Walkabout: Day 9, Recalling my journey up Yosemite Falls

October 28, 2016 ~ Friday

7:30a Morning Pages ~ Fish Camp, south of Yosemite

I didn’t make it very far with the morning pages yesterday! And somehow I am okay with that. One thing this trip is teaching me is that it is impossible to do everything perfect, as there is so very much that I am not in control over.

Once I got parked last night, reset the car for sleeping, and ate dinner, I was thoroughly exhausted. By 8p I was snug in my sleeping bag and drifting away. I slept until 6a this morning – solid.

It rained all night long, and hard at times.

Back to the hike yesterday…

I thought I was headed up to the Lower Falls, but then I came across signage for the Upper Falls and beyond. Top of the Falls was rated as very strenuous, with a 1000′ climb over the last two miles and about sixty switch backs along the way. This was exactly what I felt had been missing so far from my trip – the physical exertion and challenge.

It was about 9:15a, later than I wanted to get started, but it was a cool day, so I had no worries about Justice being in the car – other than missing me and being out of her kennel (in which the wet tent still sits). So what if I took beyond 11a? I was geared up for the inclement weather, and I had no other real plans for the day.

Excited, I decided to go for it.

It was a beautiful, crisp morning, and the views over the first mile and a half were stunning already. Every corner I rounded seemed to be all the more beautiful. Yosemite, you do not disappoint! Onward and upward.

There was a brief decline in the path, which I was grateful for at the time (down on the way out means up on the way back!) About 1.5 miles in was a spectacular view of the falls. Tyler was going to love this! I framed in a couple of nice shots for us and continued the climb.

It really started to hit me about mile two. My legs were burning, weak, and trembling. I should have had more to eat over the last few days. I have been existing on fruit, vegetables, nuts and cheese. Concentrated calories and densely nutritious, but not a lot of actual food. My dinner had been celery and almond butter. My breakfast had been dried apricots and brazil nuts. I had not taken a snack in my hydropack. I continued on.

Another half-ish mile in I was really hurting. (I was not running my Runkeeper, as I was worried I may not have enough battery life for it and my pictures.) I was breathing so heavily that I was getting light headed. I had to slow my pace.

I thought of bicycling – just down shift. Take smaller, more frequent steps. Just keep going. My body wanted to retreat, but my mind wanted to make it to the top. I repeated the mantra I learned on the Mt. Rainier trip – slow and methodical, slow and methodical.

By mile three I was stopping frequently to catch my breath. I was being passed from time to time by other hikers, and that really bothered me. I told myself it did not matter. Lack of food, lack of sleep, but no lack of heart. It didn’t matter how slow I went. It didn’t matter how long it took. Just keep putting one foot in front of the other, and stop to rest as often as necessary.

When I would stop, my legs would tremble remarkably and a wave of dizziness would wash over me. I started to need to sit down during my breaks. This is something I had wanted to avoid. Sitting down meant having to stand back up. I told myself no “Tadasana” on the cliffside this time, as I feared I might pass out or simply sway over the side.

On and on I climbed. The tough thing about not having Runkeeper on was that I had no idea how far I had come, and no idea how far I had left to go, other than to look at the top of the granite slab and judge myself against it. It felt impossibly hard.

How can I be this poor of a hiker?? After all of my experience, I expected more from myself. At one point I stumbled forward and caught myself on a fallen sequoia. Sister! Give me strength!! I placed my hands on her and tried to draw some kind of psychic energy (I now realize the irony – fallen tree! lol). I remembered Yoga with Adriene. She says, “Notice how the body wants to get tired, but see how we can support it with the energetic body.” C’mon energetic body! Support me!! It actually did give me a slight boost as I continued climbing. Thank you, Adriene.

I reached a marker. The trail to the right would take me to the Falls overlook. Yay! Only .2 miles left to go! I was almost there! As I scrambled over the rocks (think scrambled eggs ;)), I saw a dirt path lined with boulders leading the way to the edge of the cliff. I started high-fiving the boulders. I could hear them cheering me on. I heard the theme to Rocky soar up from my soul. I started singing it. Da-da-dahhh. Da-da-dahhhh! I made it!

