Some would call it hiking, but what we were doing was probably more accurately known as trudging. We were on the final stretch of the 1000 foot elevation climb of the first part of the Mist Trail in Yosemite to the top of Vernal Falls. It is one of the most popular trails in Yosemite, both for the sublime scenery and the relatively short distance of 3 miles roundtrip. The majority of the trail had been relatively easy, but the last stretch was nothing short of strenuous-maybe even too strenuous.
I had tried to convince my five year old to stay behind, but he was having none of it. FOMO (Fear of Missing Out) is a huge problem when you have spent your entire life watching your big brothers do all the cool things from the safety of your proverbial playpen.
While I was looking up to the top to consider the cost, he was only looking up and seeing the reward. Children are mighty teachers in tiny bodies.
And, so we began to climb.
~Strolling along the easy part of the hike unaware. Who could tell that boy no?~
To Climb or Not to Climb
The first stage of the trail was already behind us, a wide paved path that was completely uphill, but graded at such a slope that it was easy enough if we took it slow. The initial accent to the footbridge had been the most challenging part, but that first glimpse of Vernal Falls (and the promise of restrooms just a few feet further) kept us walking past our initial plan.
Once we were past the restrooms and had refilled our water bottle, the kids wanted to continue on up the path. The path narrowed quite a bit at this point, but was still easily accessible. Wide stone steps up to gigantic flat rocks overlooking Emerald Pool was to be our final stop.
We rested on the cool stones to peel off our outer layers and catch our breath before starting the decent. That brief respite from climbing was just enough time for my three adventurers to look up towards the cascade of steep steps and wonder “Why Not?”
My 11 year old, a child we have affectionately labeled the “Stair Conqueror” was the first to posit the idea of continuing to the top.
“We’ve already come this far, “he reasoned. “It doesn’t make sense not to finish.”
I looked up and considered the options. In distance, the final climb to the top of the falls was fairly short, maybe only 3/10th of a mile. But the steps-500 in total- and the vertical ascent was daunting. What’s more, the climbers that dotted the switchback trail of steps showed the strenuous pace in the hunched over and labored posture of their bodies. This portion of the trail was no respecter of age or fitness ability. It deftly kicked the butts of all equally.
If even the spandex clad, Camelbak-wearing, geared up hikers were huffing and burning their way to the top, was there any chance for my kids-or me?
The newly minted nine year old agreed that we had come far enough to just finish the task, however hard it might be. I wanted to agree, but it was the five year old-our baby- that really made me think twice. Although no one would deny that he is a mighty package, he is still small in stature. To me, he seemed too small.
Refusing to be underestimated, even by his own mother, Mister Tiny but Mighty insisted that he would make the climb with his brothers. Being left behind was not an option. His spark of determination assuaged even the reluctance in me. To reward his resolve with success, I would carry him to the top, if I had to.
Getting Out of the Way
I grabbed my backpack and we started the climb. It was tough-as tough as it looked and maybe even more so. Every few steps, we, like the others, had to stop and catch our breath. Our pace was even slower because many of steps were taller than a five year could stride. To span the distance, he often had to scramble on his belly, hoisting his legs up like an infant who is just learning to climb onto the sofa. I had been right about his body being too small, but I was dead wrong in thinking something as insignificant as size was an acceptable limit.
~Resting up for the final climb~
Dust and sweat covered, we reached the top of the falls. The views, as expected, were rewarding, but not nearly as much as the feeling of finishing. While the kids ran their fingers through the cold water and played in the warm sun, I reflected. I felt proud-proud that in a world where people too often take the easy road, I have the privilege of raising kids who aren’t afraid to try hard things. With all that pride, I felt equal parts chastened. This climb was a good reminder that of all the things that would stand in the way of my children, I needed to be sure that I wasn’t one of them.
~At the Top~
Time to reflect is short when there are boys waiting to scramble back to the start of the trail. In a relentless downhill, we climbed, stepping gingerly over graveled steps as we passed climbers on their march to the top. Steps too large for little legs needed a different technique for descending, so my little climber took to jumping down the steps with his little feet landing in a confident thump on each step.
Before this climb, I would have insisted that my baby hold my hand so that he could safely navigate the steps, but today I let him go it alone. He earned it.