Ann Marie Brown wasn’t kidding when she gave Yosemite’s Half Dome a “very strenuous” rating in Moon Yosemite. Mostly everything you’ve ever heard about Half Dome is true. It’s arduous, yes. It’s grueling, yes. It’s risky, yes. Insert any other adjectives that are synonymous with the three used above and I’ll most likely agree. Even with all this, you may ask, is ascending Half Dome really worth it? To that I give a resounding YES!
After miles of difficult terrain, loose gravel, manmade steps, and switchbacks, we reached the infamous steel cables running 200 yards up Half Dome.Before I left to tackle this signature landmark, I was warned and cautioned. Some even tried to cajole me out of such risk. “On a danger scale of 1 to 10, this one rates at an 11” they said. Others said in the hopes of changing my mind, “Did you hear about the recent deaths at Half Dome this summer? I wouldn’t risk it if I were you.” While their points were valid, their arguments solid, and emotions behind their rhetoric almost convincing, I couldn’t bear another missed opportunity—another summer without my own Half Dome story.
On the morning of August 22nd, four friends and I hit the trail. As Brown notes in Moon Yosemite, the trek to Half Dome is “17 miles round-trip, a 4,800-foot elevation gain, and an unbelievable amount of company.” Again, she wasn’t kidding. We took our time, taking every break imaginable (water, bathroom, and food), snapping photos (of three bears no less), and enjoying nature’s art gallery with throngs of other hikers. After miles of difficult terrain, loose gravel, manmade steps, and switchbacks, we reached the infamous steel cables running 200 yards up Half Dome. At this point, Brown’s words kept running through my mind: “This is when many start praying a lot and wishing there weren’t so many other hikers on the cables at the same time. Do some soul-searching before you begin the cable ascent—turning around is not an option once you’re halfway up.” Despite the threat of storm clouds, we each (foolishly, maybe) grabbed a pair of gloves from the pile at the base of the cable route and made one of the scariest journeys of our lives. As I gathered my adrenaline from some unknown place in my body, and heaved myself (and my shaky legs) up the cables each baby step at a time—dear friends surrounding me—I prayed. I thought about my life, mortality, and my dad who passed away eight months earlier.
After what felt like an eternity, we reached the top, where we were met with cheers, smiles, excitement, and a warning in the form of rain drops. A few quick photos and countless sighs of relief later, we allowed our shaky, tired, and gloved hands to grip the cables once again; while jello-like legs and carefully positioned hiking-boot-clad feet anchored themselves on each small wood plank. Here’s what our descent looked like: Baby steps. A small slip here. A close call there. Baby steps. Repeat.
When we reached the bottom I tore off my gloves, hugged my friends in full recognition of the feat we’d accomplished, and immediately pulled out the camera to document the practically 45-degree angle, 440-foot climb we’d just pushed through. Looking back on this life changing experience a few days later, a thought hit me. The adventure I just had, and the feeling of accomplishment I was now reveling in, took place in my own backyard. No airline tickets were bought, few bags were packed, the passport was left at home, and little money was spent. Often I feel I need to leave home and travel abroad to do something exceptional, but for me, my Half Dome adventure ranks up there with many of my extraordinary international adventures such as: hiking Guatemala’s active Volcano Pacaya; camping out on the Great Wall of China; swimming with whale sharks off Isla Holbox; reaching the top of the Teotihuacán pyramids; viewing Paris atop the Eiffel tower, and many more. Ultimately, reaching Half Dome taught me that sometimes the most worthwhile adventures can happen right at home.