I remember getting up early in the morning that day. I actually have the photo for the record. 3:33 am was the time that I left my apartment in San Ramon, CA. I had been mentally preparing the entire week. In the shade of darkness, I started my car and headed East. The streets were bare, with only small traces of life. Basically people left over from the night before. Gas stations dimly lit as I passed by. My gear was packed and my collection of road trip music, playing gently in my car speakers to keep my eyes open. I was ready.
I had recently moved to California. I lived my entire life in Michigan and then uprooted to Florida for 7 years, before finally settling in California. I have been active most of my life, with most of it playing hockey and other forms of sports. Later after college, I decided to increase my cardio regimen and started running consistently. The one thing that I hadn’t really done in Michigan and Florida, was hike. As we grew up, we would go on snowshoes, or take a walk in the woods, but never something that we would ever consider a hike. Being that I was in California and this was all the rage with locals, I had to give it a try. I did a couple of small hikes around the bay area and then also Glacier point in Yosemite, but this time was different. This time I was setting myself up for something that was known as one of the top hikes to do in the entire world. I was going to set my sights on Half Dome in Yosemite.
The drive to Yosemite in the early morning is obviously not an issue from a traffic perspective. The only real issue you can have is your elevation change, combined with the starry night sky. This can lead to some scary driving around cliffs and the occasional issue of wildlife jumping out in front of you. Luckily my morning drive, mainly consisted of thoughts on how to tackle the trail and if I had enough supplies. The various rock songs from Incubus to Red Hot Chili Peppers were all gracious distractions as I navigated my way up to the national park area.
Entering the park gates earlier than normal, the park rangers weren’t out yet to greet me. Making way through the various granite cliffs, I was engulfed in a world that I had only mildly experienced. The first time entering Yosemite Valley, I stopped many times to capture the amazing larger than life sites all around me. This time was different. This time I needed all my energy and time that day to make my way to the top. Parking my car in the lot somewhat close to the trailhead was a breeze. Only small amounts of people were awake and starting to get their morning hike in. As I arrived to the trail head, the light was just starting to break and it was around 7:30am. I re-checked my supplies in my bag.
- Snacks and lunch
- Gloves for the cables
Half Dome is a hike from the Yosemite Valley and is close to a 17 mile round trip. The elevation gain is close to 4,800 feet, before culminating in a steep climb up cables to finish your hike. As you triumph in your glory of reaching the top, you then also have to consider your route back. It’s known as one of the top hikes to do in the world. There are many amazing hikes around the world (and many more difficult), but there is something about half dome that is majestic in nature. These perfectly carved granite rocks formed through many years, are larger than life. The trail has so many breathtaking views that it takes a bit longer to hike. It’s easy to be captivated by the surrounding area.
Its an easy stroll through the woods, until you get a bit closer to Vernal falls. The stairway up to Vernal falls can be somewhat aggressive, and reminded me that I never liked taking the stairs. Even though, I would walk these stairs for this view any day! Half way up, I got an amazing mist sprinkling down on me from the waterfall as it splashed across the rocks below. When I reached the top, I felt a sense of accomplishment for getting past the first leg of the day. Maybe this hike wasn’t too bad after all! Making my way up to Nevada falls felt similar, but a little more anti-climatic as it wasn’t near the amount of water gushing from Vernal. Still Nevada had something inspiring about it, as I looked up at its heightened position in the wilderness. As beautiful as it was, I diverted my attention and trekked on.
As I passed through the valley area, it got a bit warm and I had to take my sweat drenched jacket off. The difference in temperature from my beginning, to now halfway through the trail was quite different. Luckily I prepared for both, not really knowing what to expect on a hike. The valley itself was peaceful and seemed like a perfect halfway point for people hiking the John Muir trail. Campsites were plentiful and a wide open area gave a great opportunity for you to be one with nature. Interesting enough as I came into the area, I was greeted by a friendly face and we started to chat as our paths crossed. A doctor from Washington that had the goal to hike the Pacific Coast Trail over several weeks. I was instantly taken back by this mans courageous opportunity to grab the bull by the horns. Being that he was close to 70, taking off on a hike of this magnitude was even more impressive. Here I was thinking I was doing something miraculous hiking Half Dome?! We talked for a while as our paths continued down the trail together. He would go over his trip with me and how he had set his course. As our trails began to separate, I wished him good luck on his venture and he the same to me.
As I made my way up through the tree line, it was beautiful to see the redwoods through the area and different variations of granite cliff. Yosemite is a remarkable park and you can easily see why national parks came into existence because of this area. As I got to the top, I finally came to the large granite stone that is slightly before Half Dome. It’s stunning to look at, especially with very little people around. When I reached the final area, I looked up at the cables and lying underneath was a massive pile of gloves. It seemed that after coming back down from Half Dome, hikers would leave their gloves as almost a sign of gratitude for the hike. I took a look at the cables and thought long and hard about where I was. As I put my gloves on, I started my ascent up the back side of this amazing site. Luckily there were wooden platforms that gave me better footing as I walked up the slippery granite side. Staring up, I questioned how many people do this hike. The cables took some energy and I had to stop several times, including to let people pass down that had already been to the top. I reached the top and looked down at the valley floor. What an unbelievable view of the entire park?! A sense of accomplishment rushed over me as I reached my final destination. I didn’t conquer Mount Everest, far from it. What I did do, was prove to myself that when I set out to do something, I can persevere and get through it.
I sat on the top and contemplated for a while about where I was in my life and the obstacles I had pushed through. Moving to Florida and getting out of my comfort zone of Michigan. Leaving most family and friends behind, because my gut felt like it was the right thing for me. Taking a much different path than I ever could have imagined. After uprooting to Florida, then starting over in California with no safety net. Leaving any resemblance of familiarity behind. The nights of unrest as I learned to be on my own and make difficult choices. I started to question what was really important in my life. I felt a huge sense of relief as I looked off into the distance. This world has so much to offer everyone and it can be intoxicating at times to take it all in. There will always be trials that test your fortitude in life, but this is how you mold yourself into a better human being. Any successful person will tell you, the most difficult times in their lives have been the times that they have learned the most. I was on top, not only from a physical perspective, but mentally. I tested myself and pushed my boundaries. My half dome hike had become somewhat symbolic of my life at that moment.
I could have waited and prepared more for this hike, but in life you aren’t always prepared for what is to come. A leap to do something can often be better than standing still. I took the leap and it was one of the best experiences I’ve had. Half Dome is a hike that most people can do, with a bit of grit and stamina. As I made my way back down to my car that day, I saw many people unprepared for the hike stopping off at the sides of the trail. Not enough food or very little water had fatigued them and pushed them beyond what they had imagined. As I trekked through, I hoped that they faced their challenges and made it to their destination. Sadly we don’t always push through in the face of adversity. When you push yourself to make it to the top, the view is so much sweeter. Mentally or physically, we will always have our Half Dome in life, it’s on you to realize that you are more prepared for it than you might think. The trail always starts with a single step, make it today.