Though, to me, that means that I no longer have that fear, which is completely untrue. I am still paralyzingly afraid of being up high. But not in all cases. Traveling up and being on the top level of the Eiffel Tower? Yes! Being on the top level of the Empire State Building? No. Climbing Half Dome? Yes! Para sailing? No. Am I just being selective? Do I psyche myself out? Am I height bipolar? I don't know.
What I do know is that when I first heard about this challenge from my friend R, I was like, sure, let's do it. Why? Because I really had no idea what it was. Sure, she showed me pictures. Sure, it looked kinda intense. But, whatever. Let's do it! So we did. We got a few other girls to do it with us and we planned, like 5 months in advance, to hike to the top of Half Dome in Yosemite.
There were a few things I was psyched about. One, I had never been to Yosemite. Two, I love a challenge. Three, road trip! There were also a few things I paid little attention to. One, this hike is 17 miles with a 4000+ elevation gain in the first 8-10 miles. That's roughly a 500 ft. climb per mile. That's roughly 20 flights of stairs per mile. That's roughly 160-2000 flights of stairs JUST to get to the top of Half Dome. Then you have to climb down. Did I do this math in my head beforehand? Of course not. What did I do instead? Nothing. I hardly trained. I hiked an intermediate 5-mile trail a few times. I hiked Mt. Baldy once a couple of weeks before. I really had no idea what I was getting myself into. In fact, I have to honestly admit that I really looked at this hike as "just another hike with my friends," only a lot longer and some cables that we had to climb at the end.
It was probably better that I didn't know what I was in for.
First, let me tell you that Yosemite is beautiful. I have never seen anything like it. Sure, I've been to other countries and the things that I see are in fact amazing, but they are man-made. I've never seen true beauty in nature. When we rounded the bend and I saw my first glimpse of all that Yosemite had to offer (and literally heard voices singing, "ahhhhhhhhh...."), I got a little teary-eyed. I'm not joking. This shit can't be described in pictures. You have to see this to believe that it actually does exist in all of its glory.
So this is where I start to panic. Because, do you see that dome-shaped rock in the distance that is high-fiving the heavens? Yeah, I was going to be climbing that in less than 24 hours. I knew this was no laughing matter anymore. I got nervous, but I still blew it off.
So me and my four crazy friends wake up at 4am the next day, gear up, and set off for what will be the most intense 14 hours of my life. Within a mile, we lose two of our girls. And by lose, I mean me and two others (R & C) were moving too fast for them.* We climbed the Mist Trail to the top of Vernal Fall (ah-may-zing).
We hiked to the top of Nevada Fall (indescribable).
And this was only two hours in. The next 4-5 miles were difficult for me. Probably because I wasn't hiking next to some glorious waterfall, and instead just climbing in a forest. But I was still blissfully ignorant about what lie ahead of me.
And then, about 5.5 hours into our hike, we rounded the bend and there she was. The infamous Half Dome. I was in awe. The view of Yosemite in and of itself at that point was amazing. We were so high. Here was this rock that was so surreal less than 24 hours before this moment. I was taking it all in.
And then... it all went downhill (no pun intended). R describes to me something that is new and not-so-exciting. If you look at the top of that rock in the above picture, you will see Half Dome. Looking at it, you'll notice that the rock is divided into two parts. If you look really closely, you might even be able to see a small ant-like line of people hiking, with the help of cables, to the top of this beast on the higher part. What you might also see are people hiking, without the help of cables, on that first roundish dome that begins at the ground level to where it seemingly flattens out (aka, the lower part). This lower part is called the Subdome (enter the 'dun dun duuuuuun' sound effect, here). R tells me that not only do we have to hike the cables when we get to the second level, we have to first hike a shit ton of steep-ass switchbacks on the side of a rock, going what looks like almost vertical BEFORE we get to the cables. Looking at that rock from the above-pictured view, I thought, there is no gravitational way that humans can climb at that angle without having something to hold them up. (The picture below is not mine. No one took a picture of the Subdome climb because, I later found out, we were all pretty skeeved out by the climb. I stole this view looking up the Subdome off of some other schmuck.)
