It's not a good sign when you're tired on mile 2 of what will ultimately be an 18 mile hike. Soaked, sore, and having to deal with an iPod that kept insisting on Coldplay, I knew I was in trouble. I assumed that with almost 3000 songs the little device would pick something a bit more upbeat, or at least reputable. Apparently in Steve Jobs' world, random means Coldplay.
The first real obstacle to one's conquest of Half Dome is the Mist Trail, a vertical fortress of steps that instantly reminded me of the steps that heroes must ascend in fantasy novels when climbing towards their climatic final confrontation.The steps pose both a physical and emotional challenge, the dominant emotion being "holy shit what am I doing?"
Over the soft, inoffensive sounds of Chris Martin's lyrics (skip) I could hear the rush of the water that was dashing down the same mountain I was trying so desperately to climb. Both nature and my body wanted to turn around.
It's the self-imposed loneliness of such a hike that wins you through the day. Whether 10 feet or 2 miles in front of the group, Half Dome and its problems are mine and mine alone. Talking is a distraction and people are naturally inclined to rest when we see others begin to lag. But alone, I can easily quash these urges. I'm pretty hard on myself. And as of now I don't talk to myself.
Yosemite is a gorgeous national treasure, with the Half Dome hike resting firmly dead center as the crown jewel. It is a brutal hike that is relentlessly vertical, whether you're walking towards the cables at the top or back to refuge and relaxation in Curry Village. The two times I have finished the hike will remain in my mind as difficult and satisfying.
The cables to the top are a different story. Even with the newly required permits that greatly reduce traffic to the top, the half hour ascent and descent is filled with terror. Permits don't require others to secure their gear and pack, which means I have to watch idiot hikers smack others with their hiking sticks, drop bottles, and other dangers. Permits don't instill a sense of patience in some who rush up and down the cliff with abandon for their own safety, and that of others clinging to the slick metal cables. And permits never quite prepare you for the notion that if your hand so much as slips your are right and truly screwed. Whereas hiking Half Dome is a treat that repeatedly rewards you as it punishes you with another set of rocky stairs, the view from the top of the cables doesn't quite stay my overwhelming sense of unease.
I would love to own a piece of Yosemite, like a cottage in Wawona or a sliver of a range within an hour of the park. The area is truly perfect and it makes me eternally grateful for visionaries like John Muir and my presidential favorite Theodore Roosevelt.
The latter sums up the Yosemite experience quite handsomely -- Bully!