Jim Ott's Blog

This blog is a collection of columns I've written for Bay Area News Group newspapers serving the East San Francisco Bay region.

Friday, July 24, 2009

Half Dome offers life...and death

This shorter version of this column appeared in the Tri-Valley Herald in June 2009


One week before Manoj Kumar ascended Yosemite’s Half Dome, my 17-year-old daughter grasped the same cables from which the San Ramon resident slipped and fell to his death.
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“I can see how easily a person could fall,” said Melissa Ott. “I would’ve been too scared to climb if this accident happened before our hike.”
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Even before last month’s tragic news, my daughter experienced dread as she began to scale the steep incline of slippery granite. I know this because her stepmom and I were with her. We saw her tears on that foggy June afternoon.
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Each year thousands of hikers make the 17-mile round trip hike to the top of Half Dome. I’ve made the trip four times, including as a teen when, prompted by a youthful drive for accomplishment, I ran the distance, climbed the cables, stood atop the summit long enough to take in the view, then scrambled down to run back to Curry Village to my parents.
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For my daughter, this was her first trip. In spite of the fatal accident, I'm hopeful it’s not her last since she gained much from the experience. In fact, she’s written about the hike in her blog.
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Here she describes the thunderous Vernal Falls encountered along the route to Half Dome:
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The falls reminded me of something Siddhartha realizes in Hesse’s novel: that water continually moves, but is continually there. That it is transient and always changing, but constantly filling the space. That we are always changing, never the same, always becoming something else, both physically and mentally. It was nice to have an enormous model of the concept right in front of me.
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Later, she writes about the daunting final approach to the summit and innocently foreshadows the tragic death that will happen only seven days later:
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That image of the people on the side of the mountain, the open spaces beside the rock where the ground drops out and you’d die a terribly wind-swept death is forever seared into my memory.
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I’ll never forget her bravery as we clung to the cables, pulling ourselves one step at a time up the boards attached to the poles that hold the cables. Though her fear and the difficulty of the climb tempted her to turn back, she also knew “if I wanted to be able to say I’d made it to the top of Half Dome, I’d have to become one of those climbing up the mountain for no reason other than bragging rights and a view.”
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As Melissa reached the top, her achievement was, I believe, why Manoj Kumar climbed to the summit that day. Her words reflect what he experienced upon reaching the top--what all hikers experience up there.
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For both Melissa and Kumar, achievements such as climbing Half-Dome have real value and real meaning. Such experiences give us life.
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Or do they?
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Kumar lost his life pursuing an experience that only comes when we are willing to face our fears and achieve what many people will never try. Yes, his death is tragic and very sad. I feel most sad for his family.
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But it's also true that as a frequent hiker who went out with his friends on many occasions, he was doing what he loved.
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Those of us who made it to the top that day will never forget our triumph. And in that accomplishment, we honor the life and memory of fellow hiker Manoj Kumar.

1 comment:

she said...

thought of melissa's amazing blog post & your family's journey immediately after hearing the sad news about manoj

love, prayers all around ~s.