I have a history of allowing fear to dictate my life.
I’ve passed up opportunities, relationships, opinions, and happiness because I’ve been afraid.
Afraid to venture outside of my comfort zone.
Afraid of failure.
But mostly, afraid of the unknown.
I think about my fears often. They cycle through my mind like a cyclone of negativity, ready to dash through my hopes and dreams whenever the situation presents itself.
This is how my mind was racing with fear when I began my climb up Half Dome, the iconic image of Yosemite National Park in California.
Each summer, thousands of hikers make it their mission to stand atop this 8,836 ft granite dome, but it’s no easy feat. Backpacker Magazine ranked it one of America’s 10 Most Dangerous Hikes. Putting the strenuous prelude to the base of the Dome aside, the trek up the rock involves a 400 ft vertical free climb assisted by steel cables bolted into the granite at waist level.
I was there in the spring. Trail conditions were uncertain, but we began the trek anyway.
Our hike up Half Dome began with a hands and feet crawl up a slippery sheet of snow, clutching on to other people’s tracks until we could find a portion of the trail exposed enough to use the rock staircase Yosemite most graciously created for it’s climbers.
We climbed slowly and intentionally and vertically. Large portions of the trail were still buried beneath the winter’s snow. Every once in a while, a foot would slip causing me to slide downward, just a few inches, but enough to make my heart race. When we came to a very large snow field with no rocks or trees for traction, I had had enough.
“I’m going to stop!” I called to my friend who was apparently fearless and already quite a bit ahead of me.
I turned around slowly, firmly placing myself next to a small tree. My breath sucked inward as I looked out at the valley below. From my seat, I could not see the trail I had been climbing up. It was as though I was perched at the edge of the world, and one small breeze would send me sailing into infinity. I felt so small, so completely vulnerable, and so completely paralyzed with fear.
Fear that only intensified when I felt a slight rumble in the mountain I was perched on. A few pebbles were knocked loose, bouncing their way down the rock ledges. I could hear a crashing, or maybe a roaring, echoing through the valley. My head snapped in every direction, searching for a source of this imminent danger until my eyes caught a whirl of white from across the valley.
I sat awe-struck at the phenomenon occurring before me. Never have I felt so empowered by feeling insignificant and powerless. As if the mountains were taunting my fears, yet rewarding me with a brilliant show.
I like to think I was the only person on the Dome that day who saw the avalanche. I like to believe it was meant just for me. To show me that in the grand scheme of things, my fears of the unknown are arbitrary.