It is quite a conundrum to live as an adult. Is the Maslow pyramid brimming yet ? The physical and safety needs become trivial at some point in time for some people. Hope we are fortunate to fall under that category. It is likely that the belonging and esteem needs can be fulfilled too with some luck but you see that gaping hole? Yes, the hole that looms large and my brain cannot find enough garbage to fill it with. No, no amount of tv shows or food or outdoor adventures will do the job. Forget teenage angst and 13 reasons why. It is easier to take some pills and end it all, it is harder to survive. Now go make a show about that Netflix! Sometimes I’m amazed at the resilience of our ancestors and immediate elders. They lived to a ripe age of beyond 60 years and with no technology. Maybe that’s their secret! They were fraught with worries too but not like the ones we are faced with today. I’m already panning to my future and wondering if I’ll survive with diminishing senses and if technology will race to meet my needs when I’m old. As kids we are taught to do math, science and geography in school, wish someone (note to myself when I’m a parent!) teaches young adults how to live !
If you’re skimming this before your maiden voyage to the half dome summit, I wish you all the best and hope our experience may help you avoid some of the pitfalls. I say pitfalls but you’ll soon see they were truly challenges that we overcame with flying colors and a feeling of exhilaration. I have watched videos of people clambering up and down the last 400 feet of the half dome summit using the metal cables and knew this was going to be quite a demanding physical task not including the 14-16 miles of round trip distance. However I was quite skeptical when I read testimonials of how heart pounding the last 400meters was. I knew it would be pushing the limits of my cardio output owing to the ascent and thin atmosphere at 8000 feet altitude but never expected the pure adrenaline rush. Here let me elucidate..
One fine hour of the night, me and my accomplice rolled out of bed and drove 2.5 hours and reached Yosemite half dome trailhead around 630 AM. We had reached on time. I had read a couple of articles the night before about having a non negotiable summit turnaround time of about 3.30 PM. I have an intense fear of the finicky weather atop mountains and since we were in good shape, I thought we could reach the summit before 1PM. So we began the hike from the mist trail with Merced river accompanying us until we ascended the stairs steeply alongside the beautiful Vernal falls. I wish I had let my avid photographer friend to click some pictures of the breathtaking scenery of the gushing falls creating a cooling mist and drenching its onlookers.
We quickly moved on but lost the trail for a bit. There were not many hikers that day but a lone photographer guided us back into the trail. Later on, I realized I could simply use the GPS on my phone! Need the tech especially when you’re on a deadline!
We glimpsed the Nevada falls and came to the junction where the John muir trail and the mist trail merges to lead to half dome summit trail. We had another 4.5 miles to go from here. The first 2.5 miles is relatively easy and gives a break to the legs. We didn’t take a break however and kept plodding on. The final 2 miles are switchbacks leading to the sub dome.
Once you reach the top of the sub dome, you’ll find the cables erected looking innocently back at you. I began tottering up the cables. Here i must point out our first mistake – we both had worn running shoes which had very poor grip on the granite rock well worn out or rather polished by human feet. I was able to use all my arm strength and clip myself to the cables with my elbows but was quite appalled at my state after having completed only 25% of the way. The dome looked far away and the incline only getting closer ninety degrees. I looked back at my friend couple of rungs below me and told him I’m quitting since I wasn’t sure I can descend the cables! He told me to try descending one rung. So I had an idea – I took off my shoes and tossed them into my bag while still holding on the cables with one hand. I tried descending and VIOLA! So the perilous cables can indeed be conquered barefoot. My friend however was able to climb with his running shoes given that he has better arm and upper body strength. We had reached the summit and in perfect time! It was a sunny 11:00 AM on the top of the half dome. Little did we know what was going to befall us in 30 minutes.
We had only seen two people ahead of us reaching the summit around the same time and soon followed by maybe ten more people. We were all excited and relieved to have made it. Everyone flew to different corners and ledges trying to snap pictures from different perspectives. I even joked that I had 1G service which was met with some hearty laughter by fellow summiters.
