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Brandeis University's Community Newspaper — Waltham, Mass.

A Goodman is Hard to Find: Peace at the top of the world

Published: November 11, 2011
Section: Opinions

I climbed a mountain. The phrase can be interpreted in many ways: I achieved a goal, I overcame an obstacle or I physically climbed a real mountain. Throughout our lives we all climb mountains. When I climbed Half Dome in Yosemite, not only did I climb an actual mountain, but I achieved a goal and I reached a personal pinnacle of true serenity, harmony and peace.

The opportunity to climb Half Dome was given to me by Camp Tawonga, the camp at which I worked this summer, located just outside of beautiful Yosemite National Park. Tawonga is a place where nature captivates and enchants the senses, and bonds of friendship and love are cultivated, harvested and allowed to bloom. Some of my best times, most enriching experiences and closest friendships were made at Tawonga.

During one regular day at camp, at a normal lunch meal, there was an announcement advertising the Bagel Run. And yes, bagels and lox are provided in celebration after completion. Later I learned that the Bagel Run is a day hike to Half Dome in Yosemite. Just so you can get a visual of the size of Half Dome, it’s about 5,000 feet tall from the bottom of Yosemite Valley, comparable to almost 16 football fields lined up end to end. It is one colossal mountain. I’m not sure what sparked my interest, but somehow I signed up to go. Maybe it was the bagels and lox provided at the end of the journey or the way the wilderness leaders described the hike with ease.

Before I knew it, I was in the car on our way to the trail head. It was 4 a.m. and still dark outside. Doubts and worries began to flood my mind: What did I get myself into? What if I can’t do it? What if I get hurt? We arrived at the trail head as the sun began to rise. We ate some cereal for breakfast and then the drivers said their goodbyes, wishing us luck, and left. And there we were, at around 7 a.m., by ourselves, at a desolate trail-head in Yosemite. So we did all we could do: We walked. Chris, the wilderness leader at camp, had mentioned that it was a very long day of hiking but I had no concept of what that meant until we had hit the trails.

We walked, and walked, and walked, and walked some more. We tried to keep busy—we played some games, admired the beauty of nature and tried to keep our minds off the enormous amount of hiking still left to do.

Seven lengthy hours later and 12 treacherous miles of hiking behind us, we stopped for lunch at the trail head of Half Dome. When I saw the sign, “Half Dome: 2 miles,” I couldn’t believe it. I thought we were almost there, but there were another two miles! Those two miles were the most difficult of the day. It began as a steady but steep incline for about a mile until we reached “Quarter Dome,” the precursor to Half Dome. Quarter Dome was composed of giant granite steps, each two or three feet tall. As I performed the ultimate leg muscle workout, I noticed that I was falling behind from the group. Chris had mentioned that if we didn’t reach the cables at Half Dome before the clouds rolled in at around 3 p.m., a daily afternoon occurrence in Yosemite, we wouldn’t be able to climb all the way to the top. I continued to climb the stairs. Each step brought me closer to the end but each step also brought me more pain and fatigue.

As I climbed the last step, all of Half Dome came into view. In the distance, I noticed a walkway going up the side of the giant granite Goliath, outlined by two heavy steel cables. As I approached the start of the cables I saw a giant pile of climbing gloves. Without any time to rest as the clouds were approaching, I grabbed a pair of gloves and began to climb up the mountain, wasting no time resting on the wood planks positioned about every 10 feet. I reached the top and took off my gear; I walked toward the edge and was hit with an unbelievable sight.

It may sound cliche but the combination of the 15 miles of mountaineering and the incredible panoramic view took my breath away. I sipped some water and sat, mesmerized by the stunning landscape I had hiked all day to see. It was surreal. I could see for hundreds of miles in all directions. Never before had I felt so relaxed, accomplished and in the moment. Climbing Half Dome was my first glimpse of the world beyond my hometown. Seeing all of the beauty of the world and the enormity of it fueled my desire to explore the world, experience all of life’s wonders, and learn about the customs and cultures of others. I want to see it all, experience everything and enjoy all the world has to offer.

Since my climb at Half Dome, I have striven once again to reach the high that I felt at the top of the Yosemite Valley. During my trip to British Columbia, we took a ferry from Tsawwassen, near Vancouver, to Victoria, on Vancouver Island. I took a heavy warm jacket and ventured throughout the boat. I discovered a small viewing spot in the front of the ship away from people, the busy food court, loud engine noise and all signs of life. The mixture of the sun, clouds and bitter cold Northwest waters gave the islands and landscape that surrounded us a surreal and heavenly appearance. It didn’t look real. I stood there for the entire hour and a half journey to Victoria’s Swartz Bay, completely mesmerized by the scenery, calmness and quiet. It was the closest I have been to the feeling I had on top of Half Dome. It was a rejuvenating and dreamlike experience.

I know now that through all of the politics of global warming, corruption, crimes and hatred among people, I can retreat to the top of Half Dome or the bow of the ferry and know that everything is going to be all right; not only my problems, but the world’s as well. I know that those places and that feeling of serenity and harmony will always be there for me no matter the circumstances. These moments were times of pure fun, simple pleasure and dreamlike sensations, which are too few and far in between.