By Li Stalder
If you ask me where my favorite place in the world is, I would say Yosemite.
Family ties root my deep connection to this famous national park in California. My grandma owns a cabin, which is where my aunt and uncle reside, in Wawona. My aunt runs her own property management business where she rents out cabins to happy vacationers.
Search through our family photo albums, and you’ll see many photos of a 4-year-old me happily playing in the snow or sitting on a seesaw with my younger sister. I can’t remember those memories from that far back, but the succeeding trips we took once I was older have always been the most unforgettable.
In 2012, we went back to California for the first time since moving to Florida five years prior. Our homecoming trip was packed with seeing the desert, coast and mountains. We stopped by Borrego Springs, where I spent my elementary school days. Then we visited Grandma in the outskirts of LA. My older sister flew in with my nephew, and we took a road trip up to Yosemite.
During our stay this time, we swam in the same swimming hole my mom and her sister used to play in as kids in the Merced River. We went down to the Valley, took short hikes and met up with my dad’s brother and wife. One of my favorite parts of the trip was the cabin we stayed in because it had a lot of games and books to satisfy us during down time. On the way out, we even saw a bear down the hill off the side of the road.
However, my last trip to Yosemite in August of 2015 was my absolute favorite trip I’ve taken so far. The whole family was there again, and we even stayed at the same cabin. But this time, my mom, two younger sisters and I faced the challenge of hiking Half Dome.
We were up before the sun at 6 a.m., and drove down to the Valley. By 7 a.m., we started our journey at the trailhead. Not even a mile in—before seeing Vernal Fall—I panicked. The incline was steep, and I was already huffing and puffing. But I was determined to stick it out. I had been looking forward to this hike for months, and I couldn’t just quit then. I stuck in my earphones and played Harry Potter music for motivation (yes, it did help).
This 16-mile, 14-hour trek was the most physically and mentally challenging task I’ve done. We made it to the infamous cables. But by then, I was exhausted, and I knew deep down, I could not climb the last 500 feet to the top of the dome. My youngest sister and mom made it, while I stayed behind with my other sister. It was disappointing, but I needed to save energy for the way down. I was still super proud I had made it that far, considering the rocky start.
Realistically, will I do that hike again? Maybe.
Do I want to? I certainly would like to make it to the top one day!
Yosemite is famous for its natural beauty, and I could not agree more. The views are breathtaking, and I always feel at peace when I’m there. I can just unplug from all technology and enjoy life at its best. I wholeheartedly recommend that it should be on everyone’s bucket list of travels.