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Turlockers traverse Half Dome, learn a thing or two about brotherhood

Turlockers traverse Half Dome, learn a thing or two about brotherhood

The youngest of the four Half Dome hikers, Ricky Gutierrez, gets a bird's eye view of Yosemite Valley.

POSTED September 9, 2011 10:23 p.m.

Half Dome, an icon of Yosemite National Park, is also a rite of passage for many Central Valley residents. The 14- to 16-mile round-trip hike to Half Dome from Yosemite Valley — rising to an elevation of 4,800 feet — is a siren call to outdoorsmen, nature lovers and those who seek adventure in any form.

Four Turlockers recently answered the call of Half Dome and learned a lot about themselves during the trip.

Hugo Arias, Ricky Gutierrez, Antonio Esquivel and Rudy Gutierrez began their trip at 3 a.m. on Aug. 28. This would be the first time to hike Half Dome for three of the friends, with Antonio being the only one with prior experience.

“It was definitely an adventure for us and a test of our bodies,” said Hugo.

The trip was planned as just that — an adventure —for three of the four, but for Rudy it was also a way to finally face his biggest fear: heights.

“I wanted to overcome my fear; if it wasn’t for these guys, I wouldn’t have made it,” he said.

Helping their friend face the 4,800 feet of mountain wasn’t their only challenge. The four also ran out of water on the way back down.

“We were looking for an oasis,” Ricky said. “We were in panic mode at the end.”

But their cool heads, a little help from fellow hikers and what Antonio called his “natural male instinct,” got them safely back to Yosemite Valley before dark and no one had to be treated for dehydration.

Hiking up Half Dome is a strenuous activity. Despite an 1865 report declaring that it was "perfectly inaccessible, being probably the only one of the prominent points about the Yosemite which never has been, and never will be, trodden by human foot," George Anderson reached the summit in 1875, in the process laying the predecessor to today's cable route.

That same route was traversed by up to 1,200 people a day in 2008; leading to both safety and environmental concerns. Before the Turlock group set out they had to obtain a permit for the hike. Permits to hike to the top of Half Dome are now required seven days a week when the cables are up.  This is an interim measure to increase safety along the cables while the park develops a long-term plan to manage use on the Half Dome Trail.

Despite recent efforts to manage the usage of the Half Dome Trail, the Turlockers were among dozens of hikers who traversed the mountain that day.

Rudy said they ran into people from all over, including New Jersey.

“We became family by the end,” he said.

They all agreed that the view from the top was worth all the struggle and pain to get there.

“The view is definitely overwhelming,” Hugo said.

“It’s a feeling of accomplishment,” Ricky said.

Ricky was so overcome with joy once they reached the top, he decided to commemorate the moment by doing a few hand stands — something which shocked many of the other hikers.

After Ricky’s display of athleticism, one of the other hikers caught a snake that had made its way to the top of Half Dome.

“The hiker then said to us, ‘You guys do hand stands, we catch snakes,’” remembered Ricky.

All the guys agreed that a feeling of brotherhood was the best part of the entire trip. When asked if they planned a return journey to Half Dome, the four looked at each other and shrugged their shoulders.

“It’s definitely something you should experience once in your life — or once a year,” said Hugo. “But once a year is definitely enough.”

To contact Kristina Hacker, e-mail or call 634-9141 ext. 2004.

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