Wednesday, October 14, 2015

The View from the Edge

The summer of 1973, I was 15 on the verge of 16 full of all kinds of teenage drama and angst. I had my first serious boyfriend and he was older, heading to college.  My parents brought him along on our annual summer backpack trip in an effort to keep me interested because truly the only thing I was interested in was him. And being kissed.  

Our trip that summer involved a 10 day camping and backpacking trip in and around Yosemite.  And the highlight was to be a night spent on the top of Half Dome.  I wasn't super excited because I was 15, almost 16 and I wanted to be anywhere but with my parents, family friends and a younger brother.  But because I was 15, I had no choice.  I honestly do not remember too much of that trip except like our other backpacking trips it was hard stuff. Because to get to the really great places you have to travel hard trails, walk loads of miles and it isn't always fun. (Can you see where I'm going with this story?).   So after 8 days of lots of hard stuff  with me rolling my eyes and kissing my boyfriend through some of the most beautiful back country anywhere, we hit the switchbacks that lead to the bottom of Half Dome.  8 days of hauling what I needed and some of what other people needed on my back, my 100 pound body carrying 35 pounds of stuff and I wasn't impressed at all with the steep and never ending switchbacks ahead of us in the afternoon all. I was pretty pissed off at the ridiculousness of those switchbacks and in my defense, those things go on FOREVER.... At the top of the switchbacks we saw before us THE CABLES......

Awesome, more hard stuff although this held my interest because I loved to climb trees and things, I loved being up high in the sky and possibly more important, my mother is deathly afraid of heights and I wasn't.  I knew I could haul myself and all that stuff up the side of that rock and I did. My mom did in spite of her fears ( I never gave her the credit she deserved for all that, she was facing hard fears) and my brother did it by hanging onto the pack of our other male friend because he was too short to use the cables.  We all did it. And that alone should be an amazing story. But this is about what's at the top, the reason for the planning and hard work... At the top, you take off your pack of stuff and see how HUGE the top is. It's football field and more big....and then there is this...The view you cannot see from anywhere else in the world.   The view that feels like it's the whole world...

I mean really......even my 15 year old snotty high school girl self knew that this was a life changer. I let myself feel what it was like to have done something spectacular. I didn't think about my mom and one upping her, I didn't think about how much I hated these "family trips", I didn't think about my boyfriend and his kisses even though he was standing next to me. I for once let myself feel all my tangled and not cool self and I took in this crazy amazing moment...but then what I did next was where I found myself the most....

There is an outcropping on the top of Half Dome, a place where sheets of granite hang out over the edge of the face.  A place where there is so little under your feet and then nothing at all. Where the best views, the best air and the best of everything are found. On the edge of everything. A place where my breath was taken away, where I walked out and sat by myself and was totally okay with being 15 and awkward and unsure. Where I was suspended over everything and everything was mine. I could have stayed there forever letting the breeze cool my face. It felt like forever, it felt like everything..

Of course my mom with her deathly fear of heights about lost her mind with her only daughter sitting on the edge of nothing, hanging over the valley a bit precariously. So I came back to the safety of the football field size smooth rock top.  We unrolled sleeping bags and had a meager dinner of uncooked foods and a sip of brandy in our Sierra Cups which at that altitude and me being 15 went straight to my head. And slightly tipsy, I watched the full moon rise and light up the whole world. I made wishes on a million shooting stars and I looked down on all the campfires in the Valley below. All in a night spent on the top of Half Dome.   

I did sneak back to the outcropping a few more times before we climbed down the next morning. I hated to leave, wondered if ever I would experience anything so amazing as the edge of that rock...I wondered if I would ever feel that whole again. I wondered if ever I would feel like I fit in like that anywhere else. I wondered ifmaybe that was where I was leaving myself, on the outcropping looking down or instead I had found myself. Maybe both.

I returned to school to be a cheerleader, my boyfriend went away to college and dumped me and I resumed my slightly awkward but fun journey through school. But I knew that I was changed through the hard stuff, the switchbacks, the carrying of things, by the view from the top. For a moment, I wasn't just a girl at my school doing what looked like normal stuff, for  I had stood on the edge of the world and it was mine.  I held that knowledge and power in my heart for a while and then I put it away, not sure what to do with it.  .   

That summer, that trip came back to me in a dream the other day. I felt compelled to sort it out and figure out why after 42 years, I woke up in tears feeling once again changed but not quite sure why. It occurred to me that I've been doing the switchbacks for a good 5-6 years, personal switchbacks but switchbacks non-the-less.  The hard stuff, carrying what I need and what other people need on my back.  And I'm here at the base of the mountain with cables before me and I am good for the climb.  Because I need to stand on the edge and see what the world looks like again. Because I need to be suspended over nothing, over the world, see that view that you only see from the top, have my breath taken away and feel the power in my soul of all that. Remember that I am whole, that sometimes just leaning into the stuff that scares you most is when it gets super amazing and oh so real. Trust that the ground underneath will hold me. Go to  where I will feel the breeze cool my face and travel to where I am just me, a girl on the edge of everything.....


p.s. these are not my photos. I found them by doing online searches of Half Dome and the Cables.  


  1. What a GREAT blog Barbara. Loved it and you. <3

  2. Amazing!! To tie into your younger self and make that connection. I wish you had a sister, but may you do.... here in Jersey! Love you and your generous spirit that you share. It gives me strength.

  3. Wonderfully told, Barbara. I'm here in the cheering section for the Cable Climb. Put only what you really need in your pack, plan your assault, rest up ... and godspeed.