Half Dome #119 Peaches with Mia

My Yosemite Ambassador Story 
By John P. DeGrazio 

2016-NPSCentennial-logo-lg2016 marks the Centennial Anniversary of the National Park Service. When I first learned of the Yosemite Ambassador program to celebrate this anniversary, I was highly impressed with the group of athletes, musicians, and local personalities who were selected. I was profoundly happy for my good friend Les Marsden who is the founder and conductor of the Mariposa Symphony Orchestra. There is no better representative of Yosemite than Les who has masterfully written symphonic poems celebrating the Yosemite Anniversaries that the symphony has been performing at free concerts throughout the Yosemite region.

Shortly after the first group of ambassadors were unveiled, I was approached by Yosemite National Park Superintendent Don Neubacher to join this group and help represent Yosemite during the yearlong celebration. I was chosen as a result of my involvement in a volunteer group called the Yosemite Gateway Partners. My heart jumped, and so did I at the opportunity to foster goodwill in the place I love so deeply. One of my first duties as a Yosemite ambassador was to share a story about my connection to Yosemite. There were so many to choose from, but I decided to recall a recent adventure with my daughter Mia who wanted to hike to the top of Half Dome before her tenth birthday.

Mia spent much of her young life hiking the trails of Yosemite. Most of them were fairly easy. Relatively easy would be more accurate. Every time we would see Half Dome on one of our hikes, which was often, I would ask her if she ever want to hike to the summit with me. “No!”, “never!!”, and “no way!!!” were just some of her responses. But then, one day, there was a transformation in her attitude toward adventure. She was nine, and we were in Zion National Park. I brought her to Angels Landing for a morning challenge up the chains. She was excited but became frightened. I was able to coach her through that experience, and although she was never comfortable on the landing, her desire for adventure grew exponentially that day. On the hike down, she mentioned that she was interested in Half Dome. I couldn’t believe what I was hearing so I feigned excitement.

After a few training hikes that Mia successfully completed, we were ready for our big Half Dome hike together. We packed our gear the night before, and I was certain to include peaches and chocolate in our lunch. Peaches have played a significant role on just about every summit journey I have made ever since a 1997 climb of Mt. Rainier. I met a kind woman at the Seattle-Tacoma Airport who shared a story of her Rainier summit and the reward she chose. When she packed a can of peaches in her backpack, her guide immediately removed it for its weight. She later secretly repacked it and unveiled it on the peak for a shared treat whose sweetness outweighed any of the struggle to carry it to the top. That story has always resonated with me, and I live by her words every day. It’s also why I call this blog the Can O Peaches.

John and Mia DeGrazio on the Half Dome Summit

Mia and I began our journey in the predawn hours under a blood moon. We arrived at the John Muir Trail ready for our ultimate expedition. I have spent many trips standing by the Happy Isles Bridge preparing my groups for the Half Dome hike, but this was a unique opportunity I’ll never forget. She was attentive and ready to go. The photo above is proof of a successful journey, but the rest of this story is shared on my Official Yosemite Ambassador Page of the Yosemite National Park website.

#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.

#24 It’s Not How You Start

It’s How You Finish 
By John P. DeGrazio 
Gary and John on the Summit of Half Dome

I was up at the plate with a runner on second base and one out. I hit the ball pretty well but lined out to the right center fielder for the second out. Our cleanup hitter followed with a fly out to right. It was the first time all tournament we failed to score a single run in the first inning. Momentum works for and against you in a softball tournament, and I picked the championship game of the NYC corporate sports league to let my team down. It didn’t help that we were playing the top seeded team in the bracket who immediately scored seven runs in the bottom half of the frame.

It was early September 2001 on a beautiful late summer afternoon in Central Park and only a few short days before the world would change forever. Long before my career shift, I was the leader of this team who was tasked with corralling ten egos while choosing positions and setting the lineup. Somebody had to play catcher, and somebody else had to bat last. It was much more challenging considering I was dealing with a group of “type A” stock traders aged 22-32. We normally rallied around each other, and some of us were likely to get fired up, but we had an unwritten rule to never resort to any artificial motivation like bringing everyone into a circle for a “got team” type moment. When we arrived at our dugout trailing by seven after the inning, all eyes turned to me to provide some inspiration, however. I noticed that although we gave up a lot of hits, nobody was down. Although some of the guys were expecting me to lay into the team, I took a different approach. I looked everyone in the eyes and started to laugh. I thought about it in the moment, and instinctively, it felt like the right thing to do. All nine of my teammates joined me in a moment of levity. I did tell them there was a lot more game to be played and even shared the old “It’s not how you start. It’s how you finish” sports cliche. Soon, the whole team was completely loose and ready to play some ball. We scored nine runs in the second and never gave up the lead on our way to winning the championship.

I met Gary at the trailhead, and he was excited to greet the day with a life altering challenge. We commenced the hike with a brisk pace. I normally allow the group to set the tone for the first half mile just to shake out some of the nervous energy. On this day, it was only Gary and I hiking so I explained we will take as long as we needed to complete our trek as long as it was reasonable and he remained up to the challenge. As anyone who has completed this hike knows, we start out with that half mile stretch on flat ground and then go right into a steep climb for the next three miles. We climb 1000 feet in the first mile and a half to get to the top of Vernal Fall. It was a smoky, hazy morning as a fire was burning in the park which can be typical in summer. Unfortunately, this made it slightly more difficult to breathe.

