Domeward Bound

I loved my time at Chapman and representing our school on the track and cross country teams. I was challenged to help the team to victory and to set personal and school records. However, one of my biggest physical challenges came much later, when I attempted to hike to the top of Half Dome in Yosemite during my 80th year.

So, you might ask, how did this come about? Well, I started running again in my 40s when organized fun runs became popular. But a calf injury made running difficult, so hiking became my passion. Getting on a trail was my new high. I hiked some in Yosemite, including the 18 miles and 5,000-foot elevation gain of Half Dome. Then in my 50s I made a brazen, offhand commitment to hike Half Dome when I was 80.

Marvin Gross ’58 (right) and Dick Chimenti (left) at Half Dome.

At age 67 I recalled this commitment and wondered if I could really do it. I called my nephew, Dick Chimenti, an active distance runner, to ask if he would do the hike with me so we could see how it would go. It was much harder than I remembered, and I said to Dick, “I don’t see how I could possibly do this at 80 unless I train for it and do it every year.” He readily agreed to join this challenge.

We did the hike each year until I was 75, after which I missed four years with various physical challenges. As my 80th birthday approached a year ago, I knew this would be my last chance. Though my birthday is in October, Dick and I set Sept. 26 as the date for the hike so the cables that aid hikers during the final ascent would still be in place.

We started hiking at 6:30 a.m. from Housekeeping Camp, heading to the trailhead at Happy Isles. I was moving well until things got tougher at the Sub Dome ascent, a long and particularly steep set of switchbacks blasted out of granite. Cresting this stretch, I felt physically tired, but we prepared for the next big challenge – getting up the slick-granite climb to the summit. I took it slowly, with Dick right behind me. My goal was in range, and I realized that with patience and persistence I could make it.

On reaching the top, I was exhilarated as I took in the panoramic grandeur. While on this high, I felt relief that I had met my long-sought goal, but there was also a slightly empty feeling, knowing that this compelling challenge was no more.

The trip back to the valley was another challenge. By the time Dick and I finished, we needed our headlamps to light the trail. My sweetheart, Myra Wapner, had done her own hike earlier in the day, and it was great to see her waiting for me at the Vernal Fall footbridge.

I know there will be new trails and new challenges ahead, but this was a moment to savor.

Marvin Gross ’58, a Chapman Athletic Hall of Famer, lives in San Luis Obispo, where he and Wapner have resumed their busy schedule, including hikes and weekly ballroom dancing. Next on the bucket list is an August trip to Machu Picchu and the Galapagos Islands.

Following are photos from Gross’ final ascent of Half Dome: 


Marvin Gross ’58 heads towards his final ascent of Half Dome. “I realized that with patience and persistence I could make it,” he says.
Marvin Gross ’58 at the top of Half Dome
The view from Half Dome into the valley.

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