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Pondering life on Yosemite's Glacier Point

It was my birthday and nobody was around to see if I slipped off the edge, I thought as I inched myself just far enough off the wafer-thin cliff to see the valley floor 3,000 feet below.

My breath shimmered in unsteady puffs as the first beams of light struck over Half Dome. I woke up at 3 a.m., hiked through the dark from my canvas tent and up to Glacier Point to catch this exact moment. Where the Dawn Wall glowed and dew shone like a million galaxies. Where the domesticated have yet to rise and trample the rawness of the wild. Where I was equal with the saplings and where the saplings were as mighty as the black bears.

I had visited Glacier Point many times, but not in this way. This time I worked for it, and the reward was all for me. I laid my cheek on the cold granite and faced the cresting sun. Thin clouds swept through the morning sky like eraser marks; Tenaya Canyon rested in the shadows. My friends were surely still asleep. A sparrow dove earthward from over my shoulder and a laugh escaped me. Watching Yosemite wake up was almost too wonderful to witness alone.

I sat up and crawled back to the safety of solid ground. My "Life is Good” shirt that I had been wearing all summer was covered in dirt, and I didn’t care — so was I and everyone else who was a resident of Yosemite.

The concept of a conventional lifestyle was so foreign to me then. I knew that in a few short months, summer would end and I would be forced to pack up what few belongings I had and move back to the world where exams and high social standards awaited me. The thought was suffocating.

I knew that this is what I wanted — a life that is surprising, bold and even a little nerve-wracking. I decided that if I could store this feeling of serenity just long enough to make it through the mundane days, then I could survive until the next grand odyssey.

And that’s what I’ve been doing — living a life through a series of adventures to satisfy the nature of my being.

I need to live primitively to experience the world holistically, and exploring the rawness of the Earth is how I do it. Hiking, climbing, rafting, even watching the clouds drift by are all paths that lead to a happy life. Activities like these require a mind free of distraction. I want to see the world as it is. Meaning: Leave the cell phones and menial issues behind and live. Just live. Feel the rain and think about real things, big things.

It’s too easy to get wrapped up in the what ifs and maybes. I want to live presently and with intent. This is why I adventure. To feel my heart flutter and catch myself smiling, because I realize that this is it, this is life.

— Elizabeth Raynal is a student at Southern Oregon University studying English and Outdoor Adventure Leadership.

Elizabeth Raynal stands on the tip of Glacier Point at sunrise on her 20th birthday. [Photo courtesy of Elizabeth Raynal]