Right Under the Clouds and Above the Rest of the World

I haven’t been a real hiker until I moved from the Bay Area to Central California, 45 minutes away from Yosemite National Park. I met a few women at my kids’ school. We did Half Dome together and I was hooked.
Our group split mostly because we had children of different ages who needed us for all kinds of activity that didn’t match our hiking schedule.
Then I met through a mutual friend, someone who had little in common with me to start with and yet became my best hiking buddy. We started to walk six or seven miles on weekends and quickly enjoyed our similar endurance and pace.
But we truly began our more serious hikes after the sudden loss of her husband. I didn’t know her well and wondered how I could help her to go through this difficult time in her life. I asked our common friend who said, “She’d like you to be with her on the trails.”
And that’s how I ended up doing two challenging hikes per year. Among them Half Dome under the moon light to see the sunrise at 6:00 am and basically the entire Yosemite Valley.
My hiking buddy is a goal achiever. The kind of person who decides that not traveling far doesn’t mean you can’t log the same mileage distance. In a year she covered the equivalent of a cross country trip from one coast to the other. Just with her two feet.
My own lists are books I want to read, movies I want to see and National Parks I want to visit before I’m too old. My hiking buddy has made a new list this summer while I was gone: hiking every single peak that figures on the Yosemite National Park map with her teenage son. Too much for me.
But yesterday I was with them when they crossed off one peak from their list.
And I’m reconsidering my own lists…
We chose Clouds Rest as our fall hike because it is supposed to be the most spectacular in the high country, because from the top you see Half Dome which you don’t when you are at the top of Half Dome and because my friend’s son had hiked it a couple of years ago. Having among the team someone who has done the hike is always good.
We were on the trail at 9:00 am. The distance to the top is 7.5 miles. No better way to test your physical condition and will than a rocky and dusty trail. Clouds Rest ascent is far easier than Half Dome and yet the first half is a strong cardio exercise. The trail starts a little bit above 8000 feet high and quickly the heart registers the altitude.
Sipping water and taking it a step at a time is essential to give the body enough time to adjust. Bit by bit the pounding of my heart slowed down and found a nice easy rhythm. That’s the part I like when I hike. The ability of the human body to surpass a regular task never fails to amaze me.
The trail took us through a forest like landscape. Green and lush vegetation grew under the typical Yosemite tall pine trees. We passed Sunrise lake more the size of a large pond but an idyllic picnic or reading spot. Then began the more demanding switchbacks trail. Rocks and roots required as much attention as the beauty of nature.
Yosemite remains the most visited park in the country and each time I go, I am reminded that this is a place of power and humility, and to me, a non religious person, of spirituality. Surrounded by such raw beauty I never feel lonely. I find my place as a human being, so intimately part of nature that everything falls right into place.
I love man made cities where I am instantly anonymous but this is on top of a mountain when my legs are stiff and my entire body begs for a rest that I am aware of being one person in a multitude.
There is camaraderie among hikers. Regardless of where you come from, your accent, your gender and your color people will talk to each other, encourage each other, share tips and even food.
We reached the top of Clouds Rest before 1:00 pm and spent almost an hour eating a well deserved lunch, taking pictures and giving the mandatory phone call to our friends staying at home. There is amazing service at the top of Yosemite highest summits compared to the absence of signal in most of the park.
Clouds Rest like its name suggests brings you right under the clouds and above the rest of the world.
What a powerful and yet humbling feeling!
The descent was a breeze after four hours of effort. We were covered in dust as if we had rolled into it but I didn’t change as I often do after hiking. I enjoyed the marks of exertion and as I drove down through the entire park and back home, I was open to the subtle changes of weather in the air, of the way my body was readjusting to the valley floor and the higher temperatures. Alive and whole.
The end of summer is creeping on us. Hiking days are counted and I will probably be unable to explore the high country before late spring.
In the meantime I will plan shorter hikes and bike rides in the valley with my family.
They might catch me gazing up in the distance at higher summits that for months will remain a dream.

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