Adventures in Yosemite: Hiking Half Dome

“I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived.”
-Henry David Thoreau

pretty mountain

A few months ago I made the 18 mile trek to Half Dome, the most demanding day hike in Yosemite National Park. This arduous adventure was one of the most amazing and terrifying things I’ve ever done.

With a 4,800 feet elevation gain and many miles ahead of us my sister, her husband, and I started our day before dawn one late July morning. Waking up at 4:30 am was soon worth it when the sun began to rise. The mountains in the distance were graced with a sun streaked glow. Their outline was rising and falling in all directions, cascading across the illuminated skyline in the distance. Sitting in the back seat of the car my sleepiness faded into awe.

Once we arrived at the trail head we grabbed our backpacks and set off for the day. Only a few miles into our journey we heard rushing water and soon saw magnificent waterfalls in the distance. As we got closer the grass was damp with dew and we could feel the mist lightly falling around us.

waterfall two

Moving past the waterfalls on our left we found ourselves at the base of a very long set of rock steps curving around a waterfall and up further into the redwood-speckled mountains. Knowing the huge elevation gain, we figured this would be coming. But there were a lot of steps. My sister said it was even comparable to the steps at Machu Picchu.

Now above the rushing water we came to a bridge where my eyes fell upon the most beautiful sight I’ve ever seen in nature. It was still early morning, maybe 9 am, and the sun was glimmering off the rushing water and illuminating the redwood trees. It was absolutely awe-inspiring to look at. I took a picture (below) but it barely captures how amazing it was in person.

prettiest thing

After miles and miles of more waterfalls, jagged rock steps, and water breaks, we finally reached the base of the summit. Although we were close, we still had longer ways to go.

The most difficult part about Half Dome is the last stretch to the top. In fact, it’s so difficult that I witnessed many grown men gaze up, shake their head, and turn back after one glance at what lay ahead.

Because Half Dome is so steep, the only way to reach the summit is to put on a pair of climbing gloves and physically pull yourself up the dome with the help of metal cables and wooden steps for your feet placed at three yard intervals.

To be completely honest, when I first saw this death trap I was ready to turn around. I couldn’t help but think that if for some reason I let go of the cables then things would not end well. I never thought that I would hike 18 miles and even consider not reaching the top. But I was considering it, and I almost turned back. I was only 17 years old and didn’t feel like falling off a mountain that day. But with some prodding from my brother-in-law and sister (if only my parents knew…), I made the decision. I had not come all this way for nothing.

the summit

So, feeling very adventurous I pushed past all the middle aged men too scared to climb up, and began. The entire time it took to get up, I never once took my eyes off the piece of cable wire in front of me. I knew if I looked to the sides, up, or even worse, down, I would want to turn back. I’m sure the view must have been amazing from that unique angle of hanging off the side of a cliff, but it really wasn’t worth a panic attack.

After about 25 minutes of pulling ourselves up, we were finally at the top. The view was absolutely astonishing. Breathtaking, in all senses of the word.

Gazing at the beauty that stretched out in all directions, I thought of this quote by Sylvia Plath:

“I felt my lungs inflate with the onrush of scenery—air, mountains, trees, people. I thought, “This is what it is to be happy.”

mount view

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Morning in the Mountains

“Nature is painting for us, day after day, pictures of infinite beauty if only we have the eyes to see them.” -John Ruskin

santa cruz
Here’s a very short poem I wrote and a picture I took a few months back while in the breathtaking Santa Cruz Mountains!

Morning in the mountains
breaks with an orange tint
on the redwood trees,
reaching and reaching
the sun spreads over the earth

The Beat Generation in San Francisco

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In San Francisco, the heart of the Beat Generation exists on both sides of a narrow alley.  The brick walls are painted with bright colors, the sidewalks are engraved with golden quotes, and an unavoidable sense of creativity fills the air.  This is Jack Kerouac Alley, named after the beatnik who started it all.

The murals, like the one below, artfully layer the otherwise typical buildings with words and designs painted by local artists.  Etched into the concrete are quotes from John Steinbeck, Maya Angelou, and, of course, a famous line from Jack Kerouac’s On The Road.

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The quote from the mural comes from the Vesuvio Cafe sign located to the left of Jack Kerouac Alley.  It’s said to be the birth place of beat poetry and a center for jazz, writing, and art since 1948.  Ever since Neal Cassady, the real-life Dean Moriarty from Kerouac’s On The Road, stopped by while on the way to a poetry reading, this cafe became a regular hang out for beat poets.

