It’s been said Yosemite National Park is the crown jewel of America’s national parks. I haven’t been to every national park yet, but I believe it. Although my time in Yosemite was marked by disappointment, I still consider the three days I spent backpacking in the park among the most special memories of my life.
It’s too easy to focus on failure, so when I chose to turn around on the hike up to Half Dome, it colored my Yosemite experience. With time, however, I’ve realized there are reasons to celebrate too. After all, I strapped on a 35-pound backpack and walked up miles of slick granite. That’s no small feat. I camped under the forest canopy and the stars above Little Yosemite Valley amd drank cool water straight from the Merced River. Although I didn’t make it all the way up Half Dome, I saw Yosemite Valley from above with my own eyes. And–so my guide told me–I kept my good humor even in moments of fear and physical exhaustion.
That’s a victory, my friends.
I think back on my time in Yosemite in a series of vignettes: children skipping past effortlessly on the 6.5-mile, uphill Mist Trail. Watching brazen squirrels darting after a wayward M&M. The rushing whitewater of Nevada Falls. The triumph (and relief) when we finally reached the Little Yosemite Valley campground. The reverent hush over the campsite as we bedded down at dusk to prepare for the early morning hike up to Half Dome. I had no idea then what the following day held in store.
After deciding not to complete the climb, I waited at the foot of the granite peak for my hiking group to return from the summit. There at the foot of the iconic granite peak, I chatted with a man who’d just finished his seventh ascent to the top in as many years. I spoke with others who, like me, were too afraid or unprepared to make the attempt. Sitting on a log under a hot sun, I pulled out the chocolate I’d packed to celebrate reaching Half Dome’s summit and ate it anyway. Why the hell not? I’d made it this far, hadn’t I? That’s something worth celebrating.
You Only Fail When You Don’t Try
It’s taken me a long time to realize that the experience, with its highs and lows, has been yet another highlight in my life. I look back on Yosemite and Half Dome as another chapter in what I hope is a life worth reading about. A reminder that small victories matter just as much as big ones. And that failure in pursuit of something big and meaningful is much better than never making the attempt at all.