Beating the Odds
by Willis Allen
February 09, 2023

I feel like I beat the odds when I hiked the Mist Trail up Vernal and Nevada Falls in Yosemite National Park May 20, 2022.

The odds?

I figured the odds were against me because of my age – 86. I had had a total right hip replacement in October 2020. And I had not done a hike as hard as the Mist Trail in a very long time.

The Mist Trail in Yosemite is very popular with hikers and can be super-crowded. So I picked May 20 because it was before Memorial Day and less likely to be crammed with other hikers. I also knew I would hike slower than most others and I wanted to take my time, pacing myself so I could keep moving steadily without taking long rests. And I didn’t want to get discouraged because I felt I wasn’t keeping up.

I made the decision to do the Mist hike in May of 2021. The reason I wanted to do it was because I wanted to see if I could complete a really “hard” hike at my age, and, what I was capable of post hip replacement surgery. During a year-long preparation I constantly wondered, “Am I doing enough in the way of practice hikes? Am I underestimating how hard it will be?” I had done the hike several times before. But the last time I was 61. Twenty-five years ago! There was a lot I didn’t know this time around. Would my body stand up to it? Could I do this at 86?

It turned out the hike was harder than I remembered, especially the top of Vernal to the top of Nevada. I was tired and it seemed endless. I was fully exposed to the sun most of the time, hiking with sheer rock walls on one side and sheer drop-offs on the other. I kept saying to myself, “If you get tired, just rest when you need to and you can do it.” The mantra worked. I stopped numerous times and each time I just kept saying to myself, “You can do this!”

Along the trail, people would stop me and ask how old I was. When I told one fellow I was 86, he was taken aback. “WOW!” he said. “I’m 76 and I figured this was my last time doing this hike. I guess it doesn’t have to be. You’ve given me something to shoot for.”

I learned from this adventure that if I set my mind to something, I can do it. If I had not succeeded this time, I would have learned what I needed/wanted to do differently, then practiced more, and hit the trail again. When I was in the middle of the hike at the top of Nevada Falls with another four miles down the John Muir trail ahead, I thought, “I’ve gone this far, I can finish it.” And I did!

I believe my state of mind played a key part in doing it. First, it was my curiosity to see what I could do at this age and post hip replacement. Second, thinking positively that I could do it and doing whatever it took to do it.

I was on my feet moving for a total of 8.5 hours walking from the remote trailhead parking lot and starting up the trail at 8 am. I hiked a total of 7 hours and returned to the parking lot at 4:30 pm. According to my Apple watch, I covered a total of 10.5 miles.  I was exhausted, my feet hurt, but I was exhilarated. At the end there were high fives with my wife, Joanie, who was right there with me scheduling all our practice hikes, making sure we practiced regularly, and sticking with me throughout the actual hike. Yes, my wife of nearly 50 years shared this adventure as she has so many, including hiking in most of the national parks. It helped immensely to have her as my partner throughout the year of practicing and then the actual accomplishment of what I had set out to do.

What has changed for me as a result of this adventure? I have renewed confidence about doing “hard” hikes. The hike we did is rated as “strenuous.” Believe me, it is. I am also confident that if I really put my mind to something, I can do it and “beat the odds.”

Willis & Joan Hiking to top of Nevada Falls

Willis & Joan Hiking to top of Nevada Falls

Willis Allen
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1 Comment

  1. Diane Rennell

    I love your story! Great, work and inspirational.


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