On the other side of Jack Kerouac Alley is City Lights Bookstore.  Founded in 1953 by poet Lawrence Ferlinghetti and Peter D. Martin, this charming bookstore-publisher combination has been a “Literary Landmark” for any book-lover visiting San Francisco.  With vintage posters covering the walls, endless rows of books, and even a poetry room hidden upstairs, Ferlinghetti was right when he said, “it is as if the public were being invited, in person and in books, to participate in that great conversation between authors of all ages, ancient and modern.”  With its inviting ambiance, it’s tempting not to pick up a book, grab a seat, and relax while listening to a medley of distant city traffic, laughter, and street musicians trickle in through the windows.

city lights

Howl and Other Poems by Allen Ginsberg is one of the most well-known publications through City Lights. After its debut in 1956, it became so controversial that Ferlinghetti was arrested and persecuted in an obscenity trial for its publication.  Since this, the bookstore has been renowned as a center for free thinkers with its motto, “Open Books, Open Mind, Open Heart.”

If you’re a huge fan of Beat literature, want to learn more, or just love really cute bookstores with hidden poetry rooms, then this is a must-see the next time you’re in San Francisco!

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The first floor out of three in City Lights Bookstore.

Neal Cassady & Jack Kerouac, San Francisco 1952.

Neal Cassady & Jack Kerouac, San Francisco 1952.

West Coast Adventures

With stories from hikes in Yosemite National Park, towering redwoods in the Santa Cruz Mountains, and bike rides along the San Francisco Bay, the only place I can start to describe the incredible experiences of this past month without getting overwhelmed is, well, the beginning.

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My first day in San Francisco awoke with clear skies and a crisp breeze from the Bay. The crisp breeze was normal, the clear sky, I would soon find, was not. If you’ve ever heard the Mark Twain quote, “The coldest winter I ever spent was a summer in San Francisco” then you should know that he isn’t too far from the truth. Luckily, I must have brought the clear skies with me from the East Coast. On a typical morning, big poofs of fog roll in from the hills to hang above the city until it (sometimes) evaporates with the mid-afternoon sun.

My sister, her husband and I took off on bikes from their apartment in The Mission. Riding in the bike lane next to traffic cluttered streets, I tried to sneak glances at the city around me. Murals were canvased over brick walls on the facades of cafes and bookstores. Bending around into narrow streets the complex designs garnished with bright colors continued, making every alleyway an art gallery. The clicking notes from the spokes on my bicycle and my hair blowing in the wind were the only things trailing behind as I looked forward to the next skyscraper, the next park, the next eccentrically dressed local on the sidewalk (there were many).

Locally grown avocados.  You can't get these in New England!

Locally grown avocados. You can’t get these in New England!

Finally, we reached our first destination: The Ferry Plaza Farmers’ Market. Located right on Embarcadero, the street was lined with palm trees and stretched out onto the sun-streaked Bay. The sidewalks were packed. Street performers, families with overflowing bags of vegetables, large stands for local farmers to showcase what’s in season. Looking around there were more varieties of vegetables and fruits than I even knew existed.

Buckets of dried lavender.

Buckets of dried lavender.

Farm fresh strawberries.

Farm fresh strawberries.

The Ferry Plaza Farmers’ Market is widely known as one of the best farmers’ markets in the country. It’s typical to see San Francisco’s top farmers, artisans, and chefs behind one of the stands preparing or selling something delicious. Almost everything you’ll see is grown or made locally and certified organic.

Finding a seat on a bench right by the water, I got my first glimpse of the Bay Bridge while eating breakfast.

The Bay Bridge.

The Bay Bridge.

We continued to ride our bike down Embarcadero, passing by busy tourist locations like Pier 39 and sleek sailing boats for America’s Cup 2013 that would be taking place in San Francisco this year. The streets were lined with restaurants ranging from Ethiopian to Thai to anything else you can think of.

Finally, we hit the quintessential landmark of San Francisco: The Golden Gate Bridge. It stretched across the Bay, etching the blue sky with its deep red steel. We decided to cross it and get a closer look. Light wisps of fog hung between the suspension cables above and water trailed in from the Pacific glistening below.

This is just my first day with a few of the amazing things I’ve gotten to see and do, I will be posting more soon!