I’d Rather Die on this Mountain

Picture: Last light of sunset on the summit of Half Dome as seen from Olmsted Point, Tioga Pass Road, Yosemite National Park, California

Image: Last light of sunset on the summit of Half Dome as seen from Olmsted Point, Tioga Pass Road, Yosemite National Park, California

I just got back from a week-long family vacation at Lake Tahoe. However, before posting anything from that trip, I have one more story I want to tell about my recent Yosemite hikes.

I have a role model. I don’t even know her name.

So there I was three weeks ago, after hiking 8 miles and climbing over 4,000 feet from Yosemite Valley, huffing and puffing my way up the brutal and narrow steps of Half Dome’s Sub Dome. Every 20 yards or so I’d take a quick break to let people pass. Two-thirds of the way up the sub dome, the stairs suddenly stop, and you’re forced to just start making a bee-line toward the top across the steeply slanted exfoliating granite slabs. With lungs heaving, my brain starts to question my initial motivation every time I look upwards with a leg-groaning “You’ve got to be kidding me…”

Just then my eyes catch a woman coming down the granite slabs, descending from the top of the sub dome. She’s moving slowly, cautiously. She has an Ace bandage on both knees, and is holding an old-fashioned wooden hiking stick in one hand. My brain raced back and forth as I thought about my aching legs, and then again, looking at her.

Finally I said something like, “You’re my hero.” She looked straight at me as she paused her descent. With a semi-breathless smile she replied, “I’d rather die on this mountain than in a nursing home.” The only thing I could think to say in response was “No truer words have ever been spoken.”

She continued with her descent as I turned and continued my ascent, thinking to myself with a slightly rejuvenated push, “If she can make it, what the heck am I groaning about?”

When we were about 15 yards apart, I turned back down hill and called out to her, “Excuse me, Ma’am, but can I ask…” Before I could even finish asking the question, she turned back toward me and said, “I’m 70.” It turned out that a lot of people had been asking her that all day long. I replied, “Perhaps the next time you do a hike like this, you should get a T-Shirt that says in big bold letters, “Don’t Ask; I’m 70” on the front. She and a bunch of other nearby hikers broke out in laughter. She told me what a great idea that was, and that she was going to do that.

So if you ever see an elderly woman on the trail with a shirt that says “Don’t Ask; I’m 70” on it, please consider stopping and asking for her name. Because whoever she is, she’s my newest role model.

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18 Comments on “I’d Rather Die on this Mountain”

  1. Jim Coleman Says:

    That was a fantastic story and a great motivator for people like me with Arthritis or whatever someone might have, to keep moving, keep loving the life God made for me!..:) Thanks for sharing it and the beautiful photo.
    I might add, several years back, my brother in laws short term goal was to beat a couple of runners, the man was 76 and she was approx. same, and my brother in law has been a good runner!!..:) Love it!!

    Jim C

  2. Richard Wong Says:

    Great story Gary. Amazing how regular exercise can keep people healthy beyond what most would consider to be “retirement age”.

  3. Ron Niebrugge Says:

    That is a great story Gary!

  4. marianne Says:

    Wonderful! Thanks so much for sharing 🙂

  5. Eric in SF Says:

    What an inspiring story.

    I’m not a mountain climber, but a plant nerd. I visited Mt. Kinabalu in Borneo to look at the flowers, and never had designs on climbing the mountain. The first afternoon we were on trail, at the very start of what is normally a 2-day trek, we stopped to let a group of elderly Japanese ladies pass us *on their way down from the summit*. It was the most inspiring and humbling encounter of the trip for me. They were smiling and conversing happily as they neared the end of their journey, walking poles leading the way.

  6. Todd Says:

    The colors here are awesome.

  7. Julie Rorden Says:

    Gary, what a great example of the importance of determination, goals, modeling, and especially, enjoying life. Thanks for the motivating story and the beautiful visual image of Half Dome, too.

  8. Phil Colla Says:

    She is the type of person I love to be with, hoping that their zest for life and adventurous spirit rubs off on me!

  9. David Leland Hyde Says:

    What a unique and spectacular photograph of Half Dome. You are also a master storyteller with a huge heart. Long may you wave…

  10. Steve Cole Says:

    Great story, Gary, here’s another….

    About 20 years ago I climbed and spent the night on the summit of Mt. Whitney. As darkness approached about 8pm, the last of the stream of peak baggers descended and I was alone on the summit. While enjoying the sunset I noticed a lone figure slowly coming up the trail to the summit. After a short time he arrived and we spoke. He was late-50s, early 60’s and was using two of those industrial strength crutches with the wide metal bands around the forearms. He had polio as a child and made it to the summit of Whitney on crutches. Solo. Very inspiring.

  11. sandyh Says:

    I just found your blog last week. I love it and this is a great story to tell from your hike!! How inspiring and I’m younger than her and whine about sore knees.

  12. Roberta Says:

    My mother in law, at age 85, can keep up with me on mountain trails. She’s my hero! To be able to be as healthy and full of life as she is at that age would be a blessing. Your image has a beautiful painterly quality that I love!

  13. Peter L. Says:

    Here’s a link to another inspiring story, a 79-year-old women from Corvallis, OR, who climbed Half Dome a couple of weeks ago in early August: http://goo.gl/7FkjU .

  14. Rick Mariani Says:

    I was skiing last year and going up the gondola at Northstar with a small elderly woman dressed in a one piece ski suit, and a helmet. We talked a bit and I said that one of my goals is to ski when I am 80. She laughed and said “Well I am 83 and I think I’ll still be skiing at 90”
    To me the thought of her just being able to walk in ski boots from the parking lot to the gondola is a testament to her amazing outlook and good fortune.

  15. Greg Russell Says:

    Great story and image, Gary. I hope, as I age, I maintain the same positive outlook as this woman.

  16. Greg Vaughn Says:

    Great photo and great story, Gary! On a much less challenging trail I was humbled when three women, all 70+ and one with a cane, passed me on their 10-mile morning hike.

  17. Jeff Johnson Says:

    Love the photographs and the story – both worth sharing. Thank you!

  18. latoga Says:

    Wonderful story Gary, truly one to keep in mind for when life throws challenges at us (or when your birthday’s start dragging you down…)

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