My friend Cheryl and her family moved to Utah last week and on their way stopped at Yosemite. Yosemite has to be one of my all time favorite places--up there with the Big Sur coast and North Shore, Oahu. Seeing her pictures reminded me of my only visit to Yosemite about 10 years ago. My family--with the exception of my sister who was on her mission in Spain--and another family from Ramona took a vacation up there. We went in August and had planned to backpack throughout the valley.
I remember the stunning beauty of the sheer cliffs and waterfalls while backpacking for the first time in my life. But mostly I remember Half Dome.
We took one day to hike from Glacier Point to Lower Yosemite Valley and set up camp. The next day we had planned to try our luck hiking the back side of Half Dome.
Sheer madness. If you haven't been to the backside of Half Dome, it looks like the front--solid rock. They have these metal stakes every 10 feet or so up the side of the mountain with wood planks to help you up and cables to hold on to. If I had known what would happen at the top I might not have gone up--or maybe I still would.
Going up was strenuous but not difficult. I had graduated High School a couple years back and was still in great shape from swimming and jogging. Finally we got to the top and it was exhilarating. It was like we were at the top of the world. The rock was kind of flat so you could walk to all sides and see the vast landscape that makes up Yosemite Valley and beyond.
After taking in the sights and resting for a while we decided to head back down. I was with my mom and the father of the other family, Lee. My brother and Lee's sons had taken off down already--practically running.
When you come to the top of Half Dome there is a small decline before you get to the "drop-off." That's as far as I got.
Writing this I can still feel the same feelings of dread and fear today as I felt then. Not as strong, but it's like reliving this all over again.
I was absolutely positively frozen in place. You know when people say in their dreams that they try to run but their legs won't move? That's how it was. I was frozen to that side of the mountain and there was nothing that was going to make me move. I had never been so afraid before in my life. Somehow I neglected to connect my fear of heights with climbing up and down this cliff. After scaling down those initial few feet it was like I was stepping off into nothing. The cliff went straight down I don't know how many hundred feet and all I could see was the people looking like little ants at the bottom. Not to mention if I looked straight ahead I was seeing at the same level as some high peaks in the distance. My hands are shaking and my heart is beating fast just thinking about it...
So I stood there rooted in place by my fear with my mom and Lee next to me. I won't even get into the crying I was doing. I'm sure the people climbing up to get to the top thought I was the weirdest person they had ever seen. Finally after at least 15 minutes of coaxing I decided to take that first step--backwards. I figured if I didn't look down at the vastness it might make it easier to get down. I just stared at my feet as I inched slowly down the hill with Lee and my mom close by my side.
Miraculously I made it back to the bottom of the cliff and collapsed against the rock to compose myself. I don't think I will ever be able to forget how I felt on that cliff. One thing I was able to forget though was my fear of heights. After calming down at the bottom of the rock I realized what I done. I had successfully overcome complete fear and made it down to the bottom of Half Dome. Before hiking up the back of Half Dome I was afraid of heights. After getting to the bottom I had conquered my fear. Knowing that I had just climbed up and down that huge sheer cliff was such a rush. It wasn't until a few months later when I was atop a tall bridge looking down. Nowhere was that panicky, short of breath feeling that I used to get when I was up high. I guess I got it all out at the top of Half Dome. I love that I conquered such a huge fear that I had. I haven't been afraid of heights since.
Here's a picture of us going up-I'm the second one from the bottom, one of the Pierce boys is below me and another above me in the orange, and then one more in the red. That's my brother at the top looking like he's running up the cliff. The other picture is from someone looking down on us. I'm sure we weren't very high up at this point.