It was nine months away, and I knew I had to start training as the man I was dating had made reservations for us to camp and hike at Yosemite National Park. Having had multiple conversations regarding what we would do on this mini-vacation, I knew it would include a couple of very strenuous hikes. With this in my mind, the goal was to get into a better level of physical fitness. Having an apartment in a lovely and hilling neighborhood in southern California lent itself to more strenuous physical activities. To achieve my nine-month goal, I implemented a plan which included jogging and biking through the hills.
As the months passed, my mind would wonder what we would be doing upon arriving at the Yosemite Valley. The valley had something for everyone. The sights ranged from walking through the fields of flowers to observing the incredible wildlife – Black Bears, coyotes, and Bighorn Sheep, which I planned to avoid. But for us, the attraction was hiking. The park has two incredible rock formations,
The reality was that El Capitan is a 15.4-mile day hike, and Half Dome is a 16-mile day hike, so my mind was focused on training, knowing that I wasn’t close to doing these distances.
The Training and the Disappointment
I trained for several months, running through the hills feeling good about my progress when receiving information that rocked my world. I was diagnosed with cancer and would need treatment. The good news was the cancer was caught early. After more tests, my oncologist recommended treatment that only involved surgery. I found myself having multiple procedures, and I did not want to cancel the trip. I needed something to look forward to, and I kept telling myself that I could do it. With the procedures behind me now, my recovery could begin.
But, after a two-month pause in my life, I again began to think about the trip. Not being able to do any physical activity had put me on a physical deficit, and now I had to start over with my training. I was deconditioned, had surgery, and needed to get stronger quicker with only four months to go. I knew it would be a race to try and get “hike ready,” but I was up for the challenge.
I began my course of walking and running, changing over quickly to just running the hills. I started feeling better, and before I knew it, it was time for the trip.
We left at the crack of dawn, and six and half hours later, we arrived at the Yosemite Valley campground.
We were tired, and after settling in, we took a walk to get acquainted with the park appreciating the beauty surrounding us. Looking around, I was excited and overwhelmed by the valley’s beauty. The valley sits at 4500 feet elevation surrounded by Black oaks, Ponderosa pines, white firs, and abundant wildflowers. I would have been happy to walk around the valley, but there was a plan, and all I had to do was Look Up.
And There It Was
As I glanced up, the only word that came to mind was majestic. I could see the mountain peaks at 8800 feet above sea level, and the views of El Capitan and Half Dome were nothing short of spectacular. Knowing that the next day would be physically strenuous, we laid down early and enjoyed the cold night breeze and the beautiful sky.
The morning came quickly, and we walked from base camp to Mist trail to begin our day hike to Half Dome. We encountered two impressive waterfalls on this trail, Vernal Falls and Nevada Falls. This section of the hike had rock stairs as far as the eyes could see.
It was steep and challenging, but the payoff was walking close to Vernal Falls, followed by the Nevada Falls. We stopped along the trail and appreciated their beauty; the mist was refreshing, and we finally had an excuse to sit, rest and enjoy the view.
As we began hiking again, I felt grateful that the steps had ended, and now the hiking was through switchback trails. Despite slowly climbing in altitude, this portion of the hike felt easier. But there was a schedule to keep if we were to make it to the summit.
Several hours later, we hit a plateau, and in the distance, you could see the summit. As we soaked in the beauty, what stood out was how steep this next part was. From a distance, you could see the granite peak, and
up the side of the mountain. I couldn’t believe my eyes. It’s one thing to hear about it and quite another to see the 45 to 60-degree incline of the flat rock. The next thing that I noticed was the cables that you hold onto as you climb the last 400 feet, all to reach the summit.
Making our way to the beginning of the cables, I put my gloves on. As I looked up, I knew this was the reason I had trained for months. Starting to climb, you see wood planks every six feet. The planks enable you to brace and to rest until your next move.
Because this part of the hike is so strenuous, no one seemed to be in a rush to go around me. Realizing that people go up and down between the cables, I knew they could take several hikers with them if anyone fell. Several people made their way back down the steel cables as we climbed. When that happened, I would take a breath and hold on to one side of the cable. The passerby would grab onto the other cable and climb down at the 45-degree angle until they passed me.
I think back, and I know it didn’t take that long to climb to the top; however, I never let go of the cables, and before I reached the top, I was dreading the return. In my mind, I knew it was strenuous, but it never occurred to me that it was also dangerous.
The panoramic view of the valley and Sierra Mountains was spectacular, having climbed that last plank and making my way up to the summit. Spending over an hour just looking around, seeing the other hikers who had made it to the top, then the reality of what was still ahead of us – the return and the respite was over. It was almost two, and I thought the hike down the mountain would be a lot easier. The reality was that it was NOT!
We began our descent on the cables, and it was terrifying. I remember doing one plank at a time, avoiding looking at the plateau, so my eyes were always focused on the next plank, the next plank, and the next.
Our hike continued when we reached the bottom of the rock face, and I thought the return hike would be less intense. I found that initially, it was, and my mind was enjoying the views. However, as the hours passed, the front of my leg began to ache, and I realized that I hadn’t trained enough, but all that I could do at this point was take a break every 45 minutes to an hour and continue.
I started this day hike knowing that completion before nightfall was necessary, and here I was struggling to walk down the mountain because of the shin splints. The hike that began with enormous anticipation ended not a moment too soon. Reaching the waterfalls, I knew we only had an hour or two left, and I found myself moaning. By the time we climbed down all the steps,
and all I could do was tell myself that it was almost over.
I Made It
When we reached our tent, it was dark, cold and I couldn’t get off of my feet soon enough. The good news was that my friend let me rest while he prepared some food and got some drinks. The hike that we estimated would be 10 hours took almost 13 hours. We spoke of the next day’s planned adventure to El Capitan having dinner. We both knew that I would not be joining him.
Despite how the day ended, I felt an enormous sense of accomplishment. I was diagnosed with cancer, received treatment, started and continued my training, and finished the 16-mile day hike. All I saw was a very successful but painful day.
Years later, a friend asked if I would do it again. I didn’t even need to think about it. The answer was YES!