Before the Window Closes


Long after the sun’s arc had passed beyond the coastal ranges, the mountains of Yosemite’s high country held the pale light, grey warmth exuding from granite faces as the stars crept into position. Tenaya Lake still glowed white as I cruised by, headed to the Valley in January. I chased the final rays west until the Tioga Road intersected the branch heading back east and south, dropping into familiar territory in the dark.

It felt a little strange to be beneath the cliffs the next morning, if for no other reason than the time of year. Ice and frost edged the thin strip of water cascading over Yosemite Falls, only to disappear mid-day when sun finally crested the southern edge of the valley. Thick ice crystals outlined the detritus of the forest floor; skin covered the broad Merced. We walked and talked and laughed our way to Mirror Meadow, where Tom and I gazed up at the approach to the mighty face of Half Dome. Once we reached the turnoff to ascend Snow Creek, we all settled into different paces, either talking or huffing or thinking deep thoughts as we marched up the endless switchers out of the Valley.

I had not been on this trail for years, and, in fact, had never seen it, having ascended in the early morning dark hours the last time. I wish I could say I moved slowly so I could absorb all the nuances alone, appreciate a new vista and perspective. But I am still struggling to regain the bounce in my step, to control my breathing as I pace uphill. The legs wanted so much to bound up the trail, but my lungs had other ideas. And so I leaned into the grade, dutifully putting one foot in front of the other, pausing at the switchback ends to breathe and look around.

The dust smelled of summer as the sun peeked above the east face of Half Dome, its shadow extending high up the slopes of Basket Dome. Brittle leaves coated the trail, obscuring the smoothed granite beneath, the light long and full through the oaks, then manzanita, then pine. I fought against my competitive side as I watched some of the group pull ahead, the little voice coming back again and again to “get going, get up this hill, I can’t believe you let this happen to yourself again, they’re having to wait for you”. It was just too easy to slip back into beat-myself-up mode, especially while hiking with someone with whom plans during the year have been made. I paused at one switcher where two log stumps had been placed as seats, and looked across to Half Dome, standing stoic and quiet in the midday sun, breathing deeply for a few minutes. This place has always allowed me to refocus my energies inward.

Let the rabbits run, Laura, I told myself. It was my line from the Challenge, why I started at the back of the train every morning. Let those with speed get out and away, set your own pace. I had fallen into the trap that morning of expecting myself to keep up no matter what, setting my goals based on other’s abilities instead of my own. It was as if someone had said, “Oh: you’re raising money based on elevation gain? Well I gained 500,000+ last year, that would be a good goal.” I needed to let go and walk my own stride, no matter where that might take me. As I stood from the log, I allowed myself a small smile as I leaned once again into the grade.

“We’re going to climb this afternoon, right?” I asked as the group assembled at the tailgate of the TOF. We didn’t, but the hike up the mist trail above Vernal and Nevada Falls, was both old and new to me. Once again, the only evidence of January was the ice encrusting the cliffs around both, both having thin but strong strands of water coursing over the edges. We sunned ourselves on the slabs above Nevada, trying to soak every ounce of warmth out of the weak winter sun. I caught sunset that night at Olmsted Point on the way home, waved to Rob in his ranger truck parked at Tenaya. The wind was howling on the other side of the pass, and I wondered how much longer I would have to enjoy these heights the easy way.

Wednesday proved another free day, so Kevin and I trudged up Pine Creek to the falls to climb the ice. “I seem to remember this being steeper,” he said between wind gusts. Indeed, when I saw him standing and walking in the middle section, I knew it was going to be a light day. Instead of grunting my way up, the picks and kicks turned out to be light and solid. We simul-soloed the last two 30 foot cascades beyond the tall falls, then sat on rocks in the middle of the creek to eat lunch before hiking down. As I drove home, I could see the Sierra wave forming to the north, the clouds creeping in behind Mt. Humphreys. Tioga had closed, in anticipation of the weather, the night before.

The window was closing.

But now, where are those new skis?

A few pictures from the weekend:

Rest of the pics are here: Snow Creek. Mist Trail. Pine Creek Falls.

From the luckiest girl in the world:
Climb Hard. Be Safe.

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5 Responses to “Before the Window Closes”

  1. Laura, your words are so evocative, and paint such a verbal picture. I can see and feel the scene so vividly. Thank you for sharing your thoughts and feelings for everyone to join with you on your journey. Having returned to hiking after retirement, I found that I could no longer keep up with the “rabbits” thought I still feel like I have to chase after them. Your words help me to remember and slow down to enjoy the scene and create the memories.

    • Thanks, Keith! I have to remember that it’s all training, and when it “counts” my body will be there. I’m just glad to be doing what I’m doing only 4months out of knee surgery!

  2. Great photos Laura!

  3. Doug Forbes, The Hedgehog Says:

    Wonderful prose, Laura! So heartfelt….Your photos are so inspiring…

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