Sisterhood and the Half Dome Cables
by John P. DeGrazio
As a father of two daughters, I am constantly reminding the older one that she needs to treat her sister with more love. “She’s the only one you have so treat her better,” I find myself repeating. Just today, the younger one gave her older sibling a hug as we departed for school, but her genuine show of affection was met by a cold “what are you doing to annoy me now?” stare. I know, I know. She’s only nine, but after spending a good deal of my own 70s-80s childhood continuously clashing with my two brothers, I want to insure that she does not relive the mistakes of her father. My family struggled through a bitter divorce, and neither brother was able to find the strength or leadership to galvanize us. Instead, we scratched, clawed, and kicked our way to divisions that shaped our lives in separation. It is my mission in life to make certain this does not happen with my own children. Of course, they play together and get along well most of the time; but I have an admitted over-sensitivity to the subject. I have begun taking them on adventures to teach them about strength in sisterhood and why they should treat each other well. I work tirelessly to show them positive examples of how siblings should work together to accomplish goals. This brings us to a couple of sisters I led on a guided Half Dome hike in 2012.
Lois and Joy were in Yosemite to attempt the summit of Half Dome for the first time. Joy, from Vancouver, had recently turned 50 so the pair wanted to accomplish something substantial to kick off their second half century together. Lois wanted to show her sister the beauty of one of her favorite places in her home state of California, and their enthusiasm for collectively spending quality time in such a wonderful place was contagious. We were a party of four that day with a New Yorker named George.
The day started well but doubt began to creep in as we made our way up the Mist Trail. We navigated the steep climb up the steps to both Vernal and Nevada Falls while stopping for lengthy rests. Moving slowly, I emphasized to the group that our top stated goal was to safely achieve the summit as a team. Half Dome is considered one of the greatest physical challenges in many people’s lives. Although reaching the summit is viewed as an individual achievement, our memories are shaped by the bonds we form with our teammates throughout the day. George was kind and patient. He fully understood the team concept and was often encouraging other team members along the trail. Our strategy of dividing the hike into several manageable sections really helped as we reached the latter stages of the ascent.
The sisters were very tired upon reaching the Sub Dome, but they remained positive. When one struggled, the other was always there to pick her up. Inevitably, the roles would reverse on each section of trail. It was amazing to witness as their spirits never wearied. We stopped for extended rests several times on the steep granite carved steps. As we regrouped, one of the sisters would question if we can make it only to be answered by the other that we must move on. They motivated each other as we continued to move upward. At one point on the Sub Dome slabs, I looked back and no longer saw two individuals. What I witnessed was the formation of a single being created by the strengthening bond between them. There was a glowing aura around them as the being grew with every step forward.
We settled down below the cables and were satisfied with our great achievement of ascending over 4000 feet in eight miles. For a moment, this was going to possibly be the terminus of the hike for Lois and Joy. But they were no longer two separate hikers, and they certainly had no choice in the matter of sitting out the summit. This life force was too great to be ignored, and it willed them to the cables. New struggles arose on the cables, but they were mere temporary setbacks. We continued on a methodical pace and tackled them one board at a time. Again, we found strength in numbers and their energy transformed each of us to work together as a single unit.
After a few more steps, we made it up the cables and we all felt a sense of relief.
From the cables, we took the necessary steps to reach the true summit about 100 meters farther ahead. What followed was an expression of pure and unbridled Joy.
It was one of those moments that I felt fortunate enough to capture with my camera. Every time I look at this image, I think of the effort that went into this journey and the catharsis I witnessed at the end. We found a semi private place (as semi private as you can get on top of Half Dome on a busy summer day) and enjoyed a satisfying lunch together followed by more celebratory photos.
We made the return trip in the soft light of the early evening. The pain was erased by the joy reaching the summit. I often look back on this experience of Lois and Joy and look forward to sharing their story with my two daughters as they adventure through life together.
YExplore Lead Adventure Guide John P. DeGrazio has reached the summit of Half Dome more than 100 times. In this series, he will share stories from some of the most interesting journeys along the trail of Yosemite’s most popular peak. He will reflect on some of the most inspirational moments he has shared with hundreds of others while achieving their lifelong dreams. John will also share tips on how to properly prepare for such a long, arduous trek while providing insights on how to successfully complete this quest. He’ll also discuss changes to this hike he has witnessed throughout the years as well as many interesting encounters along the way.