I slightly recall thinking at various moments: “Holy shit. If I sneeze or lose my grip in the slightest bit, I will be tumbling down this rocky face before I can say, “GASP.”
Yosemite: the land of granite, pines, peaks, bears, and everything grand. While the whole multi-day trip spent in Yosemite was indescribably fun and beautiful, the day we climbed the infamous Mist Trail will forever reign as my favorite day in Yosemite.
After spending our first night in the campground high in the mountains of Yosemite, we rose early so we could make our coffee with Carol’s new pocket rocket and devour our overnight oats like wild women. After refilling our platypuses/camel backs, packing up our day packs with a crap ton of fruit and pb and j’s, and gathering the troops (aka the group of British guys my girlfriends and I were camping with), we finally were ready to head down the mountain to Yosemite Valley where we would embark to conquer Half Dome.
Random fact: The Mist Trail begins in the Yosemite Valley and climbs through various terrains where it finally peaks at the top of Half Dome with a whopping 4737 feet, aka 1,444 meters.
And so we were off. First the trail starts off with these simple asphalt inclines to get you shooting quickly into the forest to where the stairs from hell begin. The mist trail follows the treacherous stairs through beyond-impressive waterfalls, steep cliffs, plateaus, more impressive waterfalls, a vast and lovely meadow that serves as the best breather after some crazy inclines, and then before you know it you’re back into the dense forest climbing some mean-ass switch-backs that seem to have no end.
Fast-forward: So we were doing the treacherous switchbacks around noon when the sun was at it’s highest. Carol and I were panting like dogs when we weren’t downing our water out of our daypack hoses. I had been popping clementines and apples and sporks of peanut butter and more clementines and more peanut butter almost every 45 minutes just to keep my energy up to par to continue the near 5000 foot incline we were attempting to master. By early afternoon we had finally finished the intimidating boulder scramble and made it to the base of Half Dome where the final 400 feet cable ascent was staring us in the face. There was no time to spare so I chugged some water, shook out my limbs, and picked out a pair of climbing gloves from the base of the cables before taking my first strides up the daunting cliff face.
After maybe the first two hundred feet of cables, the incline seemed to increase from a mere 60 degree angle to what felt like a near 80 degree angle. At certain points when I would stop to look up, I couldn’t even see the end of the cables because the dome face was at such an intense slant.
One of my fondest memories of this day was when I was climbing up the cables by myself, bounding up the mountain and grabbing the cables in groups of 2 so that I could give my muscles a rest, and I felt high…literally and figuratively. There’s nothing like being on the face of a mountain holding on for dear life (while still trying to push yourself to make it to the top) to make you exhale in a rush, look around at your surroundings, and literally feel unconquerable. The fear of losing my grip and falling at any second was one of the most powerful and indescribable feelings I’ve ever experienced.
After suffering one of the worst cramps in my quads, the feeling of climbing those last few hundred feet of cables at Half Dome gave me the biggest rush I had felt in a very long time. As I began to crest the summit, the angle quickly softened and before I knew it the cables came to an end. I forced my body to stand up straight and walk out to explore the top of the dome.
Incredible views, my friends.
You could see for miles and miles in every direction from the top of that mountain. After taking the necessary picture documentation and catching my breath, I began to walk back to the side where the cables were awaiting my dangerous descent.
I ran ahead of all of the group because being the abnormally clumsy person that I am, I wanted to get a solid head start before the British mountain-goat folk started bouncing down like it was no biggie. So I turned my back and looked face-to-face at the mountain and started to back myself down the surface. Once I got in a solid groove, I started to feel my muscle memory taking over and before I knew it I was bouncing down the cliff face myself, just as if I were repelling down waterfalls like I had before in Mexico. With both hands on one side of the cable, I kept using my thigh muscles to push my body outward from the granite as my hands and arms held tight and slid bit by bit down the cables. At one point, I felt like I was flying because I almost couldn’t feel the granite underneath my boots any longer. I could only feel the strain in my hands and upper arms as I continued to fly down the rest of Half Dome.
Okay so getting up and down the Half Dome cables wasn’t easy at all, but I never expected getting down the rest of the trail would be so difficult and testing. Before we even made it back to the switchbacks, a few of our friends (including my own) knees’ had been irritating them. Regardless, we kept on regressing back down the mountain.
Later during the switchbacks, I just happened to see a black bear maybe 50 yards away. I pulled a total grandma-move where I stopped dead in my tracks and shoved both extended arms aside to stop everyone else so as to not startle the bear. After freezing and shutting everyone up, we got our chance to eye-up the bear (because fuck yeah- it’s Yosemite and who doesn’t want to see a bear), we hurried along and got out of the way before any more bears had the chance to surprise us. By the time we approached the meadow, the steady flat surface felt like butter to my shaken and upset joints.
Somehow we perused hastefully through the meadow and back down through the random plateaus, stairs, and waterfalls as the sun was setting. There were definitely points where I thought “wow, this knee really is killing me”, but I never thought about “quitting”, because that’s the beauty of the trail…You can’t fucking quit. (Or at least that day we couldn’t because all of our camping gear and the rest of our food and water was back at the campsite at the other side of Yosemite.) Just like everything else in life, no matter what, you have to keep marching, walking, stumbling, fumbling, tumbling, or rolling down the trail to get back. And then as soon as you do conquer a hike, start getting psyched for the next one.
So to end of the story quick, after hiking around 20 miles, we all made it back down the Mist Trail in one piece that day. My knee still has moments of post-traumatic-half-dome-disorder every once in a while these days, but my body has never felt more strong and indestructible.
Yosemite, especially the Mist Trail itself, will always be a milestone memory for me. At the time, the Mist Trail had been the most extreme day hike I had taken on in my lifetime so far. The Mist Trail is extremely unique because for the majority of the hike up the mountain you can’t even see Half Dome until you’re basically on top of it.
It was discouraging and almost felt wrong that for most of the hike you couldn’t find a clear view of the dome itself because of the myriad of twists and turns that the trail makes as it pushes you through the dense labyrinth that is the Mist Trail.
It was only after finishing the hike and seeing Half Dome and the Mist Trail from a different perspective at Glacier Point that I realized the significance of what I had accomplished. Just like many other tasks I had previously taken on in my life, I had taken the risk to embark on a journey where the destination was unknown or not visible. In my future endeavors, I’ll always have to take a second to think back to the special day at Yosemite when I trusted myself, my friends, and the trail to lead me to my next unknown destination.