Gary began to struggle on the Mist Trail up to Vernal Fall. I noticed his frustration immediately and shared a few words of encouragement. It’s not uncommon for explorers to hit a preliminary wall on this hike as you rise steeply from the Valley floor through the Merced River Canyon. I like to advise them to view it as an early hurdle to overcome. “Trust your training” I implored, but each step up renewed his feeling of helplessness. Our summit attempt was in jeopardy. I began to offer more reassurance at our first rest stop above the waterfall. “It’s not how you start the hike..” I offered while munching on energy bars, but Gary was subdued. I gave him some space to sort out his thoughts, and we soon continued along the path.

Reaching the top of Nevada Fall was difficult, but Gary persevered. I mentioned that we would traverse a flat area behind Half Dome where he could catch his breath, so to speak. Motivated, we marched on toward Little Yosemite Valley.

Something transformative happened along the way to the cables. Despite our dramatic elevation gain from LYV to the Sub Dome, Gary was no longer feeling distraught as he gained confidence with every step. His strength returned to him. He actually grew stronger as the trek continued through the most dramatic landscape of the upper mountain.

Touching the Half Dome Summit Rock by John P. DeGrazio

The haze from the fire did nothing to diminish our enjoyment of this accomplishment. I sensed how special a moment this was for Gary so I stepped away to allow him some time for reflection. I remember finding a rock to enjoy this shared success while observing him from afar. I began to truly understand the emotional connection people make with this journey in that moment. I felt extremely fortunate for the ability to help bring people to a meaningful place. Regardless of where they are from or what stage of life they are in, each person I share this mission with experiences an unmistakable catharsis when we reach the apex that allows me to appreciate that path I have chosen in my own life.

I have always thought of myself as a leader and relish moments when I was able to bring leadership to a situation that helped others to succeed. From my perspective, every member of a group or team is an individual leader. To me, it was Gary’s strength and leadership that led us to the summit of Half Dome in July 2009. And for that, I am thankful for his powerful finish.

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.

#50 Always Celebrate Achievements

Enjoy Every Milestone
By John P. DeGrazio 
Celebrating a 50th Birthday on Half Dome in Yosemite National Park

I was leading a group of explorers who were all close friends when one of the hikers looked at the others and said “Well, we all made it here, what’s our next trip?” This seemed a bit odd since they were beginning the first day of a three day adventure in Yosemite. There was an uncomfortable silence as everyone pondered the question while stepping away from the trailhead. Sensing an opportunity to start the trip on the right foot, my reply was succinct. “Let’s celebrate the fact that we are all able to enjoy this moment in Yosemite without worrying about future plans.” Everyone agreed, and it is a moment from which I continue to reflect.

Growing up, birthdays and certain holidays become the greatest days of the year. The enthusiasm for those events becomes so powerful, it often leads to anxiety for children and parents alike. Somewhere along the way, many people lose their zeal for celebrations. Energy shifts as we mature and enthusiasm is often diminished by the stresses of schoolwork, then career and other contributing factors. I have seen these effects on many people, regardless of age. I can also share there was a time in my life when I was consumed by stressers which led me to shy away from celebrations and the drama they sometimes caused. Older age brings wisdom I guess, and I now see the importance of celebrating milestones and events. I regularly wish people happy birthdays on Facebook and even go back into the calendar a few days to find ones I may have missed. Do you know how many steps that takes? And if you wish me a happy birthday on Facebook, I will answer every single one with a personal thank you referencing some obscure thing we may have done together.

Celebrate Yosemite on Half Dome by John P. DeGrazio

I admit I have taken a greater interest in the subject of celebrations since I created an adventure company that shares experiences in nature that help others achieve their goals. We befriend so many visitors to the park who view their trip to Yosemite as a celebration. Many of our tours are catered to birthdays, honeymoons, anniversaries, and other special events in Yosemite. It is refreshing to witness so many people enjoying themselves on this level. I take pride in being able to help people make personal connections in Yosemite and have made this an integral part of my life’s journey. I am also thankful for these experiences that have helped shape who I have become as well. This week I had a chance to reflect on the values of YExplore as well as make revisions to our vision and mission statements on our About Us Page. This was an important exercise for me as I reflected on the past 10 years and prepare for the next decade of growth for our company.

“The mission of YExplore is to provide educational outdoor adventures that inspire all generations to make discoveries in nature that lead to personal growth and achievement.”

“Celebrate Success” is now an integral part of our core values and the Half Dome trek is always a perfect cause for celebration. It’s also important to note that success is achieved on many journeys regardless of reaching the summit.

In September 2010 I led a group of hikers who joined me for a triple celebration. Our seven member group was comprised of Paula & Julie who were celebrating Julie’s 50th birthday; Dave & Lisa who were celebrating their first anniversary; and Jenn who I invited to join me on my 50th ascent. Ricky & I were the trip’s leaders. I can write a book on my friendship with Jenn. She was a former Half Dome client with whom I’ve developed a lasting friendship during and after her own achievement on Half Dome in 2008. Hers was a great celebration of  life that I have never forgotten, and she was the one person I asked to join me in what I considered an extremely important milestone. Spoiler Alert: Jenn’s first hike was #15 for me and will be a future post in this series.

