Yosemite National Park has always held a special place in my psyche. From my first visit to the park in 1985 to my last trip and the story this narrative will tell, I was continually drawn back to the park. In the 1970’s, my sister moved from Wisconsin to California and found work with the National Park Service as a resident nurse in the Yosemite National Park hospital. The stories and pictures she sent back to us, pulled me west to see the park. I vowed that once I got through college, I would discover the park for myself.
Founded as a National Park on October 1, 1890, Yosemite encompasses a grove of giant sequoias, Tuolumne Meadows and the Yosemite Valley floor carved out by the Merced River. Upon entering the valley floor, you are greeted by majestic waterfalls and sheer granite walls; El Capitan, Glacier Point and the iconic Half Dome are among its most famous. The park is a haven for some of the best climbers in the world as well as amateur climbers utilizing alternative ways to reach the peaks high above the valley floor, leaving the technical climbs to the professionals.
In 1985, I finally realized my goal of visiting Yosemite. I was accompanied on that trip by my wife and my just barely one year old daughter, Bailey, who due to her diminutive size, spent much of the trip riding in her carrying frame on my back. From the moment we entered the park, the majesty of the park took my breath away. We were surrounded by sheer walls of granite rising from the valley floor and holding us captive within the canyon carved out by the glaciers of eons earlier. Everywhere we turned, we were greeted with yet another waterfall. From the slender strands of Bridal Veil Falls to the incredible power of the twins, Vernal and Nevada Falls, we were drawn into the allure of Yosemite. We knew long before we left the park, that we would return. Hiking the Mist Trail to the top of Vernal Falls with Bailey asleep in my backpack, I made a promise to her that we would one day return and she would hike this trail with me, and maybe, just maybe, we would climb to the top of Half Dome towering some 4800 feet above us.
In July of 1996, we were back. This time we were a family of four as my youngest daughter, Kathryn, was along for her first taste of Yosemite. Bailey, after years of hearing the story of that earlier trip to the park, was holding me to my promise. Without much planning, we had decided that Bailey and I would attempt the hike to the summit of Half Dome. After a road construction delay entering the park, followed by a fairly long hike to reach the trailhead, we began our climb. We managed the top of Vernal Falls and after another hour or so of hiking, had reached the top of Nevada Falls. This is the moment reality set in. Our first sight as we crested the trail, was a sign explaining that unless you had reached this point before noon, you should not attempt to reach the summit of Half Dome. As it was well after noon, we heeded the warning and after just enough time to enjoy the view, took a solemn oath that we would return one day and finish this adventure.
The years passed but we hadn’t returned. Oh we talked about it. Every year as we planned our summer vacation, the topic would come up. Suddenly it was 2009, Kathryn was now eighteen, graduating high school and an avid amateur climber. As we discussed summer plans, she looked at us and stated, it’s time. Bailey and I were all in, their mother, not so much. She had been envisioning a beach somewhere but after sensing our resolve, she capitulated. The trip was planned and Bailey and I dug out the photos from our 1997 trip. One stuck out for Kathryn. It was an image of Bailey and I standing atop Nevada Falls dressed in shorts and sandals. This might explain why it took us so long that morning to get where we were in this photo and too late to finish what we had started. I still remember Kathryn’s response, “Look at you. Did the two of you do any research at all?” Sheepishly looking at each other, we confessed that the thought had never crossed our minds. And then, in that moment, Kathryn took over the expedition.
To be continued………………