Ralph was excited, in mildly-fearful anticipation as he heard the hike leader say: “from Valley floor to the top of Half Dome is a climb of 4800 feet, and we are already starting from 4000 feet elevation!”
The leader had reminded everyone to bring plenty of water (oh, the weight!) and some nourishment, plus extra socks and rain gear. “These mountains make their own weather,” he repeated for the nth time.
“The total lateral distance is 16 miles, by our route, so it will be steeper than the alternate route. It should take us no more than the full length of the daylight hours.”
More fearful anticipation.
Ralph was celebrating his 60th birthday with this steep and rapid climb. He had been practicing in the Santa Cruz Mountains overlooking the Pacific Coast on the San Francisco Peninsula, but they are not as high as in the Sierra, and the elevation at their various peaks is no more than 5000 feet. The air at 8800 feet, Half Dome’s elevation, will be much thinner.
“I can do this,” he muttered, encouragingly, to himself.
He had learned recently that a good walking stick is essential for older muscles and bones as they traverse uncertain ground, rocks and steep up-hills and down-hills. “The legs are the first to go,” he has heard older folks say.
Before he could muse further, he saw that he was already behind the group as they rapidly moved toward the trailhead.
Over several hours Ralph climbed steep rocks through the mist created by two successive waterfalls and the steep and scary climb up the bare “arm” of Half Dome to its “shoulder,” with a sheer drop of thousands of feet slightly beyond one side of the trail.
Wearily and with great effort, Ralph slowly approached the level ground at the shoulder and saw the great, bald granite head of Half Dome rising impossibly, with a line of climbers like black ants crawling up the almost vertical rise. Hungry, thirsty, trembling with fatigue, worried about the walk back down in time before sunset, Ralph was quite discouraged, feeling he could go no further. He saw a ledge suitable for sitting, and sat, overlooking Yosemite Valley and lesser peaks.
After a few minutes of repose, he fumbled for his water and food, purposefully ignoring the path up Half Dome behind him, allowing his attention to dwell on the sight in front of him.
He slowly ate and drank, gradually becoming less self-conscious. He had let go of his desire to go further and felt free to rest and allow time to pass without worry. He knew he could get back in time from this point, even while resting as much as an hour or more.
Ralph’s sense of time ceased. He was gradually less conscious of today’s goal, of Half Dome’s peak and of the line of people ascending and descending it, now out of his view.
He entered a zone of consciousness with no name, as his body adjusted to the elevation and its recent exertions. He was at complete rest. He had no goals, no desires—he was just being on this ledge and seeming to merge with all that he saw before him.
An unknown and un-measurable period of time elapsed before Ralph became conscious, once again, of the muted noise of the people behind him and their exertions up and down the head of Half Dome.
As he turned and watched the people grapple with the heavy guidelines of rope secured to metal stanchions set deep in the granite of Half Dome’s head, he found himself rising, putting stuff back into and shouldering his pack, grabbing his stick and walking toward the line of climbers. He felt no desire, just a sureness that he would do this …
And he did!