The Yosemite Half Dome 50 50 Club (with a surprise photo bomb)

The day started with Kim admitting to the group that she was not much of a hiker but really wanted Dave to achieve the summit. She did very well getting to the top of Nevada Fall and even surprised herself, but that is where Ricky led her back down to the Valley. Our group continued on and made good time to the Sub Dome and cables. We were all so excited to reach the summit where Julie’s birthday celebration began. We all posed for fun photos, and I believe I discovered an unintentional photobomb by Jenn. Hint: Look for the red piece of flair. The celebration continued all the way down the trail and at Curry Village for a festive pizza dinner. I understood the need to celebrate achievements as I reflected on the day while driving home with Ricky that evening. Perhaps it is older age, but whatever the reason, it is an important aspect of life. So take the time to relish your accomplishments with a treat, a beverage, a can o peaches, or anything else you think is appropriate. Celebrate in any manner you choose.

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.

#48 The It Factor

This is What “It” is all About 
By John P. DeGrazio 
John & Ricky Join in for a group photo with the O.A.R.S. Tuolumne Hikers

The “It” factor is a concept that there are certain intangible characteristics individuals possess that set them aside from other peers. It’s a widely used phrase in our daily lexicon whose meaning is often implied, yet it is never fully explained. It’s often used in sports when people talk about special athletes who may not be the most gifted but can succeed at the highest levels because of “It”. Think Derek Jeter, or since it’s Super Bowl week, think Joe Montana, Tom Brady, and Russell Wilson. What is the “It” factor? What is “It”?

“It” is also commonly used in the statement ‘That’s what “It” is all about. I was preparing my blog for this morning and was ready to share my thoughts on a certain Half Dome adventure until I was distracted by a couple of compelling Facebook videos. The second one made me stop everything. It was a video about George Wendt, the founder of O.A.R.S. (Outdoor Adventure River Specialists). In this video, George spoke about an event in the late 1960’s that moved him to create his company and the passion he now shares with thousands of people each year. He is a true pioneer in the outdoor adventure industry and someone I personally admire a great deal. We at YExplore are fortunate to partner with O.A.R.S. for a very special multi-sport trip called the Yosemite & Tuolumne Hiker.

One thing we all inevitably learn over time is that we are not immortal and our lives are very short. That is why it is of the utmost importance to find interests we are passionate about and find a way to weave them into the fabric of our everyday life. That is exactly what George did when he created his company while I followed a similar path almost four decades later. We have been partnering with O.A.R.S. for over 5 years now and continue to offer exciting adventures throughout Yosemite National Park. At one time, we were able to offer the Half Dome trek as part of our itinerary. Here is a story about one of our Half Dome trips with a group from O.A.R.S.

9 eager hikers set out in the dawn hour on September 2, 2010 from Curry Village to the John Muir Trail. Alyssa, Tammy, Matt, Greg, Zaven, John, and Denise joined Ricky and me that morning for a brief safety orientation. Some of our groups in the past were not as well prepared for the hike so I wanted to really emphasize the importance of safety and focus, especially on the latter sections of the hike. I was so focused on sharing my message that I temporarily lost sight of why we were all there, to have fun and enjoy the scenery. As I faced the group, I noticed that several members of our team were clearly distracted. This became my distraction as well, but I was determined not to let it sidetrack me. I spoke for another minute or two until I finally relented. Thinking they were watching a deer, I asked what was taking us away from these all important life saving tips. The answer came from Alyssa who was extremely polite but told me the group was observing a bear walking through the woods about 50 yards ahead of us, and I had missed it. Lesson learned. Always be aware of your surroundings, always be adaptive, always stop to enjoy rare encounters, and never take yourself too seriously.

The O.A.R.S. group on the Half Dome Summit by John P. DeGrazio

After the first mile of the hike, Ricky and I agreed that this seemed like a strong group. Ricky was a guide who worked with us for a couple of summers. I had met him through coaching at the local high school. He and I shared a different passion, baseball. He was looking for work that summer so I told him to join me on some hikes where he could work with youth and help share our beautiful home region with people from all over the world. We spent the rest of the summer coming up with creative ways to inject our coaching techniques while guiding people on strenuous hikes.

We moved at a moderate pace, and there were absolutely no problems until we reached the cables at the top of Sub Dome. This is a familiar reprise and a recurring theme of this blog series, but one of our members was ready to throw in the towel at the Saddle. Tears were shed, and I allowed the team member to release some emotions before I approached. Through coaching, I have learned to help athletes deal with many adverse situations from injuries to overcoming emotional hurdles. I feel I have made a successful transition to professional guiding because of that experience.

I relish earning the trust of my groups and have to work harder than usual sometimes. After the tears subsided, I asked this member if they were interested in making the summit attempt. The group had formed such an incredible bond throughout the week’s activities and felt it was important to share the success with everyone who started the day together. Once I received an affirmative response, we made our way up the cables. Our journey came to an abrupt halt about forty feet high on the rock.  With only the sound of the wind blowing at our backs, we were suddenly frozen. After some deep breathing, the fear subsided, and we continued up the cables. The trust we all had in each other was undeniable while we moved as a single unit, one stanchion at a time. One of the greatest delights I draw from leading this hike at the front of the group is being able to look down at our line and measure its efficiency. Listening in can also be fun as teammates shares advice of best practices learned with each other. We smoothly navigated the final four hundred feet, and everyone rejoiced when we reached the summit.

