National Geographic : 2005 Jan
I could feel this grand beyondness etching itself into my memory as if each crag, every broken boulder, every spined pinecone were inscribing images. HalfDome's peak is "perfectly inaccessi ble," wrote a geologist in 1869. Now visitors can climb to the sum mit on a cable-lined trail. For the Park Service, though, an old, familiar hurdle remains: how to keep the park pristine while giving people a taste of the high life. undistinguished, bearing no name on my maps. Going up was like climbing the back of a mythically enormous turtle whose carapace was glaciated white granite flecked with black biotite. I was walking on what was once the floor of the Pacific Ocean, once rising magma, once the basement of numerous glaciers. Now the wide expanses of the slope were polished by ancient glacial ice. I was on a hike up through time, a geo logic hike into sky. I weaved upward among glacial erratics as big as bison, all of them waiting for that last grand slide down the dome. Among them were stones the size of quail eggs, unlike the bedrock in color, texture, and shape. These rounded and smoothed gravels had been carried to the top from some distant outwash 10,000 years ago. This place, so apparently solid and immobile, was moving: Pebbles carried up, boulders waiting to roll down, and the whole dome still rising a foot a millennium with the rest of the Sierra. I reached for a peculiar pebble that got up and hopped away before my eyes. Camouflaged to match the mountain, it was a frog-a thousand feet above the nearest standing water. Conifers, mostly Jeffrey pine, had found crevices the width of a broomstick and were drawing out a weather-tortured existence, twisting themselves into lovely grotesqueries. Clustered in the few places of scarce soil and shelter grew penstemon, Indian paintbrush, stonecrop, Sierra wallflower. Life, both rooted and legged, was extracting itself from a rock more barren than not, more hostile to organisms than otherwise. Then I arrived on top, prepared for a jolt of some contemporary intrusiveness to open before me. But the view was quite different: to the east the magnificently jagged tops of the snowy Sierra and to the southwest the totem of Yosemite, Half Dome-but not its oft-pictured side. Rather, it showed me its humpy hind end. Looking at it was like watching a Shakespearean play from backstage, where old and familiar lines seem different, strange, new. I realized then I'd discovered my Yosemite. I could feel this grand beyondness etching itself into my memory as if each crag, every broken boulder, every spined pinecone were inscribing images. The ascent was like a journey back in time, but now I wondered what the view from the dome would be in a century, in an eon. [reading Muir] That night I could still feel the ascent not just in my legs but in my mind too, a sense of hope heightened by this passage John Muir wrote more than a century ago: "The regular tourist, ever in motion, is one of the most characteristic productions of the present century; and however frivolous and inappreciative the poorer specimens may appear, viewed comprehensively they are a hopeful and significant sign of the times, indicating at least a beginning of our return to nature; for going to the mountains is going home." 5 GET LOST IN YOSEMITE Browse a gallery of Yosemite images, with tips from the photogra pher, then plan a trip to the park using our Online Extra at nationalgeographic.com/magazine/0501. 116 NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC * JANUARY 2005 HENRYKTOMASZKAISER,TRANSPARENCIES, INC.