Yosemite Half Dome hike. Insane personal challenge. Worth every step. 

“Half Dome is the ultimate Yosemite day hike – the one you can’t die without doing, and the one you’re most likely to die while doing” – Unkown

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Over the past 20 years, I have made many trips to Yosemite national park. Each time I have gazed at the top of the imposing Half Dome rock and wondered what it would be like to stand on top. Of course, knowing that a climb involves one of the hardest hikes in the park meant that I never got around to actually doing it. Until this summer. Thanks to a bunch of motivated friends, I was able to cross this one off my bucket list!

Sunday, August 7, 2016 –

We stayed the previous night at a motel in Merced, which is about 90mins from the valley. We left the motel around 3 am and reached the parking lot near Happy Isles bus stop along the valley floor route at around 4:30 am. We had a few protein loaded snacks and started hiking around 5 am. One of the most beautiful times in Yosemite is around dawn. Nature is slowly waking up & the tourists are still sleeping. Perfect time to enjoy the plentiful natural beauty.

img_2975Starting from the trailhead, the hike climbs very quickly over a short period. Multiple layers of clothing are very rarely needed beyond this point. We took the John Muir trail up. It’s a slightly longer way but I would definitely recommend it over the Mist trail.

We kept going up the trail till we came to the top of the Nevada falls.  By then the trail starts to flatten out and the vistas are beautiful. Catching the sunrise above the Nevada falls is an incredibly inspiring and beautiful site.

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From here on, the terrain starts to change a lot.  The trail flattens out and technically you are in a forest but there is not much shade. The ground is mostly sandy and takes a lot of effort to walk through. For me, this was the most boring part of the hike. I resorted to listening to some music I had on my iPhone.

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Next, I would say is the hardest part of the hike. This is the climb up the sub dome, which is basically 200 feet of climbing up not so small Granite stairs. There is not a hint of shade and the elements are bearing down on your back. Oxygen is slightly starting to drop off since its getting close to 8000ft and you can definitely feel the impact. I was drinking a lot of water on this stretch and stopping every five steps just to catch my breath.

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Next up is a walk on a Granite rock with nothing to hold onto, and copious drops on either side. This is the “dip” between the two humps leading up to Half Dome.  The gradient is slight but definitely noticeable. I took my time on this section of the hike trying to walk zig zag to not feel the fear of falling off.

Just past this section, you get a first view of the base of Half Dome with the 450 ft cables hanging off its side.  From here on it’s as much as a test of your willpower as it is of your upper body strength.  If you just drop me in front of the rock today and ask me to climb, I am going to say I would have to be crazy to climb up. But by this time I had walked almost five hours and I was not going to go back without climbing the rock!

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So we got on with the task of making our way up the rock. There is enough space at the base to leave things that your don’t really need at the top.  I suited up and put on the gloves and harness that a friend had lent me. Off we went to up the rock.

There is a set of cables that are permanently tethered to the rock. Also anchored to the rock are wooden planks that roughly serve as platforms to hold your feet. During summer the rangers hook up poles about 10-12 feet apart to hold up the cable.

My strategy was to go one gap at a time. And and it does require a lot of upper body strength. Also, the same path is used by people coming so you have to wait and give them the way. About one-third of the way up the rock becomes fairly steep and the surface is not entirely surfaced as they are natural dips. We made our way up arduously along the cables. Climbers all along the way encourage fellow climbers and help them along. I gave up on using the tethers as it was challenging to hook and un-hook them for each pole. Just decided to hold on the cables for dear life.

Finally, we made our way all the way to the top after about 30 minutes of climbing.

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The space at the top of the rock is surprisingly large. Especially so because looking up from the valley floor it seems like there would not be much space at the top. Most groups take lots of photos and selfies. Some of the more adventurous ones go all the way to the edge and do yoga poses and other kinds of ridiculous feats.  We took the requisite selfie’s and group photos.

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I ate a peanut butter jelly sandwich that I had packed and it felt delicious! Honestly, I didn’t feel a sense of euphoria having made it to the top, as I had expected.  I was really happy we had made it to the top, but the biggest thing on my mind was that we still needed to make it back. Would I have enough strength left walk all the way back to the base?

We stayed at the top for about 4o minutes and the started the climb down. Coming down the rock in an interesting proposition. Luckily I met an experienced hiker at the top who gave me the best advice – come down with your face to the rock and not looking down at the valley. He told me to just focus on the feet and rock. I followed that advice and was able to make my way down to the base without freezing up.  Yeah!

