#20 Finding Solitude in Wilderness

A Solo Half Dome Adventure 
By John P. DeGrazio 
Clouds Rest and the Lyell Range from the Summit of Half Dome by John P. DeGrazio

Do we choose our adventures or do our adventures choose us?

I moved to California two years after my first visit to Yosemite. On that trip, our group hiked to the top of Half Dome and were left craving more adventure, but not necessarily more Half Dome. When I started YExplore, there were no intentions of guiding this particular hike for clients. I was actually caught off guard when we received our first inquiry and debated whether it would be practical to make this a regular offering. As we evolved, the hike became a more integral part of our mission and vision for the quality of experiences we provide.

I recently watched the movie “Vision Quest” for the first time in many years. It’s a classic 80s tale of a high school senior who decides to dedicate his entire season to challenging the best wrestler in the state. Lauden Swain was driven by his desire to be the best, and it was a highly motivational film. “Lunatic Fringe” by Red Rider was the featured song of the soundtrack and it’s hypnotic beat makes we want to run through walls to this day.

On December 5, 2008, I decided to begin my own quest in Yosemite. I had completed this hike several times in groups but never alone. It was important to me to embark on this individual journey, and I picked a mild day in December to make my attempt. I didn’t expect any problems but there is always a danger when heading into wilderness without others. One of the principles of Leave No Trace is to always be prepared and to share your itinerary with others regardless of the size of your group. I made certain of this crucial step before I departed.

There was nothing out of the ordinary on this solo trek. I did have a little extra bounce in my step as I made way up the trail, relishing every moment of isolation. I had some music with me; not from an ipod or iphone, just the music in my head. “Lunatic Fringe” was definitely on replay.

Grabbing the cables for the first time left a bit of a lump in my throat as I made the realization any calls for help would be equivalent to a falling tree in an empty forest. I firmly placed the steel between my gloved fingers and confidently pulled my way to the top. After reaching the summit, I removed my camera for a documentary shot. I wanted to prove I made this trip alone so I took a photo of my watch, of all things. The remainder of the day was spent in silent satisfaction on the return trip where I actually encountered four other hikers near the top of Nevada Fall.

Much has transpired since the end of that outing. I continue to take photos on each summit but not necessarily to prove I was there. One of the greatest takeaways from that first solo endeavor was the overwhelming sense of solitude I enjoyed. I have always designated alone time for myself as a way to unwind, decompress, and most importantly, inspire my own creativity. Sitting alone at a desk is one mode, but like many others I know who have been bitten by the wilderness bug, I continually crave this time by myself in nature. The satisfaction I receive is immeasurable and it helps me appreciate the genius of Howard Zahniser, the author of The Wilderness Act of 1964. I am often drawn to the definition of wilderness in this act and the quality to have “outstanding opportunities for solitude or a primitive and unconfined type of recreation”. A solo summit of Half Dome fits this criteria perfectly and is one of the premier wilderness experiences in Yosemite when the crowds are away.

YExplore Lead Adventure Guide John P. DeGrazio has reached the summit of Half Dome more than 100 times. In this series, he will recall 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 contribute 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.

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