We were panting. With gusto, as if the heavier we panted the less exhausted we’d be. Having just hiked seven miles starting before sunrise, we were past the point of trying to hide our fatigue from each other. My feet felt like red, raw pork chops wrapped too tightly in butcher paper. I slowly swung my backpack off my shoulder and down to the packed earth peppered with small jagged rocks. As soon as my back was exposed the chill wind raced to the large moist pool that had grown every time my pack was on and we were making the most upward progress on the 4,800 foot ascent.
“There she is,” my friend Kevin said, looking up. Way up.
“Holy shit,” I said, then asked, “We’re going up that thing?” even though I knew the answer. It was now clear to me why Half Dome in Yosemite is known as one of the most dangerous hikes in the country, and it took me panting and sweating for seven hours to believe it.
“Looks scarier in person, huh?” Kevin said, commiserating and perhaps trying to shake off his mild fear of heights.
“It looks like a giant hacked off half of a massive granite mountain right down the middle and said, ok you little people, climb. Amuse me.” But I was not amused. I was scared. I did not sign up for this.
“C’mon, let’s go now instead of standing around staring at it and getting freaked out,” Kevin said.
We took a few last sips of water and dug out the gloves we had brought just for this part. The last 400 feet of this hike looked to be completely vertical and was done only with the assistance of metal cables staked precariously into the rock. I pulled mine on and clasped the Velcro wrists tight, even though the kids’ size sports gloves I had bought last-minute was already a snug fit.
I cleared my throat and tried to sound as tough as a grown adult can while wearing children’s gloves. “Let’s do this,” I said, and we continued on our way up.