Following this is another 4-5 hour hike back to the valley floor. I would highly recommend taking the John Muir trail back. We took the Mist trail and that almost killed the knees. It’s a lot of steps. There is one point where it actually goes up and that was really hard. I also ran out of stored water along this leg, even though I had packed about 4 liters of water. My friend had some left over and he shared it with me so I got lucky. It is important to stay hydrated at this stage so it’s a good idea to pack lots of juicy fruits to eat during this section.

As you get close to the top of the Nevada falls, there are lots of tourist groups and hikers that you start running into. Gave me a bit of boost as I was thinking that if kids can make it all the way here, I can surely make it back. The first water stop back is at the top of the Vernal falls, and for me, it was surely a welcome site. The water felt very refreshing and replenishing. Also, along the way you can dip your feet in a section of the Yosemite river. This is a really great stop to have.

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From here on it takes about another hour or so to get back to the parking lot. We made it back around 5 pm – almost exactly 12 hours since starting out. And I never felt so exhilarated seeing a car in the parking lot!

On the way back we stopped at an Indian place in Merced and gorged our way down a ton of delicious naan’s and paneer dishes. Each one rich in butter and totally deserved.

Overall, the hike up Half dome is an extremely challenging yet satisfying experience. I would highly recommend it for any hiking enthusiast. Feel free to leave me comments or questions below and I will try my best to answer. Good luck!

As noted by my Fitbit – 50757 steps 19.6 miles 12 hrs. The pedometer app on my iPhone had slightly different reading, but close enough

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Insane. Crazy. Thrilling. Extreme Personal Challenge. Check all of the above! #bucketlist #halfdome done! 50757 steps, 19.6 miles, 12 hrs

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Book review: “Steve Jobs” by Walter Issacson – Great portrayal of a genius yet troubled mind


Steve Jobs was a complex person. Mr. Issacson has done an admirable job of presenting a balanced portrayal that delves into the creative as well as destructive side of Steve Jobs. The narrative is smooth and engaging. Details drawn from hours of personal time with Mr. Jobs and meticulous interviews with people in his life are reflected in the richness of the text. I listened to the audio version and the narrator did justice to the long yet compelling book. The epilogue in the authors own voice just adds to the depth – highly recommended!

My favorite movies …

List of my favorite movies – the top 10 are in order of priority – the rest not so much, but I like them all a lot. Enjoy! send me your comments/feedback!

(Point of clarification – these are all hollywood movies. I will put together a separate list of my favorite bollywood movies. Just cannot combine these lists. It’s like comparing Pecan pies to Gulab jamuns)

1) Raiders of the lost ark

2)  Shawshank Redemption

 
(Click on the name to open IMDB link)

“Mayonnaise? yeah, we got that. 20 kinds….Android journey for an iOS user”

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“Mayonnaise? yeah, we got that. 20 kinds”

Walk to Café iOS and order a sandwich it comes on nicely made up for you with all the condiments and presented to you nicely on the plate. The next day you go to Café android and you order a sandwich.  The server comes back and says “You like mayonnaise on that? We got 20 types”,  and, “What kind of bread would you like? 30 different kinds of bread”, also, “oh, what about cheese?  25 different kinds. And if you prefer we will order a sandwich from the restaurant next to ours and get it for you…but no guarantees on quality”. You get the idea. This is the image that kept popping in my head as I experimented with Android after being an iOS user for a long time.

I had been an iPhone user for a long time, in fact since the very first iPhone came out. I was not unhappy with the iPhone but the 6 didn’t make me exactly want to jump out and get it. So I decided o give another platform a try. I looked up the specs for the new android phones and the best one of them was (from mostly a design viewpoint) was the HTC One M9, which is what I got from AT&T

This is a writeup of my notes and observations. For android the hardware comes from a different company (HTC in my case) and obviously android the opening system comes from Google, so I’m going to try and split my feedback accordingly.

Die, app die – Killing an app on Android is too hard. You might wonder why does that matter? There are many times that you get into a state within a app where it stuck or just becomes unresponsive.  The easiest thing to do on iOS is to double tap the home button to show your list of running apps and did you swipe to delete. On android it was just too many key clicks away. Of course, you can install an app to delete or stop running apps ..another configurable choice that should be a basic feature. 

Where is this app? There was not an easy way to search local content including apps (and surprising given that it’s Google OS). The iOS spotlight bar searches for local apps and content. I am sure that is a option somewhere in Android to display on search result content but it wasn’t obvious to me.

UX quirks – Android doesn’t delete an empty home screen when I’ve moved all the app icons off of the home screen. Not really a big deal but to me seemed like really odd UX – why does a ghost frame of the home screen hang around when all the icons are gone? This may be an instance where the homepage manager expects the opening system to do cleanup while the OS is clueless about the home pages.

