Monday, March 1, 2021

The Journal of Steffanie Rivers: The Half Dome Challenge

Steffanie Rivers
Steffanie Rivers

*I celebrated my birthday last Friday by hiking to the top of Half Dome at Yosemite National Park. The round-trip hike from the bottom to the top and back took twelve hours.

In the middle of a forest traversing rocks the size of the one that covered the entrance to Jesus’ tomb making my way up a mountain with 8,800 feet elevation isn’t how most people want to celebrate their birthday. Yet, I’ve never been like most people. At 52 I’m not going to start now!

But I must admit I wasn’t even an hour into the 6-hour ascent before I thought to myself: My mouth wrote a check my ass can’t cash!

With every step, it got harder to breathe. I stumbled over rocks the size of pebbles because my legs felt like logs. And when I started to get dizzy it dawned on me that in my altered state I might become easy prey for wild animals!

Then questions with my mother’s face on them started to pop into my head: ‘What if’ this happens? or ‘What about’ that? All the uncertainties that crowded my mind, coupled with the unanticipated weight of my hiking boots, started to make me second-guess how I chose to memorialize my birthday.

Half Dome Cables
Half Dome Cables

Besides, black people don’t hike!  That day at Yosemite there were just three African-Americans in the entire forest; myself, the man I came with and one other guy who worked at the park. Even though he wore a park employee shirt with a name badge, I confirmed his status before I asked him for directions to the bathroom for what turned out to be my last trip to a real toilet for the next twelve hours.

Of the thousands of hikers I saw that day my beau – we’ll call him ‘Springs –For-Legs’ – and I held it down for all the chocolate people! I guess I should clarify: He held it down. I was just trying to keep up with him. Judging from the looks on the faces of some of the white people who passed us, they were surprised to see us there too. If it wasn’t for the fact that he kept stopping every 200 yards or so to wait for me to catch up to him some might have assumed the distance between us meant we weren’t together!

I’ve never been a hiker, but I like a challenge. So when I read about the woman who fell to her death weeks earlier while trying to summit Half Dome I wanted to try it! When I told Springs-For-Legs about my plan, he was all for it. Having him with me kept me focused on my goal. Afterward, he told me my reliance on him is what kept him in the game. There we were; two chocolate drops representing the African Diaspora and keeping each other motivated while getting the workout of a lifetime.

Hikers must have a permit to climb to the top of Half Dome. Permits are distributed by a lottery. Even though we had a permit and the proper equipment, we almost stopped short of climbing the last 400 yards because the summit only can be accessed via the infamous cable staircase. It was getting close to sundown and we didn’t want nightfall to catch us outside in an unfamiliar place. He’s from Louisiana and I’m from Tennessee. We knew what could happen after dark in the woods.

Before we started the hike our plan was to reach the top of Half Dome in under four hours, giving us plenty of time to get back down the mountain before dark. But with two hours of time lost on the way up we started to consider surviving Half Dome instead of just climbing it.

Then it happened: Somebody who just left the summit told us it only took them fifteen minutes to climb the cables instead of the hour some others had claimed. I wasn’t about to let a fifteen-minute cable climb keep me from my goal? So we put on our gloves and up the cables we ascended!

Those people lied! It took at least thirty minutes for me to reach the top. When I got there, Springs-For-Legs was waiting! I won’t tell you how long he sat at the top waiting for me before I arrived (patting his foot and shaking his head I imagine). The main thing is we got to the summit. He sang ‘Happy Birthday’ when I made it to the top! By that time I had forgotten what day it was. The view from 8,800 feet elevation was amazing!

Steffanie Rivers is a freelance journalist living in the Dallas-Ft. Worth metroplex. Email her at [email protected] with comments, questions and speaking inquiries.



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