On August 10th, 2016 I found myself standing on the floor of Yosemite Valley, craning my neck almost 5,000ft up to gaze at the face of Half Dome painted in an evening glow. It had only been about 5 months since my cousin Sam sold me on the idea of participating in this amazing day hike and I ended up with two winning lottery tickets to ascend the cables.
Prior to arriving at Yosemite National Park I had done my research. I had trained on Mt. Tamalpais, Sugarloaf Ridge State Park, Jack London State Park, spent some time backpacking in the Cascade Foothills, and even took a preliminary class at REI. I knew I was physically in shape, but now looking up at the dome I questioned, was I mentally prepared?
On the morning of August 11th, Sam and I left camp at 5am and began our journey to the summit of Half Dome.
We hiked in the dark along the Mist Trail, traversing granite staircases and gaining elevation with each waterfall. As we reached Vernal Falls we began to see daylight all around us, and by 9:30am we reached the subdome.
After an hour spent mastering the technicalities of each chiseled step of the subdome, Sammi and I stood before the cables.
The cables themselves are nothing short of breathtaking, and once I began, each step took every ounce of courage I had. Rock climbing could not have prepared me for this hike. Not having a safety net while doing constant pull ups between 10 foot gaps in order to hold myself to a vertical cliff was nothing short of terrifying. However, instead of fear I felt intense excitement, a deep love for life, I felt beauty, and I felt the hum inside this massive 8,839 foot mountain. The realization of all of these things resulted in tears of joy, I remember thinking, “This is so important!” Not the act of summiting the dome, but of understanding the deep importance of this experience, of feeling tiny, of feeling incredibly strong and alive!
At 11am my cousin and I reached the top of the dome. I felt completely awestruck as I walked around one of the tallest peaks in Yosemite and surveyed the world. I laid down on the massive rock and let my body soak up the energy, recharge, and take in the intense feeling of being connected to everything around me.
Sam and I greeted our fellow hikers, we laughed, ate, walked along the “diving board,” and around noon we started our descent. I was even more terrified of going down, but quickly found friendship in the eyes of every hiker that I passed. We all worked together through the experience, and luckily going down was much easier than coming up.
We hiked back to camp on the John Muir Trail which allowed us to see the beautiful pools above Nevada Falls. We reached our trail head at sunset and walked to camp, spending a total of 13 hours hiking 19 miles that day. As I sat in my tent that evening, letting all of the pain subside, I began to really think about the day’s journey. I realized that despite all my months of training, nothing could have prepared me for Half Dome. Not only was it physically challenging, and emotionally intense, but also dangerous in a way that gives you no other choice but to trust in yourself and accept the beauty of knowing you can do what might seem nearly impossible.
Watch a video of my REI Presentation on Half Dome here.
Photo Credit: Night Owl Arts & Crafts