“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
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.
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.
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.
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.”