There were cheerful conversations and playful photographs from everyone on the peak. I often reflect back on this group because I witnessed so many true friendships being developed. I have stayed in touch with a couple of members from this dynamic team. It is so wonderful to know there are pioneers like George Wendt who were out there paving the way long before I arrived in California and amazing to think that this opportunity to meet such wonderful people arose from a partnership with an organization with a similar ethos. Sharing Half Dome and the natural beauty of Yosemite is one of the greatest successes of my professional life, and I owe a part of that to George and his team at O.A.R.S. I am so grateful to be able to mix my passion with profession, and that is what “It” is all about for me.

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.

#11 Gotta Have Heart

The Glow of Half Dome 
By John P. DeGrazio 
Half Dome Sunrise from the Panorama Trail by John P. DeGrazio

Every story worth telling is crafted from an experience replete with highs and lows that are accompanied by the pain and triumph that ultimately go along with them. Humility will let you remember but not dwell on the negatives while relishing but not overstating the positives. It will also teach you that no matter how proud of your accomplishments you may be, there are always people out there achieving greatness under circumstances much more difficult than your own. This is not meant to diminish what you have done. Instead, it is a way to reflect and appreciate every opportunity to be great.

June 28, 2008 started the way many epic adventures begin, early. As I arrived at Glacier Point to meet Stephanie at 5 am, I was prepared to lead her on our 10 mile expedition from the Panorama Trail to Nevada Fall, then on to Half Dome. Some prefer this 20 mile roundtrip adventure to the shorter but steeper trek from the valley floor because it is traveled by fewer people, has less elevation gain, and provides world class, you guessed it, panoramic views. I was happy to see that Stephanie was on time, and I was prepared to get an early start when I received my first surprise of the day. She had convinced her friend Ryan to join her, but he was running a bit late. Shortly after we became acquainted, a car pulled into the parking lot and a muscular figure appeared from the shadows. He quickly approached us, and we were ready to make haste. Initially, I thought this was going to be a relatively easy attempt to hike Half Dome.

Ryan was bursting with energy and even offered to carry Stephanie’s gear for a little while to make up for lost time. He was also a profession photographer, and despite our delayed departure, he insisted we paused for a few more minutes to capture Half Dome silhouetted in the fiery glow of yet another spectacular Sierra sunrise. It was impossible to deny Ryan’s charisma and this opportunity to make a dramatic image.

As the sun rose above the high peaks, we continued on the trail toward Illilouette Fall without further incident. We hit our first snag on the climb from the bridge up to Panorama Cliff. Ryan felt some discomfort in his legs. He had been racing ahead of Stephanie and me for the beginning of the trek so he could capture more photos. He returned Stephanie’s pack to her as all the momentum escaped our group. Ryan kept to himself for the next half mile, but we could tell something was wrong as our pace slowed considerably. Once we arrived at Nevada Fall, Ryan admitted to suffering from leg cramps. This is a sign of dehydration and must be addressed immediately. He began to hydrate by drinking extra water and ate some salty snacks. I began to monitor him more closely from that point.

If you are in this situation, you must try to hydrate immediately with more than just water. Electrolytes are a must and can be found in many forms. As a result of this trip, I carry extra electrolytes to share with our groups as well as other hikers along the trail.
Yosemite Bear Cubs by John P. DeGrazio

We were on our way traversing the John Muir trail while meandering alongside the Merced River when we witnessed our second amazing photo op of the day. A sow and her cubs were eating an early meal of plant shoots in an area between Liberty Cap and Half Dome. Several people stopped along the trail to witness these rock stars. It was still relatively early so the cubs glowed in the warm sunlight. We were all in awe as we snapped away for several minutes. All good things must come to an end, and Mama Bear sensed the growing crowd so she called to her babies. They reluctantly followed her up and over the rocks for a chance to recommence their breakfast without the bustling crowd.

Mama and her 2 Cubs on The John Muir Trail by John P. DeGrazio

Ryan’s condition worsened as we reached the 2 mile marker, and he complained of severe pain. He also admitted that he drank 3 Red Bulls over the past 12 hours since his red eye flight landed in San Francisco. He did not consume any of these ‘energy drinks’ since he met up with us, but the damage was slowly being done. I have learned many things throughout my experiences on this hike, but there is nothing more important than what I will share right now. NEVER, under any circumstances, should you drink these types of beverages while hiking in elevation. Dehydration is a serious hazard while participating in outdoor activities, especially at higher altitudes.  A Brown Unversity health information web page shows these highly caffeinated drinks are dangerous for many reasons, including causing “dehydration of the body”. Of all the items you should bring on this hike, Red Bull, Rock Star, et al, should NEVER be one. Ryan learned the hard way as we continued to the summit while he spent the next couple of hours resting.

