For several years, I had the fortune to live in the shadow of Half Dome. There, I observed its many moods through every season. I watched lightning pummel the summit and avalanches cascade down the granite slabs. On clear evenings, shadows chased the last golden rays of sunlight up Half Dome’s face, and I enjoyed the show from one of the Valley’s peaceful meadows. I also saw individuals from around the world create unique and beautiful connections with this spectacular mountain. For me, the sight of Half Dome always reminded me that I was home. For many others, this granite monolith is a symbol of strength, freedom, wilderness, and perseverance against the impossible. Countless hikers and climbers view their ascents to the summit as emblematic of greater challenges that they face in their lives outside of the mountains. As I witnessed the experiences of the mountain and the individuals who came to witness it, I was inspired to tell Half Dome’s story.
Often we hear the stories of an individual’s ascent of a mountain. We learn of the trials faced by climbers and of their physical, emotional, and spiritual struggles to reach the summit. Less often do we hear the story of a mountain. While mountains may “speak” to our hearts and minds, they do not speak our language. They have always been silent, unmoved guardians of a rarefied landscape where humans may visit but never remain. If a mountain could tell its life story, what would it say?
The story starts with the geological history—Half Dome’s birth and formation. It then explores the unique ecology of the summit of Half Dome. Following that are the Native American stories that speak of its spiritual creation. Readers will learn about Half Dome’s first encounters with Europeans. I have dedicated ample space to some of the most significant climbs on the Dome. Throughout the book, I explore the history of the mountain as a public space. No mountain is without tragic tales, and those too are in this book.
The hope of Half Dome: The History of a Mountain is to create a stronger connection between this land and the people drawn to it. When we understand someone’s (or something’s) story—the events that have shaped their identity in this world—we tend to have more compassion for them. Why would we need compassion for a block of stone, so grand and old to be almost beyond our comprehension? The natural landscapes of this world have few defenses against our eagerness to build civilizations and tame the wilds. It is increasingly difficult to find wild spaces on this planet. Our human presence dominates the landscape. We have grown distant from the land, causing us to lose compassion for the earth that has given us life. In a way, we have lost ourselves. Yet there is hope in the wilderness that remains. We can still experience these sacred spaces. We can give ourselves to them, and receive so much in return, for nature is the best medicine.