I’ve wanted to hike/climb Half Dome in Yosemite for many years. I trained a few years back but due to bad weather was unable to complete the 8 mile hike up. I tried getting the require permit the last couple years but it’s a lottery system to obtain permits and I was never lucky enough until this year. They require permits now for safety reasons so not too many people are going up the cables at the same time. Me and a couple friends headed up to Yosemite Thursday evening excited to complete the hike on Friday.
We stayed at Curry Village which is about 1 mile from the trailhead. We got to bed early since we planned to wake up at 5 and start the walk through the dark to the trailhead by 5:30am. It was about 35 degrees when we woke up, strapped on our headlamps and headed to the trailhead- we had bear spray in hand just in case ;) The sun rose quickly after and we ran into some other people who were starting the long hike up at the same time. Video #1
Stats: 16 miles round trip from the trailhead. 4800 foot elevation gain (Mt. Diablo is only 3,848). Last 400 feet to the summit is done by holding onto cables to assist the climber up the dome. Average completion time is 10-12 hours.
We started off at a slow steady pace as we began the hike that is immediately up hill. Only two of us were going the whole way up, the other two in our hiking party were going to the 4 mile mark about at the top of Nevada Falls. As we passed both Vernal and Nevada falls we were excited to see they had some water still due to some rain a week before- they are normally dry this time of year. The Mist Trail is one of the most beautiful hikes as it meanders along the falls up large rock stairs most of the way. Our friends were lucky enough to see a bear on their way down the trail later that day- it walked right pass them on the stairs! Unfortunately my new Nalgene water pack had a leak and by the top of Nevada Falls, my whole butt, lower back and back of my legs were drenched :( Luckily my friend who wasn’t hiking the whole way up had an extra pair of spandex pants under her pants so she lent them to me for the rest of the day- I was then fully dressed in neon! Lesson 1- always test out new gear before your trip! I was able to empty most of the water from the 96oz. pack into other peoples empty water bottles so I didn’t lose too much water in the end.
Items in my hiking pack: 160 oz. of water, trekking poles that I rented, rope, hat, head lamp, 6 different energy bars, 2 sodium chew packs, trail mix, a big deli sandwich, 2 boiled eggs, 2 pop tarts, homemade beef jerky, small camera, first aid kit, foot aid kit, sweatshirt, hiking permit and ID, chapstick, sunscreen, 2 pairs of gloves for the cables, sun glasses, kleenex, bear spray, knife, phone.
After putting on my new pants at the last bathroom on the way up (at Nevada Falls), we parted from our friends who headed back down. The next 2 miles was fairly flat and easy which was nice after having just gone up almost 4 miles of stairs! We stopped to eat often and as we got higher it was harder to catch your breath so we slowed it down even more and stopped more often. I felt like I couldn’t eat enough- I didn’t feel hungry but your energy level really staggers and makes you feel almost faint. The last 2 miles before the climb up towards the dome was tough because your body is just so drained and the air was very thin up there. I was surprised though that nothing really hurt the whole way up… the hike up was easier than I thought it would be on my body. I rented trekking poles at Sports Basement and it was SO worth it- it made a huge difference on my knees and legs. Video #2 (a mile to go!) , Video #3 (right around the corner from the last video- I took a bathroom break here- pretty sure I will never again have such an amazing view while peeing;)
When you approach the dome in the end you see about 1/2 mile of stairs you must climb before reaching the cables. These rocks are super scary because if you trip and fall there is nothing to hold on to and you are right on the edge- it’s terrifying! And the whole time people are coming down and up these narrow stairs at the same time so you must squeeze past each other. It took me a while to climb the stairs because I couldn’t catch my breath. When we reached the top we could see the cables clearly for the first time– and at that moment I was just happy to have come this far and didn’t even want to do the cables- I thought you had to be out of your mind to do those! We took a long break and chatted with all the people getting ready to head up and all the people who had just come down- people were giving advise on how to do the climb and someone even gave me a better pair of gloves to climb the cables with. I still wasn’t convinced that I was going to do them but my friend talked me through it so I thought I’d at least give the first few steps a shot. There was no ranger that day so a permit wasn’t even required which made a lot of people who didn’t have them happy but also made the cables a little crowded. We started up and it was SO scary! I was pretty shaky but the women in front of me offered encouraging words the whole way up since they knew how scared I was. The dome is so steep that your hands are the only thing really holding you on via the cables. We left some items from our packs at the bottom to lighten our load but I tied my trekking poles to my pack and about half way up the first one fell off… bouncing down the cables and scaring everyone below before falling over the edge near the bottom. About 2/3rds of the way up the second one came lose and bounced once before flying over the edge into the valley below. It was TERRIFYING how fast they fell and was just so thankful it was the poles and not me! I was also very bummed because I really wanted the poles for the way down to save my knees! We finally made it to the top (around 1pm I think) and I was so scared I couldn’t really enjoy it like everyone else was… I was too worried about going back down the cables which looked even scarier! We hung out on top for maybe 20 minutes, taking in the view, taking photos, chatting with people and eating before we thought we should head down so we could make it back before dark.