Forming a Human Heart on Half Dome by John P. DeGrazio
Kelly Perkins Appreciates the Support of the crowd on Half Dome by John P. DeGrazio

Once we reached the summit, we noticed a red clad crowd gathering on the dome. Stephanie and I were offered and accepted our own “Exercise Your Heart. Share The Beat.” t shirts. Part of the requirement was to help the group form the shape of a heart on the summit of Half Dome. Kelly Perkins, a heart transplant recipient, was set to complete a two day climb of the Northwest Face of Half Dome, and we became part of the group that greeted her. Kelly became the first person to climb the face of Half Dome with a heart transplant. This was after she completed the “easier” hiking trail route in 1996, just 10 months out of the hospital with her new heart. Serac Adventure Films chronicled the event, and we are in photo #10 in this gallery, an historic aerial shot of the group atop the dome. It was an amazing accomplishment and a truly humbling experience for all on the mountain that day. Sharing Kelly’s joy in connection with our own was an introspective moment. There was no need to compare the circumstances surrounding our chance encounter. We were all there with a shared sense of achievement and purpose. It was a transcendent moment.

Kelly Perkins shows emotion after she completes 2 day climb of Half Dome by John P. DeGrazio

Witnessing a glowing Kelly Perkins address the crowd was about all the emotion we could handle for the day. These three encounters had us feeling incredibly fortunate despite the apparent sensory overload. We met up with Ryan and began our ten mile journey to Glacier Point. He benefited from the rest, but we decided that a swim in the Merced River might help him recover more. The water was so inviting, we all jumped in to cool off from a long journey. At that point in the excursion, we knew our pace would be glacial and expected to hike out in the darkness.

To this day, hiking back to Glacier Point that afternoon and evening remains one of the biggest challenges I faced as a guide in Yosemite. Ryan suffered greatly as his legs failed him. We literally carried him up the mountain for the last mile and a half of hiking. Throughout the seemingly endless ascent up the Panorama trail, I never once though of my own pain. I was aiding a hiker who needed a rescue. I thought of the strength of Stephanie for being the other pillar to support her friend who literally could no longer use his legs. I also thought of the strength it took Kelly to reach her dream. I found other distractions as well. I can now look at the face of Half Dome from that trail and will forever be able to tell someone precisely how close we are to finishing the hike. Through this taxing struggle, I never thought of it as my worst experience on Half Dome. Quite contrarily, I often reflect on it as one of my best.

Please visit this site if you would like to make a contribution to Kelly Perkins Moving Hearts Foundation which was established shortly after her climb.

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.

#86 A Bond Stronger than Steel

Sisterhood and the Half Dome Cables 
by John P. DeGrazio 
Half Dome Summit Team 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.

Sub Dome Sisters by John P. DeGrazio

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.

Stronger than Steel by John P. DeGrazio

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.

Unbridled Joy by John P. DeGrazio

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.

# 8 Jersey Strong

A 9 Year Old’s Journey to the Top of Sub Dome 
by John P. DeGrazio 
Peter and Julia on the Half Dome Summit by John P. DeGrazio

Success is not always measured by reaching the summit of the mountains we climb. Sometimes, our greatest success is determining when to terminate our summit attempt to avoid potential injury. This “live to climb another day” philosophy is not the most popular outlook in the hiking community and a tough one to swallow for some, but it is critical for all who come outdoors to enjoy the sports of trekking, peakbagging, mountaineering, and climbing. This is also one I have always struggled with personally, but as a leader, I embrace it wholeheartedly after over 100 successful summits of Half Dome. I have witnessed many people succeed and fail on this hike and even convinced several to accept the fact they would not make the summit while focusing on other major achievements of the day.

One day in August of 2007, I shared the trail with a family of 7 achievers from Scotch Plains, NJ who spent the day overcoming many obstacles on their path to success on the Half Dome trail. Growing up in New Jersey, I had first hand experience witnessing how tough East Coasters can be, and there’s always a soft spot in my heart for groups I lead from my home state. The summer of 2007 was our first year leading this hike commercially, and we already had guided several trips with people of varying skill and endurance levels so we felt confident we could escort Peter 47, Patricia 49, Peter 16, Julia 16, Mariel 9, Mariah 9, and Melody 9 to the summit if they felt they were capable. My partner Jacob and I had devised a safety plan, and we met the family at dawn to begin our journey together.

The morning was still young when we heard our first calls of doubt from the young triplets. We adeptly navigated both Vernal and Nevada Falls but not without intermittent complaints typical of young mouths connected to hard working legs. The girls were troopers and despite a few tears along the way, they all vowed to continue. After several conversations with Peter, Patricia, Jacob, and myself, the family was determined to continue until the triplets decided they had enough.

We continued on the upper mountain and made it past several known turnaround points with our group intact. To their credit, the triplets were stronger than many adults I’ve led on various hikes throughout the park, and they were proud of their accomplishment to make it to the 2 mile sign on the Half Dome spur trail. Shortly after that, we experienced our first meltdown. Jacob and I huddled and prepared to lead the family down to the Valley ready to fight another day. The group was undeterred and convinced their sobbing sibling to continue with a lot of positive and some negative reinforcement. Sometimes these hikes bring out equal parts good and bad in all of us so we shouldn’t always blame each other for things we say in the heat of the moment. Some of the words were very mild on a New Jersey scale, but sometimes siblings know how to push each others’ buttons. It worked as we experienced a full recovery all the way to the base of the Sub Dome.

