Dear Lowell and Christie,
The first day I walked through the door to room 103 I had no idea how an advanced Biology class would influence the rest of my life. Some of the concepts we learned and the ideas we shared took shape as threads that would be intricately woven into the fabric of my life. I wish I could say that at last those lessons have been mastered but even now principle is much easier than practice.
My family has heard and read about some of the adventures we experienced but this past weekend I was able to share first hand with Amy and Kaitlyn some of the magic Biodesign imparted to those brave or curious enough to sign on. After months of anticipation the day finally arrived for us to attempt the hike up Half Dome. With permits in hand, we set out at 4:45 am to see if we had what it takes to stand on top of that iconic peak.
The adventure actually started months earlier for Amy and I. We logged nearly 60 miles on the weekends prior to the hike. Several day hikes in excess of 13 miles at altitudes up to 9000 feet were the cornerstones of our training routines. One was even a day trip to Yosemite, up the Mist Trail to Little Yosemite then another two miles up the Merced, fishing as we went and then back down the Mist Trail fighting our way past about 3000 people in that 3 mile space. As we came around a corner below the Vernal Falls viewing bridge there was a young man down on one knee, his wife to be still with her mouth open in shock and yet to say yes. She eventually did say yes and I grabbed his phone and took their photo with him back down on his knee.
I thought we had trained adequately for the hike but I was wrong. I thought I had planned everything out so that the hike would be strenuous but not overly difficult. Again, I was wrong!
It had been 20 something years since I last made that climb and as with all things time had softened the task (and me). We purposely started nearly two hours before sunrise so that the grueling steps up the Mist Trail were mostly behind us before we could see well enough to realize it. That plan seemed to be perfect as we reached the top of Vernal Falls by 6:00 and the top of Nevada Falls by 7:15. 8:00 had us at the upper end of Little Yosemite and, though I didn’t know it yet, I was feeling way too confident about our progress.
Like so many things about this hike, I did not remember how grueling the grade from Little Yosemite to the base of the staircase is. I now fully understand what those before me went through just getting to that point. After a break at the base of the stairs we checked in with the rangers and started the ascent up the granite stairs. Amy and Kaitlyn were above me and I was struggling to get my legs started again. It was the first of two occasions where I had serious doubts as to whether or not I would be able to finish the hike. Eventually my legs loosened up and I felt better about continuing but it was very unsettling to have had the realization that I quite possibly may not be able to finish the ascent.
When we reached the base of the cables I did my best to hide my uneasiness and mask my shaken confidence. This entire endeavor had been my idea, my desire to share part of what I had been given over the years with those that I loved and I was no longer sure I could pull it off. At that point, the fearlessness of youth pulled us to the bottom of the cables. Not my youth, that’s long gone, but Kaitlyn’s desire to put the last bit of the climb behind us forced me to push myself past the uncertainty.
As we started up the cables I began to relax a little. The pace was extremely slow due to the fact that every board had a person standing on it. Every one from top to bottom and most had one person going up and one person coming down. While this slowed the pace it also gave one time to consider what was happening. As I said before, time had softened more than just the task at hand but now I was also acutely aware that the fearlessness of youth I once possessed was gone. I wanted to think it had been replaced by wisdom but given my situation I had a hard time reconciling that notion as well.
This was the second time that I had no idea how I was going to continue on. I only had seven steep boards left. Amy was three ahead and Kaitlyn was on top and out of sight. Even now as I write this I have no recollection of what got me past that last 100 feet. I was completely out of breath, arm tucked over the right cable and sure I was done and then the next thing I knew the three of us were sitting on top taking in all the breathtaking views we had earned.
The entire hike took far longer than I had anticipated. Though we reached the top at 12:45 pm it would be nearly 9:00 before we were comfortably seated in the car. The slow descent down the cables and staircase along with the added 1.4 mile decision to avoid the Mist Trail and the extra half mile past the trailhead parking lot because it was full made the entire excursion about 19 miles. We decided to take it as slowly back as we needed to and with the exception of the last mile or so all three “C’s” were kept in check.
As you will see from one of the photos I have sent you, Biodesign was quite literally (pun intended) with us and I will be forever grateful for the experience I gained from our outings. I will say however, it was the two women I was with this time that pulled me up that mountain and I will likewise be forever grateful for their strength, patience and love.