Lessons from Half Dome

Your mind will quit 100 times before your body ever does.  Feel the pain and DO IT ANYWAY“.  I learned that lesson first hand when we hiked Half Dome…the mountain of death:


Half Dome is one of Yosemite National Park’s most recognizable landmarks.  As you can see, this mountain doesn’t even ATTEMPT to look friendly.   There is literally nothing about it that says “VISITORS WELCOME!!!”.

Yosemite is actually a really beautiful place and there are countless low stress hikes that one can enjoy while visiting there.  Alas, that is not how we rumble.  WE have to select the most challenging option on the flyer because WE have a disorder that has yet to be diagnosed.

It was a 6 hour hike TO the mountain and it was not a flat hike.

That’s right.  You read that correctly… SIX. HOURS.

half dome hiking path
Thank you @earthtrekkers for this illustration of the half dome hiking path!

Six hours JUST TO ARRIVE at the base of half dome.  Meaning you still have to hike UP the mountain and then BACK to your car before the sun sets that day.

I’ll just give you a chance to meditate upon this for a moment before we proceed.


So at this point, it’s pretty obvious that I am not a natural born hiker.  I’m not crazy about the outdoors.  I get a rash when I brush past green things.  I don’t like to sweat.  But life with Captain America involves a lot of outdoor activities and over the years, I have grown to appreciate [and look forward to] our adventures.  I feel as if I should have a vest made that documents all of our completed challenges.

Tiff hiking half dome

Anyway.  On this particular day, I was not appreciating the challenge.  The hike to Half Dome was about a 10-20% incline the entire time [six hours] and there were quite a few switchbacks along the way.  My legs were burning the entire day.  Captain America never broke a sweat.   Exhibit A:


Yes.  He smiled the entire hike.  [Big Sigh]  #lifewithCaptainAmerica

I, on the other hand, stopped about 65 times and insisted each and every time that I couldn’t take one more step.

tiff hiking half dome2.jpg

I cried a lot.

It wasn’t just me that was crying either – the large majority of people that I passed along the way [six hours] were angry or crying (or angry AND crying, but you get the point).   I was in so much physical pain and I was exhausted.  I knew that Mark was not struggling at all and that made things worse.

I learned a simple yet life-changing lesson that day: even baby steps will get you to the finish line.

I would take one step and I would think “Oh goodie – now i am SO MUCH CLOSER” [insert sarcastic tone here] but then I would take another and another and each one of those steps added up.  If I focused on how far I still had to go, my thoughts would overwhelm me and I would want to stop again – if I just focused on the tree that was 10 steps ahead of me – it helped keep me so much more calm and focused.  I would get to that tree – and then focus my attention on the next tree and then the next and then the next….and then [six hours later] we were there.

mark and half domeb

Upon arrival [six hours later], you are confronted by a monstrous mountain of slate rock and a choice:  will you eat your PB&J sandwich that has been smashed in your backpack for the past six hours and start the climb up said slate rock OR will you decide that you love life and head back to your car?  Do you see that vertical line of little ants that is just to his right?  THOSE ARE PEOPLE – climbing the mountain.starting-up-the-cables

“So how do you climb up”, you ask?  GREAT QUESTION.  The mountain has “cables” drilled into it.   Essentially, you grasp on to the two ropes and climb to each 2×4 plank.  You are literally looking straight up.

I was absolutely terrified.  I am afraid of heights.  My body was TOAST and completely worn out and then [after six hours] we get to the base and realize that we haven’t even tackled the hardest part of the journey!!!   I wanted to cry.  [AGAIN].  This next picture kind of shows you the incline – I snapped it about half way up the climb.  You can see people waiting at the bottom of the mountain to climb and you can see how steep the incline is.  You can also see the lame little pieces of wood that are supposed to keep you stable on this mountain of death.climbing half domeclimbing half dome 2.jpg

My body finally did give out while we were climbing that mountain – about 4 hours after I first thought I was done and couldn’t take another step.  I started to lose consciousness while climbing and Mark literally FLEW to my rescue – that’s the last thing I remember actually – I said, “I think I am going to pass out…..” and I remember his facial expression and then blackness.  He held me for a couple of minutes until I woke up.  We were on an incline just like the one above – I was straddled around a pole staring down and he was kind of just holding me like a rag doll.  When I woke up, he fed me a little bit of a cliff bar and about 10 minutes later, I still had to climb about 10 more poles to get to the top!

So I learned ANOTHER lesson: even when your body DOES give out completely – you wake up – and you can STILL keep climbing one step at a time.  Your body is an incredible machine.  It can do so much more than your mind tells you that it can.

passed out on half dome

This photo wasn’t posed.  We got to the top of the mountain and I literally passed out on that rock.  I slept for a half hour while Captain America skipped around the top, making friends and taking photos.   I didn’t even care that the marmots were scavenging around my bag trying to steal my sandwich.

THIS is a marmot.  They live on top of half dome.  photo cred: craftingtheweb.blogspot.com

And yes – we hiked back to the car that same day – there was no campground option for us.  So we hiked back [another 6 hours].

I said all of that – just to say – YOU CAN DO IT!!!!  Even when you think you can’t – you really can!!!  Just one step at a time – keep focused on the “tree” in front of you and not the finish line.  One tree at a time will get you to that finish line.  Don’t think about how far you have to go – if you think about it that way, you will feel deflated and overwhelmed.  Only focus on today.  God gives you strength to handle what happens TODAY.  He will give you tomorrow’s strength TOMORROW.   “So don’t worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring its own worries. Today’s trouble is enough for today (Matthew 6:34).  Focus one HOUR at a time if you have to.  Baby steps will get you to the finish line too.  

feet - half dome

If you want to read more about the logisitics of hiking Half Dome, check out this great blog post by http://www.earthtrekkers.com – they seem like a really happy hiking family.    http://www.earthtrekkers.com/hiking-half-dome-yosemite-step-by-step-guide/

Dhooge Den outtakes:



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