01 October 2009

Conquering Half Dome

This was originally posted back in April 2008. I am reposting it because I am submitting this post as my entry in the October Write-Away Contest at Scribbit.

Yosemite has to be one of my all time favorite places--right up there with the Big Sur coast and North Shore, Oahu. The first time I visited Yosemite was about 11 years ago. My family--with the exception of my sister who was on her mission in Spain--and another family from my home town took a vacation there. We went in August and our plan was to backpack throughout the valley. There were so many fun memories of that trip. 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.

On our first day we hiked 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.

The only way I can describe Half Dome is sheer madness. If you haven't been to the backside of Half Dome, it looks like the front--solid rock. There are 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 I got to the top and it was exhilarating. It was like I was at the top of the world. The rock is fairly at the top flat so I could walk to all sides and see the vast landscape that makes up Yosemite Valley and beyond. The view was spectacular.

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 the cliff already--practically running.

I started down the side holding to onto the cables with my hands and meticulously placing my feet so that I wouldn't slip. I went down a few feet and then I go to the "drop-off." That's as far as I got.

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 at the same level as some high peaks in the distance.

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 that giant rock 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.

2 comments:

Scribbit said...

Wow--you made it sound terrifying. I've never been to Yosemite but it sounds pretty amazing.

Though I might have to vote for the North Shore :) Hard to pass up the beach.

bythelbs said...

You're freaking me out just thinking about it, and I've never thought of myself as someone who is afraid of heights before. Way to go.