January 19, 2017

Celebrating Small Successes in Yosemite National Park

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.

Gaining Perspective

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.

Vernal Falls, Yosemite National Park

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.

Munching on my summit chocolate at the base of Half Dome.

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.

YOLO, indeed.

4 Responses to Celebrating Small Successes in Yosemite National Park

  1. I love this post and I totally get it! I had an experience in New Mexico at a healing retreat in the wilderness about 7 years ago. I went there, after a break-up, thinking that I was going to do a ‘fire watch’ (stay up all night by myself in the dark tending a fire). I’m afraid of the dark and it was truly the wilderness there, so I chickened out.

    For a while, I beat myself up, thinking that I’d failed. Months later, I realized that I had not. The fact that I even spent the night in a cabin there by myself was a big deal. Maybe someday, I’ll do a fire watch, but not until or unless the time is right.

    And I agree that small victories matter as much as the bigger ones. You should feel proud that you did what you did.

    PS: Love that pic of you enjoying the chocolate!!

    • Marsha says:

      Lisa, I’m actually surprised to admit you’re afraid of anything. You’ve always seemed so fearless to me. Thanks for validating how I feel and sharing your experience! 🙂

  2. Ekua says:

    Love this and totally get it. I’ve had moments like this where I didn’t go as far as I wanted to, but had to celebrate how far I DID go.

    • Marsha says:

      Thanks, Ekua! I’m trying to learn not to be so focused on the goal that I lose sight of the act. That journey/destination dichotomy all over again…