The North Face
By Ananya Krishnan
My fondest memories from childhood were set in nature. Whether I was gliding down a ski slope or hiking a rocky mountainside, outdoor adventures and road trips were staples of my youth. My parents took my twin brother and I in child carrier hiking packs wherever they went, even when we were just months old. I’ve seen 25 National Parks, but my favorite is Yosemite, the one that feels like home.
My family has visited Yosemite Valley many times because we live only four hours away, and my favorite trip was in 2015 when we decided to climb Half Dome. We woke up for the hike at around 5 AM, and got to the trailhead by 7, all of us laden with granola bars, sandwiches, salt tablets, and plenty of water and Gatorade to combat the hot July day we would be facing.
Our first milestone was Vernal Falls, one of the most popular waterfalls in the Valley. Vernal is also famous for its Mist Trail, a slippery, narrow pathway with a single rope railing that takes you up alongside the falls. It’s a shortcut to the top, but a dangerous one too, as more people die on the Mist Trail than any other place in Yosemite. Nevada Falls is about 2.5 miles ahead and a quarter of the way to Half Dome. Like Vernal, it’s beautiful and dangerous because of the seemingly calm basin at the top, whose unsuspectingly strong current claims the life of many hikers every year.
There are about five miles between Nevada Falls and Half Dome’s saddle, and this is where the mental game set in for me as the sun began to beat down and the repeating switchbacks of trail sunk in. I was lucky to be hiking with family and friends, so we kept ourselves entertained by playing word games and 20-questions. When we finally reached the bottom of the Half Dome’s subdome, a steep, narrow path faced us as our final stretch, and we submitted at about 1 PM.
A cool breeze lofted through my hair as we walked around to survey the view from this iconic rock, munching on our sandwiches as well. Ahead, dozens of hikers prepared for the hike up the dome; I was relieved we wouldn’t be doing it. The steep climb is unforgiving, as you have to haul yourself up an almost vertical rock with ordinary gloves and a couple of cables on your side. My dad completed this challenge in 2005, and told us how dangerous and exhausting it was, especially because he got a cramp halfway. My brother promised he would do it when he was strong enough–which was in 2019–but I happily committed to never attempt it myself, primarily because I’m acrophobic.
Hiking down was the hardest part for me. First, there was the sub-dome trail. Going up it hadn’t been horrible, but going down frightened me. The path was just wider than the width of my boots, so stepping to the side over the steep drop to let hikers pass me to go up in the opposite direction was terrifying. This was made worse by the composition of the trail, which was slippery gravel and dust. I had to stop halfway to compose myself. Second, having accomplished our goal, we were all less motivated and energetic hiking down as the afternoon sun beat down on us. Third, we decided not to take the Mist Trail back after braving it on the way up because it would be much easier to slip going down. Instead, we took the longer John Muir Trail, which was challenging to me because of its miles of monotonous switchbacks.
Finally, we reached our car at 7 PM, and I was so happy to be done. At that moment, I vowed I would never do the hike again, but looking back, I definitely would. Nothing compares to the pride I felt finishing that challenge.
I have many memories in Yosemite: dislocating my elbow, getting ice cream cones from the same general store every year, camping in the hot California summers, and exploring the Ansel Adams exhibits. But hiking Half Dome is easily my favorite memory at this iconic National Park and an accomplishment I will always be proud of.
About the Author: Ananya Krishnan is a sophomore from Saratoga, California, majoring in Environment and Sustainability and minoring in Business and History. One of her favorite travel destinations is Provence, France, because of its plethora of historical sites and beautiful scenery.