Hiking Half Dome in Yosemite National Park

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Last weekend, I crossed off one of the top things on my 2016 bucket list: hiking to the top of Half Dome in Yosemite National Park! I could not have imagined a better way to spend the long weekend – spending time outdoors, surrounded by people I love, and actively pursuing my (sometimes literally) lofty life goals!

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And first, in light of the horrific events that have happened this past week (and quite frankly, for centuries), I want to acknowledge the extreme privilege I have to celebrate what the Fourth of July stands for. While I "celebrate" the birth of this country and its independence by enjoying a long weekend in Yosemite, I am increasingly aware of how my America--as a straight "model minority" Asian--is not the same as the America that many know. Particularly, the black community somehow never received the invitation to the rosy, privileged experience of America that I have, and are still fighting desperately for liberation from the institutional racism that exists in our country.

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So, as I continue on with my privileged blog post about how wonderfully beautiful Yosemite is, and how I celebrated our country's independence, I want to acknowledge and underscore the fact that

Not everyone in America is free.

More so now than ever, it is critical for us to listen humbly to the oppressed, keep an open mind and heart, spread love and kindness, and most importantly, actively demand change. Independence is something that everyone in this beautiful country should have and be able to celebrate.

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So, reflecting on the weekend in Yosemite with all of that in mind, I have even more conscious gratitude for my carefree and fun-filled weekend. With gushing rivers and waterfalls, numerous trails, and stunning views, Yosemite is most definitely worth a visit to enjoy the beautiful wildlife and scenery, whether your itinerary includes Half Dome or not. The complicated process and logistics of acquiring permits to climb the iconic granite crest can feel like a planning headache. Fortunately, my friend Chloe landed permits and graciously included me in her adventure group - thank goodness, because I've yearned to pull myself up those notorious cables and stand on top of Half Dome since moving back to the Bay Area several years ago!

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While many summit Half Dome as a very long 16 mile day hike, we decided to instead camp halfway up at Little Yosemite Campground, The Mist Trail headed up to the campground was gorgeous, and we were grateful for the continuous mist from the waterfall to cool our bodies working under the weight of our gear. 

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If I did Half Dome again and had to choose between a 16-mile day hike or camping at Little Yosemite Valley, I would choose the lattter again in a heartbeat, The head start we had (since we were already halfway up but started at sunrise, the same time as most day hikers) was well worth the four miles and about 2,000 feet we had to ascend to the campsite with our 30 pound backpacks.

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The head start wasn’t just nice to enjoy the walk and summit with fewer people. Actually, the biggest benefit of beating the day hiker crowds is having the cables to yourself. At peak time, around 11 AM, you are more likely to end up stuck behind a person having a panic attack, or to go at the slower pace set by someone in front of you. When you’re on the face of a very steep cliff, this isn’t ideal – the more resting time you have, the more time you have to look around and realize how crazy you are!

 Emily's photo of the cables

Emily's photo of the cables

Thousands of people summit Half Dome every year, which, after having done it, really baffles me. I’m not a particularly fearful person, but my stomach filled with nerves as soon as I pulled myself up onto the first wooden slat. Hello, butterflies! I couldn’t help think of people with greater fears than mine - how amazingly brave people are to face their fears, one rickety wooden rung at a time, and how accomplished they must feel when they've succeeded!

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When I thought I might break down in a panic, I remembered some of my most challenging moments during Bike & Build, some of my most difficult and traumatic experiences in life, and the incredible resilience humans are capable of. Recently, I came across a post online about studies showing that subjects who are asked to recall times in their lives when they successfully overcame a difficult obstacle actually changed how their brains functioned, ultimately resulting in a greater ability to process stress in the present.

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You can cultivate greater self-efficacy and resilience by remembering when you dealt with adversity in the past.
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I realized how salient this phenomenon is in my own life. Knowing that I biked my butt across the United States, or that I scaled Half Dome, gives me reassurance that I can overcome other challenges that I might encounter in life – not just physical challenges, but also difficult conversations, emergency situations, heartbreak, and loss.

Anyway. Personal reflection aside, I felt like a fierce, fearless, resilient, and very loved badass at the top of Half Dome, and it was awesome. We spent probably an hour at the top, slowly building up the courage to peek over the edge to the valley floor 4,000+ ft below. 

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Emily even did a sketch from where we were sitting, combining my two favorite things - art and nature!

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And while Half Dome was (literally) the peak of my weekend, I also really relished the time we spent just enjoying a simple life – which is probably the main reason I love camping. I got so much happiness from just lounging around our campsite looking up at the trees, sitting on a fallen trunk in the river while we filtered water for our bottles, and waking up in my tent to birds chirping when the sun rose at 6 AM.

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For tips on logistics and planning your trip to Half Dome, I relied primarily on this really useful blog post. The only tips I would add are:

  • Definitely camp at Little Yosemite Valley if you are somewhat athletic – like I said, the head start is 110% worth it. To do this, you’ll need to apply for Wilderness Permits (which actually makes it slightly easier to obtain permits for the Half Dome cables)
  • Bring bug spray! I got eaten alive by mosquitos, and left the park with more than 30 bites!
  • If you go in the summer like I did, bring fewer warm clothes - it's high 50s/low 60s in the evenings. I slept in one or two long sleeved layers each night under my sleeping bag, without the rain fly on my tent, and I was fine
  • When ascending, go up Mist Trail, whose steep stone steps takes you to the top of Vernal Falls. However, on the way down, take the John Muir Trail, whose switchbacks are much nicer to your knee:
 The view of Vernal Falls from the Mist Trail

The view of Vernal Falls from the Mist Trail

 The view from the top of Vernal Falls, looking at the Mist Trail

The view from the top of Vernal Falls, looking at the Mist Trail

 Our cliff-side walk down the John Muir Trail

Our cliff-side walk down the John Muir Trail

If you’re not convinced, call me and I will tell you how amazing it is to stand on top of Half Dome. In fact, I will climb Half Dome again and FaceTime you – yes there is service at the top so you can ‘gram and social media the crap out of your incredible accomplishment. But in all seriousness, Yosemite is such a beautiful national park even disregarding Half Dome, so add it to your bucket list right now!

And, remember: spread kindness and love, and be an ally. Speak out and fight for a country whose independence, opportunity, and beauty is accessible to everyone! #blacklivesmatter