Half Dome: Another Time I Thought I Might Die

Maybe I should start this story by spoiling the ending. I didn't climb the rock. I turned around and came down. I tried to be brave and have courage but I guess I just didn't.

Maybe I should make this a series about hikes that my family wants to go on that I'm not thrilled about but went anyway and it ended up being a really good time.

This would be part two of that series. Part one would be the Grand Canyon.

This hike came about because Tyler and I got sucked into one of those you-won-a-free-trip-and-all-we-need-is-your-email-and-your-firstborn things. We decided that would be a good excuse to make a big trip out of it. We went to Tahoe first for a few days and then met up with my family in Yosemite to hike Half Dome.

I'm sure you know Yosemite is breathtaking. It's a mountainous oasis with sky scraping granite surrounding lush green valleys weaved with cold rivers. If you don't know Yosemite but you own an apple product, at one point Half Dome was your background so just filter back through there and I'm sure you'll find it.


Leading up to this trip, and many other hikes I wasn't thrilled about but went anyway, my Dad talked IT UP! Sending us the stats including elevation gain, strenuousness, and number of deaths in recent history. You know, all the things to get everyone pumped.

We hit the trail bright and early and I was scowl-y and slow. The first part has several(don't quote me, it was early) stunning waterfalls and shrubbery, a lot of which I missed because of all the scowling I was busy doing. I defrosted quickly though and rather enjoyed bringing up the rear for the next several miles. Then came the going up part of the hike.

I'm just not an uphill kind of person. I don't think it agrees with my brand. Let's just skip to the part where I wimp out.

If you haven't hiked Half Dome here's a little summary: up, up, waterfalls, granite staircases, flat, flat, flat, up, up, straight up, straight up some rocks, flat area where you eat granola bars and drink the last drops of your water, STRAIGHT UP A SLIPPERY PIECE OF GRANITE HOLDING ON TO A SHANTY CABLE THEY PUT IN HUNDREDS OF YEARS AGO AND DON'T REALLY MAINTAIN BECAUSE YOU'RE NOT TECHNICALLY SUPPOSED TO BE CLIMBING THIS TINY PIECE OF COUNTERTOP.

That is a factually accurate description of the hike. Look it up. Here, I'll look it up for you.


So we get to the sub-dome, the place where you realize the stupidity of what you've decided to attempt, and it doesn't look quite as vertical as you thought it would.

Those little dots are people. And you CAN'T EVEN SEE THE "CABLES"
You eat your snackies and drink your water and watch people inch up and down the dome and you psych yourself up.

Hilarious aside:

We were all standing around kind of eating, kind of waiting to go jump in line to start up the cables. There were large gaps between groups of hikers going up the cables because it wasn't very busy that day. All of a sudden we noticed my dad at the bottom of the cables, and he just started left-righting it up the cables. He did not look back, and he did not stop till he got to the top. And he was passing people on the way up. We all looked at each other and did a little collective shoulder shrug in hesitant agreement that we guessed it was time to go. Oh, dad. Later we would learn that he knew if he had to wait for anyone he'd probably turn around and not make it up so he just pounded it out all the way up.

We all got in line at the bottom of the cables and like I said, straight up. It looked pretty vertical from far away but up close it was incredibly worse. We started up and things were going pretty okay.

The cables are strung through basically a fire poker that the blacksmith accidentally curled too much at the end and was like, "hey, National Parks Service, do you want this messed up fire poker?" And NPS said, "that will be perfect to hold the cables that people will cling to on the face of a cliff as they climb up a slippery piece of countertop one hundred thousand feet above ground."

And then someone in the quality control department at NPS was like, "mmm, I don't know if that's quite secure enough." To which the head of stuff at NPS said, "hmmm, we'll put some 1x1x1 pieces of pine next to it and that will make the people feel like they're on sturdy stairs instead of a wet Wal-Mart floor." "Perfect." (This is not a reflection of the NPS, they're a good group.)

I have no idea how far up we were when my panic attack was triggered. I assume it was about a quarter of the way when the vertical goes from about 60 degrees to 88 degrees. We had stopped to let some people coming down get past, which happened pretty frequently, and I was holding on to one side of the cables and my feet resting on one of the sturdy pine sticks. The people had passed and I turned to grab the other cable. I heard plastic hit granite and tumble down the rock on my left side. I looked down to see what it was and it was one of the small empty gatorade bottles I had in my pack.

I watched it bounce and hit two, maybe three, times before it disappeared over the edge of the cliff. In my head I became the bottle. In a matter of seconds I weighed the consequences of my untimely, bounce-like death over the edge of the rock, and it didn't seem worth it. Tyler tried to encourage me, telling me I was steady and we could make it. Jordan and Cristy did the same, telling me it wasn't that far and it would be awesome at the top. All good points but I quickly concluded that my loss of life, however unlikely, did not seem worth the view.

I told Tyler I was done and with little contest he turned around with me and we came back down. I felt pretty sad about not going to the top for a long time. I know I probably would not have fallen off and died. But I just couldn't bring myself to risk that. I thought of Tyler and our possible future children and all the life I would miss and I just couldn't. Or maybe I saw that stupid gatorade bottle and that was enough death for me for one day.