Everyone told us we should descend the cables facing backwards so we could use our arms to lower us down and so our center of gravity is lower- that worked for me since going backwards we could just look at the ground the whole time- not the 4800 foot drop in front of us! And that’s what I did- looked down at my feet and nothing else! Since it was later in the day we didn’t have to pass too many people on the cables which is a scary experience in itself. My friend and I descended with another man who was equally scared and we all talked ourselves through it… slow and steady… one step at a time. You really need the best gloves possible because they are what is holding you to those cables. My feet were so shaky when I stood still on each step. We made it down and I could finally kind of breathe again- although I still wasn’t looking forward to going down all those stairs on the cliff next! We packed up our stuff and ate a little, offered some words of advice to those who were about to make the climb and then headed down the rock stairs slowly with our new friend. When we reached solid ground again I was SO happy!
Next I found us some new natural hiking sticks so we wouldn’t kills our knees on the way down. We hauled down that trail so fast after that- it felt great! We made it back down to Nevada falls in a little over an hour and then took a long break there (near the bathroom!) before going down the 4 miles of stairs that is the Mist Trail. We passed many campers who were headed up to camp at the Backpackers Camp a mile pass Nevada Falls- a lot of people split the hike up between two days. We were finally starting to get pretty worn out so ate a ton of energy packed snacks and drinks that my friend brought along (like EcoDrink and Energy Gu). The last 4 miles of stairs took their toll on our knees and feet. I felt some blisters forming on the back of my heals but was happy my feet last as long as they did feeling good. We made it back to the ground floor so fast compared to the way up. Going up took about 7.5 hours (since we took it slow in the beginning with our friends) and the way down took about 3.5 hours.
We were SO tired that last hour we looked like zombies I’m sure! We did our zombie walk right in to the cafe to meet our friends and then scarfed down probably a 2000 calorie dinner of meatloaf, cauliflower and pasta- oh and a giant bottle of coconut water and some wine ;) We ate fast and rehashed the story of our journey before crashing into bed!
The next day I woke up sore but felt so accomplished! I conquered a major fear of heights, the longest hike I’ve ever been on and a dream come true! I was proud of all of us for making it happen! In the end we ate almost all the food we brought on the hike (items left: half of the sandwich, most of the trailmix, 2 pop tarts and a tiny bit of water). We didn’t need to use the foot or first aids packs thankfully although I gave a girl on the trail some moleskin for her feet. Lessons learned- test gear before your trip, bring extra clothes, they recommend 1 gallon of water which was enough for us but it was only about 65 degrees- if it was any hotter you will need a lot more water or a water filter to use at Nevada Falls to refill.
The people we met along the way were awesome! You are pretty much hiking along with the same groups the whole way up so you all get to know each other. Everyone was so encouraging to one another and offered help or supplies when others needed it- it was so great to see that kind of support and community among strangers. We did meet some people who had climbed the face and other sides of Half Dome that were then coming down the cables with us- I was truly amazed by these people. We also had a guy run past us at 5:45 am on the valley floor who then passed us again around 11am- he ran all the way to the top and back down and we still had about 3 miles to go on the way up- amazing! One stupid guy I saw was pretty much running down the outside of the cables- risking his life and others as he flew by- I yelled at him ;) We met people who had been backpacking for 11 days too! Two other men we met had started the hike at 2am and were the only people up on the dome when the sun rose that morning! We met awesome folks from all over US- people just like us, looking for an adventure and enjoying time out in this breathtaking park. It was a pleasure the meet everyone and share the experience with them.
We did a nice driving tour of the valley floor yesterday taking some pictures and enjoying another stunning day at one of the most beautiful parks in the world and on our way out of the valley we saw all the damage the rim fire had done so far- 400+ square miles burned- it was incredible. What an amazing experience I will never forget- and as usual after leaving Yosemite I can’t wait to start planning my next trip back!