On Not Climbing Half Dome

Half Dome June 2014

As two free-climbers inched their way into the history books and up El Capitan’s Dawn Wall this week, I recalled a trip my husband and I made to Yosemite last June. Unlike the intrepid duo’s, our feet remained firmly on the ground. We enjoyed glorious hikes at Glacier Point and Sentinel Dome.  Surveying the panorama of granite and sky, though, it suddenly hit me: I am never going to climb Half Dome. This brought a slight pang; I always envisioned hauling myself up those metal cables someday. Mostly, though, I felt relieved.

A hiking blog fully endorsed taking the easy way out:

Sentinel Dome gets top marks for the summit views. You get almost everything that Half Dome provides, without the clenching and near-death experience. Geezers can do this hike from a nearby parking lot.

I don’t think of myself as a geezer. This decision was driven much more by choice than by creaky knees and wheezy lungs.  Still, in giving up the hard work that would no doubt reward me with a huge sense of accomplishment as well as stupendous views, was I settling into a twilight of resignation?

But there’s a difference between giving up and letting go. We certainly can be stymied by inertia and self-doubt. Yet maybe we’ve just lost interest or ability, shifted priorities, or never really wanted to climb Half Dome all that much in the first place.

Reality is to dreams as glaciers are to granite. It grinds you down, yet also sculpts and liberates something new: Self-knowledge. Acceptance. Knowing what you want and don’t want. Now that’s a Dawn Wall whose conquest is a monumental achievement.


What are your Half Domes you’ll never climb, your Dawn Walls you still hope to?