We snacked on a few bars, spotted a marmot while my friend was waiting for his hamstring cramps to subside. We began our descent around 11:30 AM. I climbed a couple rungs down confidently especially now with no shoes and I had no acrophobia (fear of heights). Then I sensed a few droplets on my hand. There were about 5 people behind us and about 6-8 ahead of me. The droplets started falling consistently. It was official – the rock had become butter. Barefoot or shoes, it was slippery all the way. One guy before me yelled – “Watch out that part is slippery!” and right on cue I skidded only to stop myself in time with my toes on the wooden stave and clipped my armpits to the cables. The wooden footholds are about 2-3 feet apart and it is the intermediate part that was incredibly treacherous. The rain was incessant and we were in a do or die situation but my brain was telling me not to move, analyzing if there was any rescue options.
The people behind me and my friend were skidding too, desperately holding onto the yawing cable, the tremor of ever fall thus felt by everyone. One of them had collided into another and was held on by the sheer weight of the guy. Another time, the pole drilled into the rock caught the body of someone from falling off the 400 feet cliff. Those images are still fresh in my memory and even now I feel like I’m falling when I close my eyes. I can only confabulate the chatter behind me during all this milieu. We were reassuring each other we were almost there. One of the guys behind me yelled – “We are in this together!”. It was quite dramatic and brought a smile in my head!
My friend now tells me he had started praying. He too was in a precarious position. I was quite slow since the guy ahead of me was already many rungs away. I was scared to follow him quickly since he was trying his own survival technique of sitting and sliding while using his hands as a harness. It was less dangerous to slide that way I suppose – increasing friction by increasing the sliding area. But I wasn’t tall enough to do that. Some guys behind us were anxious to get down since they were perched at a steeper angle and begged me to go faster. So I did. I held on and after a few nerve racking moments I got down and rid off the cables soon followed by my friend. We waited for a couple behind us and two more fellows behind them to make it down. One of them yelled – “We are not done yet, march on till we reach the tree line” and so we marched. We reached the treeline soaking wet, exhausted but extremely pleased to just be alive. We saw a batch of hikers who had climbed down before us resting and chatting about the exhilarating experience. They called us “the crew” since we were the last to make it back safely. I smiled and replied “Yeah, we lived!” with a jaunty step ahead. We told everyone still on the way how dangerous the cables were hoping they would heed our advice.
I had kept prodding my friend to keep moving but this time we weren’t on a deadline and since this was summer, we had daylight late until 8PM. We took short breaks until we reached cabin near nevada falls. I was oscillating between taking the shorter yet slippery Mist trail or the drier and longer Muir trail back to the Happy Isles bridge.
My partner made a quick decision picking the safer route especially given our faltering worn out knees. Muir trail adds just another mile or two of winding switchbacks down the nevada and vernal falls back to the trailhead. We reached our car around 4:45 PM taking more time for the downhill trip.
Thus ended our adventure of a lifetime that makes me despise gravity! We sat in the airport next day googling some facts about tragedies on the half dome cables and surprised to know there was none since 2011. I must admit we made a few mistakes. We lacked proper shoes although barefoot would have worked brilliantly if rain hadn’t piled on. We were also such newbies at rock climbing that we were unaware of conceptions called a “harness” – you could buy them at a sport store and clip yourself to the cables for safety. We didn’t need gloves for the most part but our fingers got clotted maybe owing to the sheer pressure with which we were grasping the cables. When we ascended, we didn’t spot any clouds to be forewarned of the rain. I guess the cloud cover quickly moved and caught us off guard – proving my unrelenting fear of weather atop mountains. We also read that lightning could have screwed us even further by electrocuting us. I’ll count my blessings that day for making it back home alive.
