Hiking Yosemite’s Half Dome

“If my mother knew what I was doing right now, she wouldn’t like it!” my friend Nigel said as we both stepped up the first rung of the Half Dome cables. “Mine neither,” I replied (sorry Mom!). “I can’t believe they let anyone do this!”

With only the morning’s dim glow lighting my path, I started up the trail to the summit of Half Dome in the Yosemite Valley. Seventeen miles, 3,800 feet of elevation and a cable ladder was all that stood between me and completing my third of 10 hikes in 10 years.

The hike started out gradual as it weaved through the lower forest to Vernal Falls, where the water tumbled from the granite cliff like a magical water-slide (but not one I’d be willing to test).

Vernal FallsThen it continued to climb upward following a series of serious stone steps from Vernal Falls to Nevada Falls. Two of the few falls in Yosemite Valley where the water continuously flows year round, the waterfalls filled the air with a cool, refreshing mist that added a little curl to my hair.

After the falls, the trail slowly turned to sand and gradually inched its way up the mountain side. A little over half way up, we got our first peak at the jagged, curved dome.

Half DomeFalling away, the trees started to thin as the trail became a rocky maze. With no cover from the California heat, the sun beat down on our already tired and hot shoulders as we started up the 1,000+ foot climb to the sub-dome.

As we came up and over the sub-dome, the cables stared me straight in the face and sent my heart racing. “Is this safe,” my mind repeated over and over. My hands became sweaty and that coffee-like induced jittery fear and doubt settled into the pit of my stomach as I watched the ant-sized hikers make the assent and decent of the granite monolith.

Half Dome and cables

Yet, I refused to let this ladder stop me. I belted my backpack, pulled on my gloves and sent my friend up first. Focusing on his steps (instead of the long fall down), I began the almost vertical trek up Half Dome with nervous laughter and jokes.

By half way up the dome my hands and arms burned. But my fear also started to subside and – the true form of the word – the awesome beauty filled that previously dark pit.

Rounding the last layered rock plank, I looked up and over the Yosemite Valley. Trees, smoke from the Rim Fire and gray granite filled the horizon. The sun reflected down into the depths of the valley floor from where we came and filled it with deep blue and green shadows. Half Dome’s rock top stretched for what felt like a mile, barren and solid as a testament to the power and transform of the earth.

A summit for summiters, Half Dome didn’t disappoint. Standing at its peak, the mountain left that always-amazing feeling of being small.

Check out more photos from my weekend climb up Half Dome and weekend in Yosemite:

NOTE: A permit is required to hike the Half Dome cables. Apply for one here. I also don’t recommend anyone under the age of 18 attempting this hike. Make sure to bring gloves and shoes with good grip and lots of water and food.

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5 thoughts on “Hiking Yosemite’s Half Dome

  1. This is something I would love to do! I suggested it to a friend, who said “We have places just as crowded as Half Dome without having to leave the state.” 😮 On that note, do the people coming down share that ladder, or do they go down the less steep side? (Or just rappel?)

    1. I had heard that the Half Dome climb is very busy as well, but was happily surprised how quiet it was! You definitely encounter other climbers, but besides the ropes, they don’t slow you down.

      With the ropes you definitely had to take it slow because of other climbers and on the way down & up for that matter you have to pass people. There is only one way up and down the side of the cliff! Well…unless you are crazy and abseil or rock climb.

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