I literally wept – quietly and personally. The wind blew cool the tears on my cheeks. I ventured to the edge.

Where are the falls?

I saw another hiker coming up to my left. I asked again, out loud this time. “Where are the falls?”

She replied, “You have to take these winding rocks down to the overlook.”

Ahh, damn! What goes down must come up, and I was so exhausted.

But I was also getting chilled, and I needed to keep moving, one way or the other.

Well, I did not come this far only to stop “three feet from gold”.

I followed the rocky staircase, winding down another quarter mile. Then I saw it.

The railing disappeared, and the trail went on, now just a little ledge along the side of the cliff face. Wha??? Oh hell no. How can that be?

I was already shaking noticeably, both from the climb and from my extreme fear of heights. I gripped the end of the railing and peered around the corner. There was, in fact, another rail, but this one was merely bolted to the side of the rock. How could they do that?? It looks so dangerous. My hands were cold from gripping the metal.

I retreated to solid ground and put my gloves on. I don’t have to do this. I made it to the top. I did it. There is no shame in stopping now.

But what if I could go on? What if I could summon the courage to do it? I sat pondering as other hikers crested the mountain from behind me. I took a deep breath and moved down the winding staircase again.

A man in his 20s sat where I sat just minutes ago. I saw the same look on his face as had been on mine. His girlfriend stood on the platform below.

“Are you going to go?” I asked him.

“No. I’m good,” he says.

“Is it worth it?” I asked.

“They say it’s quite impressive,” he replies, “but I’m good.”

We sit there together for a moment. I’m good too. I have nothing to prove. I may be a warrior, but here is where the wise comes in. I am tired, shaky and light-headed. The wise move would be to be satisfied with what I have already accomplished today. I AM the Wise Warrior. I retreated to solid ground again.

I rested and took in the amazing view from the top of the world. Deep, refreshing breaths of the cool, clean mountain air. I could almost taste the falls in it. I felt good and whole, but I kept seeing the image of the disappearing railing with the ledge leading on. Would I be seeing this image for the rest of my life? Would I one day come to regret not crossing over? What if I could?

I decided it was worth another look. I climbed back down the quarter mile of winding rock staircase and met another solo female. She was stuck in the same position. We exchanged complaint about the lack of safety railing and our fear of heights.

“I wish I had the courage,” I said. “I never feel my fear of heights until I get up there. Then I become paralyzed by it and start shaking violently.”

She concurred. “It’s good to know your limits,” she said, smiling.

We retreated together, wise warriors.

[2019: I stopped my journaling here, but I did not stop seeing the image of the disappearing rail and the ledge leading on. I knew I had to try again. I knew that image would be mocking me for the rest of my life if I didn’t. I knew I had come here to test my limits, to see what I was made of. I knew I had the courage somewhere inside of me. I just had to figure out how to reach it. Below is the rest of the story, excerpted from my book.]

Somehow, that unventured territory is all that matters now. Once again, I make my way down the spiral stone staircase. I meet a pair of female hikers making their way back up from the overlook. “I wish I had the guts to go,” I say. I try not to sound defeated.

“It’s not as bad as it looks,” the woman on the tail assures me. “I am deathly afraid of heights, and I did okay. Just lean into the wall, and don’t look down.” They push past me and back up to solid ground.

I am now alone with my fear, and it swells within me and stares me down like the Leviathan. It is time for my final answer. Do I stay or do I go? This is my last chance.

I summon every ounce of courage I have in me, and then I dig deeper. I grip the rail. It is cold in my hands, and my shaking instantly intensifies. I grip harder and dig deeper. I lean into the rock face, and I do not look down. I inch my way forward, legs trembling and heart racing. I feel like I am holding on for dear life, and I pray I don’t pass out from the fear. Or from the fact that I am no longer breathing. I grip. I inch. I conquer.

Once across, I realize it is not nearly as dangerous as I had imagined. I almost laugh at myself. My fear had made it seem insurmountable. But here I stand victorious, feeling like a warrior indeed. The view is ironically better from above, but what I see most clearly from this vantage point is the part of me that can conquer anything.

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