On May 29th, 2014, a group of us set out on the adventure and experience of a lifetime. All to make sure an 8-year old boy with Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy could make memories that will last a lifetime. I’m pretty sure we were all more moved than he was as we understood the enormity of what we accomplished.
Let me digress and start at the beginning of this adventure. After finding out Peyton had DMD we started creating his bucket list. A few items were added by us as we have more life experience. My husband added Half-Dome. I added Eiffel Tower…you can see how we differ in our choices.
I give Ethan all the glory on this one. He researched everything that we would need to accomplish this goal. When we were awarded the permits to hike on the 29th I tried to talk both of them out of it. Peyton really and truly wanted to go to the top. So I relented and started training. As much training as you can do in 2 weeks. I needed about 2 more months.
Ethan assembled a team to help us. Really, everyone who joined us didn’t need any convincing, they were more than willing to help but more than that, WANTED to be there with us. Our team consisted of Ethan, myself, our 10-year old son Logan (that is an entirely different story but he deserves Big Brother of the year), Ethan’s BFF from high school Jesse and his daughter Coco, Ethan’s partners John, Jeff, Jim & Mike and John’s wife Lindsay. Not part of the hike, but part of our success were Phillip who watched John & Lindsay’s kids back at camp and Julie who watched our other son Bear back at home. Those jobs were not easy either but knowing our kids were safe and happy allowed us to focus on our goal. Jim and Mike came up to see us off and help get us settled at night and packed in the morning. That was super helpful and provided comic relief
We arrived in Yosemite Wednesday evening in time to check in to our lovely tent cabin, carbo load on some pizza and get to bed. We woke up at 5:30am to be ready to begin our hike at 6am. We finally left Curry Village around 6:20am. We didn’t see Curry Village again until 8pm. In between was some of the most breathtaking scenery, exhilarating moments and intense pain. We hiked over 17 miles gaining in elevation over 5,000 feet. The hike was brutiful.
Peyton was carried the entire time in a back pack that could accommodate his weight. We were up against the clock on this as once he hits 60lbs he can no longer be carried in the back pack. This was our one chance. Each person, except for Logan, Coco and myself, took turns carrying Peyton to the base of half dome.
At one point Logan and I were separated from the group. We had been climbing for hours and still had a couple to go. Logan was fading. He told me the air was getting thin and he felt like he was going to pass out. I told him to stay with me and fed him fruit snacks and water. We walked slow and stopped a lot. We talked to people along the way that were passing us on the way up and down. I asked a group coming down if they had seen a man carrying a baby on his back. Logan corrected me and said he isn’t a baby. (He’s my baby!) They said they were about 25 to 30 minutes ahead. I was pretty sure we were never catching up. Then another group passed us about 15 minutes later and said they had a message for me. My group was at the bottom of sub dome. They left them 15 minutes ago and they might still be there.
When we finally came around the corner at the base of the sub dome and saw our group, it was like a vision. I couldn’t believe we caught up. Logan seemed to get his second wind as we climbed the sub dome. This part was a little harrowing as it’s granite “steps” that are jagged, tiny, tall and winding without any railings. John had Peyton on his back but the others were holding the backpack from behind to keep him steady or guiding from the front. We had put Peyton’s helmet on during our hike up the falls in case anyone slipped. Have to protect our little man! As we were getting close to the top John told Peyton that he was happy to carry him and he was worth it, then Lindsay told Peyton he was more than worth it. I almost lost it. Tears were gathering on the backs of my glasses. Our friends took time away from work and their own families to carry our child on the grueling trail, never complaining once. They provided us the support, strength and humor needed to complete the challenge. We will be forever grateful.
Once at the top of sub dome the only thing left to do was climb the 400ft cable to the top. Ethan was back on deck to carry his son to the top. This was really their journey. A Dad who loves his children so much, he would literally climb to the top of a mountain for any one of them. As we were preparing the gear to get Peyton up the mountain, Logan decided to stay behind. He actually has a fear of heights. I still don’t know where that comes from but he does and he was very freaked out. We didn’t push him. We were so proud of how far he had come. Making him do something that is dangerous for adults didn’t seem like a good plan for an already scared child. Once I was on the cables, I knew we made a good choice. I was terrified.
Ethan and his friends made the climb look easy even though it was incredibly difficult. Peyton was strapped into the backpack tightly so he couldn’t slip out. Ethan had on a harness with ropes and carabiners attached. He was then attached to both John and Jeff who went ahead of him. They were there to help steady him and even pull a little if needed. Jesse was behind him and helped steady from behind. He was critical to the success as Ethan was unable to really move the carabiners as they climbed and Jesse was moving them for him. Ethan was concentrating on holding on.
Coco and Lindsay went up before all of us and I brought up the rear. The people way ahead of us kept stopping which made us have to stop. This is where it’s really terrifying. Hanging onto cables on a steep, steep, slippery hill. I was completely freaked out but held it together. I looked around once, got vertigo and didn’t do that again. Kept my head down and pulled myself up until I got to the top. Had the people in front of us not stopped so much we would have made it in 15-20 minutes instead of the 30 it took.
Watching Ethan and our son make their way up was completely nerve-racking. It took so much strength, courage and control to make it up and down. I know Ethan would NEVER put our kids in danger and would do anything possible to keep them safe. He thought all this through from start to finish. I knew if anyone would make it safely it was him. Still, these are 2 people I love, one I gave birth to. I held my breath a little on the ascent and descent.
Once we got to the top we let Peyton run around. He was so excited. I am pretty sure he is the only child ever with DMD to walk on the top of Half Dome. It’s an impossibility for most and yet there he was. Smiling so big, making snow angels in the patch of snow left over from winter. These are moments I will treasure forever. I am pretty sure no on will ever forget what we did and the exhilaration we felt getting not just him but ourselves to the top. When Ethan and I took a moment to soak in the moment, it was his turn to get a little emotional. We did it.
Now we just had to get down. Although people were saying how easy the down was compared to the up, I did not find that to be true. I held on with a death grip as not to tumble-down the mountain and off into an abyss. The boys switched their order and did the same maneuver on the way down. Peyton smiling the entire time.
We all felt incredible until we had to endure another 4 hours of walking down the hill. Everything hurt. By the time we arrived back at camp it was getting dark. We were all exhausted and hungry. Logan was delirious. He could barely eat and fell asleep in the car within 2 minutes. We were so proud of him. That is a major accomplishment for a child and he made it. Some of our friends are in great shape and even they agreed this was the most difficult thing they have ever done. I am actually glad I was so naive to the what to expect. Knowing what I know now I do not think I will ever do it again. Someone told me that I can now cross off my bucket list. I said I will add it to my bucket list then cross off.
I am so thrilled for Peyton. Someday he will understand how special he is that people came together to make this dream a reality. Logan learned a lesson in humanity. He also knows how strong he really is now. He needed that confidence.
Ethan was a true leader. Jesse, Jeff, John, Lindsay and Coco will forever hold a special place in my heart. I can never repay them for what they did. My body may never forgive me for what I did.