I was recently traveling through California with my brother Jonah. We stayed at reserves and parks and a couple friends’ houses. Our trip was to end in the heart of Yosemite, a place neither of us brothers had yet seen with our own eyes.
As the forthcoming mountains rose above us and we descended into the valley, our hearts sang at the pleasure of the beauty. It was still dark, yet the distinguished giants stood towering against the fiery night sky backdrop. We were entering into the park at our earliest convenience so as to pick up one of the first-come, first-served campground sites. Our mission was a success and we were soon hiking a mountain in the heat of an electric summer day.
Trudging up the first quarter or so of this particular hike, Jonah (my brother) and I were already exhausted. I looked to my map and discovered that we had chosen one of the more physically brutal hikes in the region. We were to ascend 2,500 feet of mountain in less than four horizontal miles! Our legs were shaking as we sat down beside a large boulder. We set down our backpacks and wiped the sweat off our foreheads. A few men that looked important ran past us; their backpacks were bigger and I didn’t notice any sweat on their foreheads. Jonah looked to me and said, “We were not ready for this hike.” I looked up at the mountain ahead. The tallest waterfall in the country sent streams of mist my way. My head could hardly tilt back far enough to see the place whence the waterfall came. That was our destination.
A few hours later, my brother and I triumphantly stood atop Yosemite Falls (Upper). We wore big grins. Looking around, I saw many others wearing similar expressions. What a feeling! Half Dome stood opposite us. It appeared dignified. I ought to say he appeared dignified. This man seemed to be guarding his family from the enemy. He was noble and he understood the dangers of the wild. He wasn’t proud, but whatever spark of aggressiveness he had originated in his defensiveness. I admired the rock and I learned from it.
As we left the waterfall’s climax, a place where many visitors came every day, Jonah I and observed an old sign pointing in an odd direction. “Eagle Peak, 2 miles,” it read. I looked at my watch. We had the time. The question was whether our legs would keep moving despite their utter weariness. “There’s no shame in turning back if we can’t do it,” I said. We began walking away from the waterfall and the crowd and everything else.
We quickly understood that this hike was not nearly as popular a hike as Yosemite Falls’. We had trouble navigating and, at times, simply followed a riverbed, assuming the trail followed the stream of sand and pebbles. About an hour later, my brother and I, after having trudged through a forest and not seen the mountains or the valley or any important views, we climbed a pile of boulders and happily fell onto a bed of stone where the hike ended with a vista that few will ever experience. After having closed my eyes and eaten and drank, I turned my head to see a lone man sitting on a nearby boulder, beholding the view in the quiet of the afternoon. He was an old man, not as old as Half Dome, but the resemblance was uncanny. It immediately occurred to me that these mountains truly have the ability to change us.
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