Reaching the Top of Sub Dome by John P. DeGrazio

We regrouped at Sub Dome and determined 5 of us would continue the hike while Jacob would stay behind and rest with the other 3. I must pause here to stress the importance of always having a safety plan on any hike you attempt and more importantly, having the flexibility to update that plan as conditions change. We executed our plan as we made it up to the top of Sub Dome with Patricia, the twins, and one of the triplets who was by far the strongest member of our party that day. One look at the cables and Patricia knew her limits. She also became very protective of her cubs at that moment. After a discussion with the twins led me to believe they wanted to continue up the cables, I was able to share the idea with Patricia who was adamantly against it. After some verbal massaging, I completely earned her trust that I would safely guide the twins to the top while she and her youngest stayed and rested on Sub Dome. I want to take a moment to explain that despite my methods of motivation, I never lead anyone on any of my trips to make decisions against their judgment. This was no exception. I was impressed with Patricia’s analytic thinking and honored that she believed in me to protect her children. The remaining pair listened to my every word and despite some early apprehension, we ascended the cables without incident. Success!

Yosemite Search and Rescue of a climber on the Northwest Face of Half Dome by John P. DeGrazio

While taking our victory photos, we noticed that the Yosemite Search and Rescue Team was on the summit with a helicopter. They were conducting a rescue that involved 2 climbers on the Northwest Face. YOSAR is one of the most impressive groups I have ever witnessed in action. They are called on at any time to make rescues throughout the park. Many times they are asked to put their own lives in danger to protect the lives of Yosemite visitors, and for that we are all eternally grateful. Reading this report makes one realize how impressive their attention to detail really is so I would like to extend a thank you to YOSAR for the work they do.

Jersey Strong: Peter, Patricia, Peter, Julia, Mariel, Mariah , & Melody Make it to Sub Dome by John P. DeGrazio

Looking back on this experience, I think of those two climbers who were rescued and reflect on how vital it is to have a safety plan at all times. One small mistake can lead to a dangerous situation. I also think about the responsibilities I have when leading groups, especially with children. The day was an incredible success on so many levels, and every member of our group was able to experience a major sense of accomplishment from this trip. I remain impressed with the 9 year old triplets and their ability to persevere through many adversities to remain Jersey Strong. It was a honor to be trusted to make all the correct decisions that day. I also reflect on treks with my 9 year old daughter and how we are beginning to expand our adventures together as she continually pushes her comfort threshold. This past October we climbed to the top of The Angels Landing in Zion National Park. Her goal is to reach the summit of Half Dome with me, and I will think of the triplets when we make our attempt this spring.

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.

#36 High was Worth the Pain

Rising Above the Pain  to Summit Half Dome 
By John P. DeGrazio 
Success on Half Dome by John P. DeGrazio

Taylor Swift is a genius. Yes, you read that correctly. The highly successful pop star has written many chart topping songs that appeal to millions of people. Blank Space is one of her latest releases and admittedly, anyone who has ever been in an impulsive tempestuous relationship can relate to many of the lyrics in the song. That’s not the point, however. As I was driving home from an afternoon trip to San Francisco yesterday, I laughed out loud when channel surfing led me to this verse of Swift’s tune “You can tell me when it’s over if the high was worth the pain”. At that moment, I happened to be parked in standstill Bay Area traffic on the 101 after making the decision to drive home over the Golden Gate Bridge. I was feeling nostalgic since my lifelong friend and I completed an exhilarating five mile run over the bridge just a few short hours prior to this current predicament. I may hike and cycle often, but I am not a runner by any stretch of the imagination and had not completed a run in years. I am stating this because I thought about my pain the moment Swift sang those words. The moderate physical pain in my legs was expected and tolerable, but the anguish of sitting in traffic for one hour while only traveling seven miles was much more excruciating. Anyone who has driven with me knows the struggles I deal with in traffic. Yet, if you ask me “was the high worth the pain?” my reply would be “Absolutely!”

During the drive, I began to recall past guided Half Dome trips with the intention of sharing one that the participants experienced pain they had to power through to enjoy the reward. To be honest, this would be true of just about every trip I lead. This particular outing, as I remember, did not have any significant injuries but probably involved the most amount of pain for any clients I have led before or since.

All of the past stories I have shared on this blog have ended happily. This one does not. I have decided to omit certain details from Half Dome Summit #36 and will not share the participants’ real names. I fully understand that by sharing this story, a negative light may be shed on me and my guiding style. But these are all real accounts, good and bad; and I have grown from every one of my Yosemite experiences. I share them because they are a part of who I am and who we are at YExplore.

We received a call from Diana in May 2010. She and her best friend Kathy were planning a girls’ trip in Yosemite and were eager to attempt reaching the summit of Half Dome on a two day trip. They were both experienced backpackers but had major doubts about accomplishing their goal so they felt compelled to hire a professional guide. They had already obtained the permits from the wilderness office on their own, and the expedition hinged on whether we could secure permits for two guides. Having two guides for a group with only two travelers was a special request, but we honored it for safety concerns presented by Kathy and Diana. Both women each weighed over 200 pounds and suffered from assorted minor illnesses they disclosed on their health forms.