Name that folder – On combining app icons into a folder, iOS tries to intelligently judge a category and name the folder. I was surprised that I missed this simple functionality. Very often simple things are what you remember from an user experience

App, don’t tell me about your problems – On my android phone at least half a dozen times the day I got a pop-up notification “Unfortunately XYZ app has stopped” why?The operating system and the app between them should be able to figure out a way to suppress this message, restart the app in the background and keep going. I know from experience that iOS apps also crash, but  that is only apparent if I go look at the crash logs. As a developer I can see what happened to my app, but as an user I never ever get a failure message. For Android this may be a case where the boundary between the operating system and the apps doesn’t add up so well for the end-users

Security – I am usually a super early adopter and trying out all kinds of new apps and features. On Android I became worried about random apps accessing my personal info either on the device or from within other apps. The OS does not silo information as tightly. I really liked a home screen manager from a Chinese company, but then realized that the app had access to all my phone call, contacts, photos, maps, geo co-ordinates and more. The same company I also read is hiring hundreds of data scientists to analyze tons of data. Hmmm…. I am not a conspiracy theory kind of person, but really made me think.

HTC/AT&T peeves

Incomplete packaging – I got a brand-new phone and it came with no headset or USB charger! So with the fancy new HTC phone, I had to use my old iPhone headset.  I tweeted @htcusa who promptly responded saying that it’s up to the carrier to send you a headset. HTC USA did send me a welcome package with a headset and USB charger, but the out-of-the-box experience wasn’t as complete.

Where is the mute button? I have gotten used to a simple slider switch on the iPhone to put the phone in silent mode. On Android this was a good four or five keystrokes away. A simpler hardware control works so much better. I don’t even have to take the phone out of my pocket to put it in silent mode.

Sleepmode or volume? HTC, putting the sleep mode button right next to the volume buttons is a really really really really really really bad idea. The texture on the buttons is different but hard to figure out

So, those are the observations. It is not meant to convince you one way or the other on which one platform is better. You are smart enough to figure out what works for you.  To me this feels very similar to the journey we went through with PC’s.  Android is the de facto windows of mobile and Apple is Apple. How this plays out over the next few years will be interesting to see.

Update: I switched back to Apple iPhone 6 recently when I moved from AT&T to T-Mobile

Copyright 2015, Manish Vaidya. Okay to repost, just ask. Don’t plagiarize

Book Review “Game Change” : Detailed and through analysis of critical events in the Obama journey to the white house

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“Game change” is a really good book. The authors successfully provide a very detailed and thorough analysis all the events surrounding the 2008 presidential election. I thought it was particularly interesting the way the book highlighted the selection of Sarah Palin and how the McCain camp had Joe Lieberman as their candidate right up to a couple of days before the announcement and how that dynamic changed at the last minute. Detailed account of how the McCain team had to bring in Sarah Palin without a lot of background checks. It was also very interesting to learn about Obama and his rise and the way Bill and Hillary and and their camp reacted to his rise.

It’s very interesting to follow because all the figures are those we saw during the campaigns. We see their public faces and can guess what was going on behind-the-scenes. This book in some cases validates those feelings and other points provides insight into the key decisions and decision-makers that shape a presidential campaign.

I think any political junkie will enjoy this narrative a lot!

Book review – Red Heat: Conspiracy, Murder, and the Cold War in the Caribbean by Alex von Tunzelmann

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Epic, sweeping & meticulously researched saga

Epic, sweeping & meticulously researched saga of the tumultuous 20th century history of the Caribbean islands. Alex puts in lot of hard work in writing the history for her readers. And it shows. Also I love the fact that she is able to bring out the human nature of the historical figures, instead of just making them dry caricatures. We are all human and sometimes it best to understand history within the context of the frailties and pitfalls of human nature. The sequence describing the tantrum thrown by Papa Doc when his daughter went off with her disgraced husband is an excellent example of this type of historical narrative.

My only grudge is that this is really 3 books combined in one – History of Cuba, that of Haiti & of the Dominican Republic. Although intertwined, each would have made a compelling narrative on its own. I felt towards the end not enough justice was done to telling the story of Castro & to some extent Che. At one point I got on Netflix and watched a documentary on Castro which gave me lot more information.

That doesn’t take away at all from the compelling nature of this book. It should be required reading for any student of Caribbean history. And a pleasurable, informative and fascinating read for any history buff.

The audible narrative is also pleasant and the reader captures the spirit of the book well, along with her emphasis on French pronunciations which makes it even more interesting.

Thanks Alex for another wonderful historical read (following Indian summer)

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