“He’s freakin’ nuts if he thinks I am going to sleep up there!” Although I think the student who muttered these words was half kidding, I was in good company. 130 years ago, John Muir was often regarded as a tramp, bum, social misfit and perhaps most demeaning, “a ne’er-do-well:” an idle, worthless person; a person who is ineffectual, unsuccessful, or completely lacking in merit, good-for-nothing.
During the formative years of the Biodesign program, I had some parents, colleagues and administrators who leaned in that direction. They were skeptical about taking students away from the educationally sacred ground of the St. Helena High School campus.
However, I was blessed to have had a university grad-school biology professor who took me to Yosemite. He kindled a dream that if there were ever a way to take my biology students to Yosemite, I would do it. The dream not only came true, but also exceeded my wildest expectations. Eventually, our annual Yosemite trip grew to 6 days, we added a 6-day trip to the Grand Canyon and a 5-day trip to the Mendocino Coast; totaling a whopping 17 days away from school.
As we immersed ourselves in the mountains, and Muir’s writing, we discovered that what he was preaching about was absolutely true.
“One day’s exposure to mountains is better than a cartload of books.”
Muir nearly died, perhaps a dozen times, as he tried to get as close as he could to the heart of Nature. Although we did not intentionally plan to follow him that closely, sleeping on top of Half Dome always provided some thrilling adventures. Like many of Muir’s treks, this was not commonly done or, apart from very few avid rock climbers, even considered possible. Considering the world population, the odds for sleeping on top were about 1:14,000,000, which are higher odds than being struck by lightning.
Amazingly, I got to sleep up there with 19 classes. I led smaller groups up there 6 more times for a total of 25 trips to the top. Each time I arrived I communed with John Muir’s spirit and fully appreciated what he meant when he said, “finally, I was back in church again.”
It is little wonder that I feel supremely blessed. Also, it does not surprise me if some of the readers of Biodesign Out For A Walk think I am “freakin’ nuts.” ;o)
Yosemite NP banned camping on top of Half Dome about 20 years ago and so many of those students and chaperones, who got to sleep on top, hold precious memories of events that are no longer possible.