I learned early in my guiding career never to judge or underestimate anyone attempting to fulfill their dreams in Yosemite. That is why I accepted this challenge and agreed to lead Diana and Kathy, but their concerns quickly became my concerns as well. I chose Scott to be our assistant guide for this trip. Scott was somewhat reserved but was a trained EMT and had an undeniable love for the outdoors. His quietness actually turned out to be an asset on this adventure. After breezing through my first 25 commercially guided Half Dome summit trips, I had developed a confidence that I’d be able to answer this call. I attained vast experience coaching people through the final sections of the trek and relished this new opportunity to shine. I also knew not to be overconfident and took a balanced approach when setting a strategy for our group. I decided that we would each recognize that the summit loomed ahead on day 2, but our focus would be to break down the hike into manageable sections and to narrow our scope on each current section as we were in the moment. I continue to use this blueprint on every summit attempt.

Scott and I secured permits to join our guests’ group so the trip was officially a go. We proceeded with a gear check at the customary meeting location and realized this trip was beginning in difficult manner. One of the biggest mistakes in planning I made was to allow extra gear to be packed. Since the women were experienced and had established their own routines over the years, I trusted their judgment instead of being more assertive. This decision proved costly and is one I point to on all gear checks since this trip. Much of the extra clothing packed for this 2 day trip was unnecessary, and I have become more thorough in examining what should make the final cut and more persuasive in describing what may seem extraneous. I will ultimately let the clients make their own decisions but know they are counting on my leadership to make the experience more enjoyable for them. Packing several extra pounds of clothing and comfort items will detract from that enjoyment.

After unsuccessful negotiations, we departed. From early on in our hike up the Mist Trail, our group was uncomfortable carrying the extra weight in their backpacks. Our objective was to reach Little Yosemite Valley before dinner. Our pace was very slow, but we were all determined to meet our goal for the day. In hindsight, I can admit another mistake from this trip. Although the John Muir Trail is over one mile longer, it is not as steep as the Mist Trail. I gave the group the option of which trail to take. They chose the more scenic but also steeper Mist Trail knowing we would descend the JMT which would be much easier on their knees and hips with a full load. It is my job to recognize early struggles and be willing to take the lead when determining what is best for the group. I am more keenly aware of this now, but should have made this decision instead of creating a more difficult challenge.

We battled all day and were successful in reaching our camp a couple of hours before dinner. Scott and I decided to explore the area while our group rested at the established backpackers’ campground in Little Yosemite Valley so we set our sights on finding the Lost Lake. It was a perfect use of some downtime, especially since Diana and Kathy were very tired and feeling a little stressed about the efforts of the day. While walking around Lost Lake, Scott and I heard some branches snap not far from where we were walking. We looked all around and saw nothing. I then glanced into a stand of cedars and pines to see two eyes peering back at me. We had scared a young black bear up a tree. It was a fun encounter and a much needed relief from our afternoon. We returned to camp to cook our dinner and prepare the group for an early morning departure.

Bear In a Tree at Lost Lake by John P. DeGrazio

We awoke at 5 am and made our way to the trail with significantly lighter daypacks so the energy of the group had changed significantly. We had made it through a difficult first day with renewed spirits and positive attitudes. Once we arrived at the Half Dome trail spur, I could sense the fatigue really setting in. This is typical for this hike, and I am normally alertly aware of any issues that may be arising. I was locked in on this day understanding the possible health risks that were described before the trip. We adjusted the pace and continued moving upward. At this point, both Diana and Kathy were experiencing a significant amount of pain in their legs but were willing to endure. We made it up and over Sub Dome and continued to the cables. At the cables, we had another safety orientation and all agreed to advance with our ascent. Many clients appreciate our systematic approach to the cables, and it is consistently the most positive feedback we receive about this hike. Many share that they would not even attempt the cables if not for the leadership and guidance through this stressful section of the hike. I am greatly aware of the fears and apprehensions of  members of our groups when we reach this point. I always give a maximum effort and show acute sensitivity when leading this section. I know that people are literally putting their lives in my hands, and I relish that responsibility.

Once our group found a rhythm, we actually traversed the cables with relative ease. We celebrated on the summit with some photos and an extended rest. We knew the long task of the descent was still ahead of us, and pain from our two day journey was becoming more evident with every step. One thing I emphasize on summit day is that reaching the top does not end our struggle. It is a long 8 mile descent on tired knees, ankles. and hips. I implore the group to maintain a mental focus that is razor sharp to keep things in perspective, and most importantly, to try to avoid injury.

Ready to Descend Half Dome by John P. DeGrazio

By the time we reached camp, the morale of the group was low. The hurt was becoming harder to tolerate for Diana and Kathy, and they were regretting their decision not to plan for a three day trip. This would have given them extra rest time and the ability to start the next day fresh with less of a struggle. By the time we broke camp, stiffness had set in and we were in for a long journey to the parking lot. I will spare the gory details of the rest of the day, but unfortunately it did not end well as we ushered in the darkness from the trail.

