On Being a Yosemite Virgin

I was heading out to Yosemite National Park this weekend to celebrate Eid al-Adha with the cousins. This is my sixth National Park camping trip this year. Its been incredibly glorious experience with adventure! And this particular trip, coupled with Zion in the later part of summer, have been a bit nostalgic. There was a time where I could only get one trip in during three years. One of those trips being my very first visit to Yosemite National Park back in 2006.

I remember having called Mofat on his bluff and in return he e-mailed me his itinerary from South Carolina to San Diego. In an instant I was snared into a weekend whirlwind road trip with a hodgepodge of San Diego friends. Road trips start with a will, but this one started with an extra special case of randomness only Mofat could bring to the table! Our entire friendship, brotherhood, has been defined by randomness of having been put together as Freshman roommates at UCSD’s Muir College.


You could call it a bromance, my first one! Mofat has a way to make things seem right. He is spontaneous, constantly searching the horizon for silver linings, and never misses a beat to crack a joke or put you in your place, in a nice Southern gentlemanly sort of way. He is southern Palestinian American, a Texan raised in Saudi Arabia. He was my roommate at Muir College (aptly attended, like by Divine will) dorms while we attended UCSD. I never could shake him off, though. Over the years, as I got to know him, I developed a special appreciation for everything about him.

If road trips start with a will, then to see them through requires a lot of patience. I found myself bound to follow through on a trip to Yosemite with little knowledge of what I had found myslef involved with. That was me back then though, I could only care for the people I was spending time with, not necessarily the place I was going.

Yosemite, according to geologist, is the perfect example of a geological valley and is an a magnificiant preserve. It is refered to as “the uncomparable valley” and with over 1200 square miles of wilderness and 800 miles worth of hiking trails one can imagine the solitude and immensity of the natural wonder that is Yosemite. What stands out most, and there is a lot of amazing stuff here, is a geological feature called Half Dome.


The plan was simple- hike up Half Dome. Yosemite or Bust, Half Dome or, well, nothing really. I had never been to Yosemite before. It seemed like it would all be fun times, regardless. Looking up at Half Dome, however, made my stomach churn and I felt queasy. I later came to realize that I actually have a slight fear of heights. I wasn’t sure I had brought enough water, and I maybe packed on a few too many pizzas and shwarmas.

There are really two ways to see Yosemite, by car in the happy little valley and meadows and the villages of Curry and Yosemite, where you can catch most of the trails to hike up to various points of interests. Or there is the more involved process of backcountry hiking. Yosemite virgins generally leave off after visiting the valley and making two or three hikes. This time around, I felt I wanted to do more.


Unlike most people who are content with the first mode of sight seeing, I find myself drawn to the backcountry. Yosemite Valley is neither peaceful or a place of solitude given the millions of tourists that come there to wander in nature. Its a bit of a theme park feel to it. I want to experience what John Muir referred to as “truly get[ting] into the heart of wilderness.”

“Only by going alone in silence, without baggage, can one truly get into the heart of the wilderness. All other travel is mere dust and hotels and baggage and chatter.”

John Muir

But that first visit ten years ago, is not exactly how I felt. In my journal I wrote

The most sublime and incredible views of waterfalls. In fact, there are waterfalls in every direction you look. Incredible! And the river filled with cold water, sheer mountain cliffs and meadows dot the entire journey up to Half Dome, but I have to admit, none of this soothes the pain that I felt hiking up this monster trail, to add salt to the wound, not making it up to the top of half dome is an incredible shame. For those making a trip to Yosemite and willing to hike up to Half Dome, I suggest preparing in advance and also brining the correct gear on the trip. But the real important thing is to prepare your body for the strenuous climb required to successfully make it to the top.

Sadly, the will to make the road trip happen was there but my body just wasn’t having any of the other plans. And now so much of my perspective has changed. I long for that “going alone in silence” that John Muir referred to some hundred years earlier on his visit to Yosemite.

Its one of those sad stories- literally its a sad and pathetic state of physical and mental reality I was in- I didn’t have the amount of pain and problems climbing up Angles Landing and Clouds Rest at Zion National Park as I did here. That was what two years of laziness and coach potato-hood impart.  And the old ladies and six year old girls climbing to the top doesn’t make me feel any better. No bag of M&M’s would allow me to survive this hike. Something was going to change…


…like I never made it out to a camping trip after this one. I made up for each of the past six years this year now. I am not sure when I am going to try to hike up Half Dome again, but one thing I know is that while I am on this trip with family, I am preparing myself to journey into the backcountry, alone if necessary. Something about that backcountry opportunity excites me. It calls me. Look forward to sharing more about that in the future!

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