I’m a runner. Always knew I was a runner ever since I knew I was bipedal. Running late, running marathons, running away from crowds and in general running from confrontations. Then I heard about people talking about the “Core” – you ought to strengthen your “core” they say. I see people huffing and puffing trying to do spidermans, mountain climbers, crunches, planks and trying to imitate other reptiles! I dabbled too. Then I realized I had the upper body strength of a gnat perhaps. I began going to some spin classes. I used to feel like I’ve been through a blender after those sessions. I used to experience pain in body parts that I never even knew had existed! I can afford to laugh at my beginner’s runner arrogance/ignorance to think that my legs are the crème de la crème of my body. The “core” works silently and diligently supporting the body, balancing and enabling locomotion and any attempt at strengthening it is quite humbling and beneficial to the whole body. Whether you’re a runner or a fighter, the core keeps you moving or helps stand your ground and throw some punches. The “Core” is truly the core of our existence.
I experience a sudden loss of words whenever I need to defend my position or argue or reel off some facts or even bring up a topic related to the current topic. I search and search and all I can see are empty shelves. Where are all the podcasts and trivia I keep listening to all day? My brain is one helluva leaky cauldron or a super massive black hole. I can feel my brain getting obese – lethargic, pompous and privileged prick or just being its plain old self. The thing is I’m getting paranoid if I have Alzheimer’s which is also a part of my brain’s function. How I wish there was a secondary thinking machine. Sometimes this thing called “gut feeling” does rear its face. Most of my cooking decisions are made unnoticed by the brain. Recently i heard that willpower and decision making uses active memory and that we deplete our energy resources when we exercise it. This could be a reason behind the sugar cravings after a particularly stressful day. Sometimes I have to cajole my brain for a hang out with people and talk to them. It definitely counts as a stressful day on my calendar – the definition of being an introvert. It is a breeze with a bunch of familiar faces playing poker. However with new people, the brain tries to overcompensate – attempts to walk in their shoes, empathize and respond in a conversation appropriately and when it finds nothing to say, it beckons you to be silent – what an INTROVERT!
Our brains do quite a stupendous job behind the scenes doing the daily math jobs pattern recognition, depth perception, time keeping etc. Bees can apparently do a better job than computers to solve the NP hard travelling salesman problem. They use heuristics to find the most optimal path to food – presumably their only goal in life. Humans might be more complicated in the goals arena. We are the only species that can kick off more than two trains of thoughts in parallel. I was yet again mind blown by Neil degrasse Tyson (duh). After a long nail biting pause, he stacked up reasons fastidiously on why he thinks we might be living in higher dimensions idea. There are things we can’t prove with science today – does that imply our human brain hasn’t evolved yet to even begin to imagine or process the higher dimensions? The DNA we share with our common ancestors differs by only about 1%, he says and yet the differences in our abilities is gargantuan. So maybe we are not that smart? However it is heartening to think we have begun to tease the idea of what might be a “God”/superior being in sci-fi movies like Interstellar and Arrival. We are limited in our purview due to the limits we perceive in our world.
Today, I decided to put myself in the spacious shoes of my opposite gender and wonder about the world for awhile. I see my colleagues chatting around me gossiping about new gadgets and deals. They talk and complain about the commute, work and politics. They look and behave like normal humans. It is easy to mask yourself intellectually as any gender anywhere. If so, why do we (females) still feel like we are being treated to chivalry and sometimes misogyny at worst? Is it something ingrained in the female genes to feel inferior or is it a cultural byproduct? Physically (I know since I’m a runner), that it is quite impossible to bridge the gap between genders unless you’re a pro in the sport. But it still pains me to see the abominable quality of some men who call themselves sportsmen and underestimate competition from women. I’m waiting for the day when there is not gender equality but gender neutrality!
Is it fair to claim genealogy when you’re the best at something? I was watching an interview of the great stand up comedian George Carlin. He attributed his genius to genetics and added that even hard work is genetically inclined. This made me wonder about all the brilliant scientists and musicians in the world. I believe in the theory of natural selection but isn’t it uplifting when you read these rags to riches stories. My genetic endowment would probably be dwarfism and believing in superstition. Now how do I create an art out of these gratuitous gifts from my heredity? Well, I’m trying my best at being the opposite – an athletic cynic.