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.

The time I thought I might actually die.

When I told people that I was from Colorado while I was in Argentina about 87% of the time this was their response (but in Spanish, of course): 
"Oh, where the Grand Canyon is?"
or
"Ohhhh the Grand Canyon! How beautiful!"
or
"Do you live near/in/on the Grand Canyon?"
Allow me to save you the trouble of getting on Google Maps yourself by showing you where exactly the Grand Canyon is in relation to the state of Colorado.
Now do you see why it was confusing to me that those were the consistent responses I received? Me too. 
Okay, so they weren't familiar with the United States, much less Colorado, and that's fair. I couldn't pick out an Argentine land mark before I went there, nor could I hardly name one. I assume that they assumed that because the Colorado RIVER is what helped form the grand Canyon. So close Argentina but no cigar. 

Now to the part where I almost died. 


Recently, in the last 5 years or so, my family has decided that family vacations are not about relaxation. They are about physical and mental feats that we all need to accomplish together. This was the first of those endeavors. 

Dad decided that we should hike the Grand Canyon the way hardcore people, which we are, do it: rim-to-rim. That means you start at one rim of the Grand Canyon and then hike down into the canyon, across the bottom, and back up the other side. 

The beginning of the hike was so fun! Watching the sun come up over those ridges was a truly extraordinary sight. The Grand Canyon walls lit by the sunrise is a sight everyone should see and be able to appreciate in their lifetime. 

After that the hiking was going really well. Obviously down is easier than up. It was so fun to hike across the bottom and see how massive and beautiful the Grand Canyon is. 

About half way across the bottom it was nearing noon and the temperature was rising. Everyone will tell you that I didn't drink enough water and I also didn't eat enough calories. Well, to that I say, pfft, probably...not...maybe. 

I was getting extremely tired. I've been tired like this before. So obviously I was still thinking "I got this." Which should have been my first sign of exhaustion-induced delusion: not using proper grammar. 

The night before the hike we had a discussion, while we were carbo-loading,  about what happens if you can't make it out of the Grand Canyon. Here's the deal, they can't get ambulances down there to rescue people from their death. They have to fly the helicopter in and airlift you out, or you die.

I add that interjection so that you know exactly what I was thinking about through the second half of the bottom of the canyon. The helicopter. That's what I was thinking about. And thinking it would be worth the thousands dollars I would have to eventually pay for that helicopter. Worth it. Just like those rich people that pay boatloads of money for small conveniences like getting yourself somewhere an hour away by car in less than ten minutes because "ain't nobody got time for that." Except I was thinking "ain't nobody got to feel this pain." 

Right about this time was when we started the ascent up the other side of the canyon, the other "rim" if you will. I began trucking upward slowly, stopping frequently. Thankfully, I have the best siblings and the greatest Dad who are beyond patient with me and my antics. I guess this was an antic of mine, being slow, tired and exhausted. My Dad stopped with me every time I stopped and constantly encouraged me and made me feel capable. Much like he has done for my entire life. Thank you, Dad. 

My sibs made appropriate jokes about how weak I was and then promptly encouraged me. At some point I was counting steps between stops trying to push myself as hard as I could. I'm sure the highest count was somewhere between 10 and 12. My legs were wobbly, beyond weak and empty. The rest of my body was numb from being in so much pain for such an extended amount of time. I thought several times in the last few hours that I might at the very least pass out and at the more likely actually die in this canyon. And I accepted it. I welcomed the possibility of death or at least unconsciousness just so I wouldn't have to feel the way I was feeling. 

The rest of my family pressed on ahead the last half mile--I didn't know at the time it was the last half mile--and I began to stop more frequently, taking about 3 to 4 steps between breaks. Honestly, I wanted to stop altogether and wait for someone to come down and rescue me. I couldn't move anymore. Leaning on a tree, I doubled over. 

I mustered what strength I had left just to lift my head and attempt to comprehend the rest of the way to the top of the canyon. And there was my mother coming down the path to rescue me. I started to sob. That was all I could do was break down. I started to whimper thinking she might be able to hear me. Over and over again I told her I was too weak and that I couldn't make it the rest of the way. She kept telling me that we were so close to the top and that I could make it. She held my hand the rest of the way while I sobbed to the top of the canyon rim. She was my helicopter out of there. 

I didn't initially want this to be an emotional post but I guess it was more that than comical, like I thought. Mostly, I just wanted you to know that I came extremely close to death or what I think that feels like and that I'm grateful for a family who pushes me and is patient with me at the same time.