Tough Decisions

Can you see the tent in this picture? Flattened by heavy snow

Last week I went to California to do a book tour of the Bay Area REI stores. But I couldn’t just go to northern California without stopping in at one of my favorite spots on the planet, Yosemite. So I flew in a few days early and my friend Stephen and I headed up to the Yosemite Valley for a few days of camping before my talk at REI on Monday evening. As we set up our tent the snow was falling in big, soft flakes obscuring the valley walls and making for a beautiful, almost mystical winter scene. However, sometime in the middle of the night the trees above our campsite reached their limit and couldn’t hold on to the piles of snow that had accumulated on their branches. The branches bowed, dropping a massive pile of snow on our tent and crushing about half of it. It was late and we were tired, so we just lived with it for the rest of the night. When we got up in the morning we realized the damp, heavy snow had actually ripped a big hole in the tent tarp and bent several poles. Bye-bye tent. Luckily Stephen had a spare, smaller tent stashed away in his car so we set that up and walked to Curry Village for breakfast. When we returned our tent was gone! As we approached the now empty campsite we realized the tent wasn’t gone, it had been crushed by the weight of the new-fallen snow and was now hidden under several inches of wet, white snowfall. During all of this Stephen and I were actually having a surprisingly good time. The big white flakes fluttered through the valley painting a glorious winter scene and we were captivated by it. In spite of losing two tents we wanted to stay. So we took a cabin at Curry Village and began to hike around the valley. As we entered the Yosemite Village Visitor Center we were informed that the park was closing. Route 120 and 41 were already closed down because of snow and RT 140 would close at 7pm because they needed to clear some rock-fall. If we didn’t leave the valley immediately we might not be able to get out in the morning. Stephen and I stood there in the splendor of Yosemite and debated the best course of action. Yosemite was beautiful and almost completely abandoned. The few folks we had met were cheerful and friendly, the kind you’d like to wait out a snow storm with. We had a warm room with a shower and the lounge was open with a roaring fire. On the other hand, there was no guarantee we’d be able to get out in time for me to get to REI for my talk on Monday evening. I wanted to stay, to enjoy the serenity of Yosemite, especially since I hadn’t been there in a few years. I wanted to stay, but it wasn’t the smart thing to do. It reminded me of my decision to turn back on Mt. Kilimanjaro only 1000 feet below the summit. As I suffered from hypothermia and altitude sickness it was prudent to turn back. But I didn’t want to. Sometimes, even when we know what the right choice is we don’t want to do it. Sometimes, having the discipline to follow the right course is the hardest course of all. Stephen and I both knew we had to leave even though we didn’t want to go. We drove out of the park with chains on our tires by 7pm on Sunday evening. The roads to the park didn’t open again until Thursday. The valley received over 3 feet of snow and even lost power. Had we stayed, not only would I have missed all 4 REI presentations we would have been stranded without power under one of the worst storms Yosemite has seen in many years. We made the right decision.
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