I was going to die. I had decided right then and there. I was going to climb and the forces of gravity were going to pull me backwards, off the rock, and I would plummet to my death.
Here began the series of panic attacks that would last me approximately the next 1.5-2 hours. My stomach was turning, my palms were sweating, tears were flowing... that shit was f-ing high and I was about to climb it.
No I wasn't. There was no way. I couldn't do it. R and C were going to have to do it alone and I would wait for them at the foot of the rock. I was scared out of my mind. I was scared out of my body. I was walking, but I wasn't really walking. I could feel my legs moving toward that rock, but my mind had already turned back.
R and C are beginning to see that I'm in a heap of trouble here. They could see my change in demeanor, they could see the tears coming out from the bottom of my sunglasses, they could probably see the whitish/greenish color on my face. So what did they do? They stayed calm. And they talked me all the way up that freakin rock. Sure, there were many instances were I almost lost my shit. There were a few, in fact, where I literally made the motion to turn around and head down. But those bitches stayed calm and literally talked me though each and every step up that rock. And I am not exaggerating when I say "each and every step." I owe them everything. I would NEVER have done this without them. I would have turned around right then and there and hated myself for not attempting that climb.
So we get to the top of the Subdome (dun dun duuuuuuuuun) and I'm crippled with fear. I have to hold on to R's hand because I literally think I'm going to tumble to my death (mind you, at this point, we were on fairly flat rock). I have to look at my feet the entire time (so much so that my neck is sore the next day). I can't look past anyone's knees. I don't see faces. I only hear voices. I made a couple of friends up there, but have no idea what they look like. I could tell you what their shoes looked like, though.
We're about to climb the cables and this is what I look up at ever-so-briefly to get my bearings.
Yeah.... f me, I'm going to die. And my mom's going to be pissed at me for being so stupid and dying this way. It was intense. I honestly don't know why I proceeded toward the cables. I was so insanely afraid that I couldn't think clearly and the only thing I could do was follow my friends.
I finally made it to the top 45 minutes later... 30 minutes longer than it should have taken us because some poor girl was having a full-blown panic attack toward the top and apparently didn't have friends like R and C to calm her down... which, if you think about it, that meant that I stood and waited, clinging to braided steel cables, at about a 55 degree incline, on the side of an f-ing rock, for some long-ass periods of time. When I got there, I broke down and cried. Happy, relieved, accomplished, thankful tears of freakin joy.
So we ate and took a few pictures (ok, R and C took a few pictures... I still couldn't move around much because I was still being clutched by my insane fear of how high we were). The one below is one of my favorites because it shows just how high we are and just how insane people are. Please notice the gentleman (because no lady would be that stupid) perched on the SIDE of the rock down below.
I'm starting to relax... and then it hits me. I have to climb back down.
If I could put this height/angle/death-defying/stupid adventure into one picture, it would be the picture G took (she was one of the girls we left behind, but who made it to the cables as we came down) as she was descending this rock.
That's the jist of it. The end. This is what my friends and I like to call, "an adventure." I need new friends.
So the rest of the story is completely irrelevant to this adventure. We made it down the rock alive (duh, I'm typing this now), we painfully made it back to camp, blah blah blah. The moral of my story is that I'm a crazy whore who gets herself into stupid circumstances and can only regret it at the climax of each of those moments.
But I guess these wouldn't be called adventures if they weren't challenging me to my core.
Cheers to Half Dome. I owned that bitch! Sorta.
*It should be noted that the five of us made an agreement before we left that if anyone couldn't make the entire hike for whatever reason, they would have to turn back alone. It was kinda assumed that we could break our group apart if the pacing wasn't the same, as well.