Because it’s raining so hard we decide to stop in Salinas and visit the John Steinbeck museum. It was interesting—partly because I love Steinbeck (although I’ve never quite figured out how Grapes of Wrath is the work that he’s most famous for, that and Of Mice and Men. I mean I get it—they’re great works, but his best? Not in my book. Easiest to pigeonhole into a genre maybe—that’s why they get the press. But I digress), and partly because why not? It’s pouring and we’re going to Yosemite, where we’re both pretty sure we’ll end up sitting in the rain, or at least hiding from it. Kind of unbelievable considering California is in a drought, but then again, we saw Lake Shasta, a startling picture of blue against a myriad of red rings that told us where the water should be. It’s an unnerving sight, at best. Now it’s hard to believe though, here inside the John Steinbeck museum, listening to the rain on the roof while exploring a mock version of Cannery Row. Our chances for climbing aren’t great—even though we both know it, there’s still a little glimmer of hope that remains by not actually saying it out loud. We were going to climb the side of Half Dome on an epic, 8-pitch route called Snake Dike, perfectly timed for Darren’s 27th birthday. We quickly realize, once we get there—it hits us sometime between buying extra tarps in the frenzy at the village store and going to bed at 7:30 in a downpour—that there will be no climbing. In fact, when we get up the next morning, even though the rain has stopped, we realize that it’s snowing on top of Half Dome. That’s when it gets said out loud. Darren laughs when I ask. No—we’re not climbing today.
Our piece of luck though comes in the form of my parents, and I know that even though we won’t be climbing and it’ll probably rain today, we’re guaranteed some kind of fun with those two and the other people they cart around. A whole lot of crazy in that clan, but fun too. So we call them just at the right time, which is how our rainy, cold night has a happy ending—day breaks on us while we enjoy brunch at the Awahnee Lodge, reveling in those magnificent leaded glass windows and fireplaces you could roast a boar in. I suggested it to the maitre d’. He said no.
And then the inevitable question—well, and, so what should we do today? We go to collect the others—my siblings, minus Rachelle, and decide, after brief deliberation, we should go on a walk. The trailhead to Yosemite Falls isn’t too far, my mom discovers, isn’t too far from where they’re staying. So we head out. It’s heads craned back for the trip, you have to realize, because that’s what Yosemite is, all sheer granite walls and trees, soaring vistas, water and more water, coming from above and rushing below. It’s a lot to take in, but it distracts us for awhile—the trailhead is actually about a mile from the hotel. And then we see signs, one to lower Yosemite Falls, and one to upper. We’ll do the upper. I don’t know who decides this, I think it may have been my Dad. But suddenly we’re headed up switchbacks towards upper falls, no questions asked.
About ten minutes in Garrett starts to ask for water. We brought no water. Then I realize that he’s wearing aviator sunglasses and chuck taylor lace-ups as his hiking gear. Sam’s in fashion boots. My parents have quickly fallen off the back—if the bears don’t get them, they’re a cougar snack for sure. The family walk has rapidly become something differently entirely and no one is prepared for it.
But! We continue, steadfast in that wonderful Hobson quality of not complaining even in the direst of circumstances, and ascend ever higher towards the top of the falls. It’s actually a decently hard hike, rarely flat, and with enough sheer cliffs to make me happy that my mom isn’t up front with us to see how close Garrett is toeing the line. Don’t be one of those tourists who fall off a trail and die, I tell him. Come on. That’s not us. He takes a selfie with Half Dome in the back. Maybe it is us.
It’s fun, though, because it’s like being a kid again. All the ingredients are here—a vacation with my family, a hike that goes south, weather that doesn’t cooperate. These are the circumstances that have created the best stories of my childhood. Maybe not my fondest memories—I once had pneumonia in Yellowstone and hiked with it for a solid two days before receiving medical attention from a man who was more equipped to handle bear bites than a little phlegm in the lungs—but definitely the best stories. And it’s this bullheadedness that runs in my family that has served us so well, making the best out of the worst, saying yes to something bigger and grander, upper falls versus lower falls that make our lives memorable and keeps contributing to our family lore. These are the kinds of trips I hope we’ll always take, and then I’ll take my kids on, and they’ll take their kids on. This is the kind of chaos that I love best, that resonates with me the most. Barely managed chaos outside—that’s perfection.
It’s worth it—we don’t go all the way to the top, but we do see that iconic panorama of Half Dome and the Falls mirrored across the valley floor and we goof off endlessly on the trip up and especially the trip back. We get close enough to the Falls to hear the thunder of all that water hitting the rock. We imagine that we feel the spray—but I think really it’s just the rain coming back. We made friends with a Danish guy and see a Japanese tourist crouched tiger style on a boulder, taking pictures of himself. I learn that Garrett wants to be a high school teacher and director now, and that Sam has a new boyfriend. It’s good. I wouldn’t find that kind of stuff out unless we were on a hell hike together. Darren spends his birthday with my clan and loves it—or at least pretends to. Either way, it’s a win.
When we get done with the upper falls, we then go to the Lower Falls, which are beautiful, but somehow less impressive. Maybe because we didn’t tear ourselves apart getting to see it—the walk in to this one was paved. Later we go on another walk to Mirror Pond, pretty uneventful but still, the same kind of fun. The best part is that even though we didn’t climb today, didn’t do anything we had planned to do, we got something better—a return to the clan and the familiar rhythm of time with my family.