Many times, we must fail in order to succeed. I was disappointed because we accomplished something great together that day, but the focus of the end of the day was only on the negative. I failed to understand the severity of the situation and could not physically understand how we could be moving so slowly. I tried to sensitively inject encouragement to move a little faster, but every attempt was rejected. I became somewhat insulted because I felt I was being viewed as being insensitive to their discomfort. I had trained with other well respected guides who had a very relaxed style when ending trips by providing space to everyone on the way down. That allowed the clients to spend more time alone to reflect on the day and to give everyone a healthy break from each other. I began to move ahead at a slightly faster pace as Scott stayed behind with both women. I would move about 100 yards at a time while Scott patiently took every step with them. Each time I slowed down, they would slow down more, but I would wait until they caught me before advancing. We continued to do this until the conclusion of the hike. It also gave them a chance to vent their unfiltered frustrations with Scott who was apparently a very good listener.

During this extended time, I did a lot of soul searching. I was extremely proud that I led this group to the top of Half Dome and felt it would be my crowning achievement as a guide. But then why did I feel like I was failing at the moment because we were not finishing the hike together? Scott was an able leader whose patience that day was a stronger attribute than anything I had shown. It was such a humbling experience to achieve such a great success and epic failure on one excursion. It was truly a huge moment of growth for me. While I was appreciative to have such a strong assistant, I knew I had to improve certain skills to help me become the best guide I could be. I learned a great deal about leadership that day and am more able to adapt to any situation as it arises. I train our guides to respond in that manner as well.  Now, I am certain to end every trip the way it began, side by side with each client.

While I reflect on that trip often, I remain focused on the positives of what we all accomplished together; and I am confident the high was worth the pain for Diana and Kathy. Their achievement was astounding, and I remain proud to have been their leader and to have shared that responsibility with Scott. I believe strongly that he and I both acted positively throughout the trip and helped put our clients in the best position to successfully reach the Half Dome Summit while returning safely to the trailhead which is of equal importance.

Finally, if you’re reading this. I’ve got a blank Half Dome Permit, Taylor. And I’ll write your name.

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.

#53 Friendship and Half Dome Bucket Lists

Buddy Trips  
By John P. DeGrazio 
2 Julies on top of Half Dome by John P. DeGrazio

“The Bucket List” was a buddy film with Morgan Freeman and Jack Nicholson about completing a list of things you want to do before you die, or more poetically, kick the bucket. Surprisingly, the Half Dome hike was not on their bucket list, but Jack and Morgan are more than welcome to call us anytime. This hike is on the list of thousands of people in real life. We receive several calls each year from travelers who want to see Yosemite National Park for a variety of reasons. They all want to explore the many areas of the park and surround themselves with the beauty of nature. Some wish to take relaxing walks with their family, others want to learn in a photography class from a professional photographer in a land made famous by Ansel Adams, and a good percentage of our clients want to challenge themselves in ways they never imagined.

Most bucket list adventurists who sign up for this full day hike are well aware of the challenges for the day and often exclaim not only how happy they were to complete the task of reaching the summit, but also how it would be difficult to imagine ever doing it again. They check Half Dome off their bucket list and are ready for the next life changing event. Some of those who adamantly claim it will be their only time on the peak eventually return, however. There’s just something about Half Dome.

Julie and Julie set out on a girls’ trip to Yosemite in May 2011. One Julie was about to turn fifty, and their goal was a to spend some quality time in California and reach the summit of Half Dome together. They had done research on the hike and found it to be a perfect bucket list adventure. They were both from Texas and didn’t have much to compare it to in the Lone Star State but they began a training program. Training for this trip is vitally important for anyone wishing to be successful on this hike. Although there are not many options to train in elevation in Texas, it is essential to build arm strength, leg strength, and endurance through several exercises. Running is a popular training method, as is cycling, along with many other cardio activities. Hiking hills or even climbing the steps of your apartment or office building can also simulate walking uphill for this trek. To train for this hike, you are advised to engage in these activities 3-4 times per week in the 3-6 months leading up to your hike. Arm strength also should not be ignored. Weight training is helpful, but consistently doing push ups and/or pull ups in the months leading up to the hike would also be extremely beneficial. This is a trip that must be taken seriously and those who prepare are rewarded while those who do not greatly reduce their chance for success.

Julie and Julie with Half Dome, Liberty Cap, and Nevada Fall by John P. DeGrazio

The Julies were well prepared, and we moved through the trail methodically that day. The snow covered Sub Dome was a different story altogether. This part of the hike that should only be attempted by those who are very confident or guided in conditions like these. Julie and Julie were both. We were equipped with hiking poles and traction devices for our feet. Unwavering, we worked as a team while we traversed the snow up the steep dome until we reached the cables which were completely free of snow or ice. Once on the cables, the friends again relied on each other to provide motivation to complete the difficult task and rejoiced on the summit. The reward was great, and it was a true wilderness experience as we were the only ones on top that day. They both shared how they pulled from each other’s strengths when times were most challenging.  After all, sticking together is what good waffles do.

Buddy trips are so important, and there’s no better person to share an experience with than someone who has made the same efforts you have. Looking back at old photos, it’s always fun to remember adventures with buddies from all different times of my life. I’m sure the Julies will always remember this trip with fondness.

Here are a few other buddy films to consider:

Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, Thelma and Louise, Bonnie and Clyde, Dumb and Dumber, I Love You Man, Bridesmaids

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.