28 Days of Flash — Non-Fiction #10 of 28
The throng of people on Yosemite’s Mist Trail hear a woman saying something loudly in German to a boy who is leaping around on steps cut into the rocks. Clearly mom has noticed her son is behaving in a way she doesn’t agree with.
The boy’s shoulders slump forward and he scrambles up the rock staircase to the woman’s feet. She’s just climbed the Mist Trail during a record spring runoff. The Mist Trail isn’t shrouded in the gray, lazy, hazy microscopic droplets of water that collect as a fog near mountain as water rushes over Vernal Falls, like in the photos she’d seen. No, the Mist Trail is blasting water with unbelievable force, drenching the fools who dared walk up it.
I was one of those fools that day. My fiancé and I were there to celebrate three things: our engagement, his 50th birthday, and his nearly being completed with his cancer treatments. We thought Yosemite would be the perfect, “Suck it, Death! Watch us live!” moment for us, and the 10-mile hike would be a fun adventure.
Fast forward to being two-thirds of the way up, and I’m clutching a rock behind this energetic, bouncing boy like I was on a six-inch sliver of cliff at the Grand Canyon rather than being on the mountain pathway. I wanted to cry. I was completely frozen.
I shifted my feet without picking them up to turn toward my fiancé who was 20 feet behind me, stuck behind a crowd, when the German mom showed up at my side. Her shoulder-length black hair was just as wet as mine and she had slicked it back away from her face. She pried my hand away from the rock and said, “Come with me, we’re nearly there.” I had no idea where “there” was. The mountain loomed ahead of us, the sun hid behind it while tourists wound their way up. It was like we were in a terrifying line at Disneyland.
Her white tank top and simple black shorts were accessorized with a bright red leather backpack. She looked like a fitness ad. She took my left hand in her right hand and tucked my forearm securely under her strong arm when she took the first big step. Her steps up were certain when I wobbled. I remember saying, “If I fall, you’ll fall. Please, it’s ok,” and trying to let her go. She looked back at me and smiled, clutched my hand all the tighter, and we kept going. This was a difficult part of the trail to be sure, and though it wasn’t washed out like other sections had been, it certainly wasn’t the safest spot for someone who was scared to move.
She watched my feet. I was bringing one foot up to a step and letting my other foot catch up on the same step before attempting the next one. She repeated my gait. She kept looking back and smiling. Only one time she said, “this is crazy, no?” and laughed as if we had just passed a pet shop that was selling snakes and hamsters out of the same cage.
Step up by step up, she wouldn’t let me go, and I could feel the lump in my throat subsiding as my tears and terror were washed away by adrenaline, exertion, and her sheer will. At a wide area in the trail, I stopped and leaned against the rock to the side. “Thank you,” I managed to say. “You’re ok now?” she said, smiling broadly. “That was crazy, no?”
Yes, it was crazy. She never gave me her name nor did I give her mine. She continued up the trail nearly at a jog to catch up with her family. I have no idea what she saw on my face that compelled her to help me.
When I saw her later at the top of Vernal Falls sitting in the sun beneath a tree, her legs were outstretched on the rock in front of her as she tousled her son’s hair with one hand and ate an apple with the hand that she had held mine with an hour before. I know I would have made it up the mountain trail without her, but I’m glad I didn’t have to.