Challenge ZERO – Climbing Half Dome

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Yup. That’s me with my climbing partner. Right on top of Half Dome. Woot!

The idea for this blog came about after a dear friend called me this past fall and asked if I would join her in climbing Half Dome in Yosemite. I have to admit I had never heard of Half Dome. I had never been to Yosemite. So, of course, I said yes!

I had no idea what I was getting into. My friend assured me I was in decent enough shape. And with 50 looming on the horizon I was already scheming about ways to mark my 50th in a big way. I figured climbing Half Dome would get the party started!

Half Dome is the only place in the world where a non-technical climber can do a technical climb. (Don’t hold me to the “only” mention…but Half Dome is for sure one of the “few”…) After hiking 8 miles to the base of the dome you ascend the last 400 feet of rock face by pulling yourself up a set of wire cables while using wooden slats to balance yourself. The bottom line: if you let go – you are a goner.

I’ve never really understood the extent of my fear of heights until I climbed Half Dome. The 4-hour hike up to the base of the dome was rigorous with a 4,800 ft. elevation gain to the foot of the dome. The last half mile I was practically on my hands and knees, scurrying up switchbacks with my heart pounding into my ears. It was tough.

I was not ready for how freaked out I would feel once I got to the base of the dome. At first I told my climbing partner that there was NO WAY IN HELL that I was climbing up that thing. I was panicking on the inside. I just wanted to call it a day and hang out while she did her thing. I forgot to mention that this was my climbing partner’s 7th ASCENT up Half Dome. This was just a little trot for her. No biggie. (And she’s in the half century club as well…) I encouraged her to go on.

But deep inside I knew I did not want to miss this opportunity. There are very few times in your life when you have to truly break through fear. As I sat and peered up the wall face, I assessed my fear meter and realized that I was only at an 8. I had been more scared a few times in my life while sitting in a doctor’s office. I figured I knew how to hang on for dear life. So I mustered up my courage and set out to kick ass, tucked in behind my veteran climbing partner.

Let’s just say that profanity was my friend through the last ascent. The louder I swore and prayed out loud to God the more I seemed to distract myself. I did not look down. And I did not look up. I essentially focused on my feet and my ability to think out loud in a very loud, screeching voice. “OH MY GOD. HELP ME!” That is essentially what I chanted with some good F bombs thrown in. I know I sounded like a crazy person.

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At the top of Half Dome with my climbing partner, Carol Mullin, and feeling close to God. Thank you, Carol, for encouraging me to join you!

Guess what? I made it to the top. All in once piece. And at the top awaited one of the more spiritual experiences of my life. It was quiet with mother nature and the horizon spread out in front of me for as far as the eye could see. No sounds of cars. Just a few other folks around us who had made it to the top at the same time. It was a good moment. The kind you want to tuck away deep in your heart for safe keeping and pull it out when you need a little pick-me up.

Once up there, I vowed to do it again…even though the whole time I feared someone would plummet to their death while we sat there. Lots of folks on top walked precariously close to the edge of the dome. Not me. Most of the pictures here required crawling to an edge and popping up for a mere two seconds. Coming down was also tricky, but for me not nearly as hard as going up.

In terms of strength and conditioning required to get to the top, I would say I never felt out of my league. Compared to some 50-year-olds, I might be in good shape. But I have lots of aches and pains like most mid-aged people, particularly a foot that bothers me.

I think you need to be more than a weekend warrior though to summit Half Dome. With that said, I did see all ages out there. There were people who looked to be in their 70s traipsing up the cable wires, barely out of breath. I loved that part about the experience – being in the presence of adventurers with restless hearts and a desire to push themselves out their comfort zone. Climbing Half Dome was a blast. Do it yourself to see what I mean.

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Happiness is being at the top of Half Dome after 5 hours of hiking and the last ascent to the top.
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A view from the bottom the day before we climbed Half Dome.
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View from the base. This picture is deceiving. It makes it look like there is a gentle slope. There is no gentle in this climb – at least for a 50-year-old woman with no climbing experience!