s conveniently located in the heart of Silicon Valley.  It’s where I first discovered trail running and where I trained (PG&E Trail) for my hike up to Half Dome at Yosemite.  It’s also where I return year after year to find a new generation of lambs, goats and piglets at the Deer Hollow Farm.

I have also had my share of wildlife encounters at Rancho San Antonio:  Bobcats, Rattlesnakes, Blacktail Deers, Wild Turkeys, Quails, Rabbits, Owls, Acorn Woodpeckers, etc.  Each time, I always said to myself “If only I had brought my camera.”  Well, I finally brought my camera this past weekend, and I was not disappointed.  I’m sharing my pictures in this Blog (Press Play on Slideshow below), out of complete respect for the wildlife and their home.  In shooting these photos, I kept my distance, tried to blend in with nature, and captured the close-ups through a zoom lense.

In a world of global warming and diminishing natural habitats, I think it’s great that open space preserves such as Rancho San Antonio is able to sustain an ecosystem that is thriving despite being in the shadows of encroaching home developments, congested freeways and high-tech business parks.  As a parent, I often wonder if such wonderful places will still exist when my daughter is old enough to appreciate it.  As a nature lover, I’m quite hopeful (based on my observations) that I will find a new generation of thriving wildlife at Rancho this time next year, the following year, and for the foreseeable future.

BTW in case you are wondering, I have not had a Mountain Lion encounter.  They are elusive, solitary animals that hunt mostly during the wee hours when the parks are closed.  By chance if I’m lucky enough to spot one, I will be sure to Blog about the experience.  Stay tuned!

Wild Life Encounters at Rancho San Antonio – July 2008