When The Bee dispatched a photographer to document the rigors of climbing Half Dome in Yosemite National Park, they sent a former Marine, Carl Costas, whose trek yesterday appears on page one of today's edition. This gives me hope as some colleagues and I plan our own September assault on Half Dome. My father was a Marine, so I figure a few gung-ho genes will help me on the hike.
But I'm not relying on those alone, so last night I attended a talk about getting to the top of Half Dome. Rick Deutsch of San Jose, who has made the trip 20 times and written a guidebook about the pleasure and pain, "One Best Hike: Yosemite's Half Dome" (Wilderness Press, $12.95, 128 pages), led the discussion at the Sacramento branch of REI. About 100 other people were there, a record high for one of his talks, and evidence that Half Dome is a more popular challenge than ever, despite recent news reports of its risks.
For 90 minues he outlined sound advice - start training two months out, wear boots, take poles - but what I really wanted to know was what to eat and drink. Water and Gatorade are his recommended beverages, and energy bars, trail mix and beef jerky are his suggested snacks. Boring. Even he acknowledged that most energy bars taste like sawdust. Once I reach a destination, I like nothing more than John Bledsoe's pork hot dogs, but I'm not sure they should be the first choice after hiking eight miles to the top of Half Dome. I'm open to suggestions from more seasoned hikers. Failing that, I'll probably mix up some trail mix - you can never have too many M&M's, especially the peanut kind - and slip some fruit into the pack, unless the bears get it the night before.
The best idea Deutsch had was a game that he and fellow hikers play on their outings: They keep track of how often each of them stumbles on the trail, and the person who accumulates the most "trips" buys the drinks at the end of the day, back on the valley floor. Deutsch, incidentally, maintains a Web site devoted to tackling Half Dome. You might want to skip over the part about accidents, but his blog is pithy as well as helpful.