Hiking Half Dome

Hiking Half Dome – September 6, 2014

Fun facts about Half Dome:
Elevation: 2,695m
Elevation gain from Yosemite Valley: 1,600m
Our total hiking time: 14 hours (as a large group)
Roundtrip distance via the Mist Trail: 22.7km
Hardness rating (by Natasha): 10/10

Some friends invited us to come hike Half Dome with them. We were super excited because we had wanted to hike Half Dome but did not get permits at the start of the season (there is a lot of competition for these permits, which are handed out once a year in a lottery during the spring). We camped at the Hodgdon Meadows campground on Friday night and woke up the next morning at 4:20 am so we could make it to the trail around sunrise (we were in a group of 12 so things moved more slowly, and our campground was ~45 min away from the trail). We started hiking just before sunrise.

The trail to half dome starts out the same as the one for Vernal Falls and Nevada Falls. Below is a photo of Vernal Falls from the Mist Trail.

Since it was summer, the mist trail was open. It passes right next to Vernal Falls and is a gigantic, steep, never-ending staircase. It was brutal, but way faster than the longer trail Dmitriy and I hiked on a previous trip to get to the Falls.

I think in this photo Dmitriy was debating with somebody else whether a particular mountain was the back of Half Dome.

After passing Nevada Falls you get onto the John Muir Trail, and pass by Yosemite Meadows. On the day we were hiking, there were two controlled burns going on nearby and the trail was covered in smoke. The smoke made everything look sort of surreal.

At this point we were getting near to the campgrounds that are half way between the Valley and the peak.

We saw a rattlesnake! We didn’t know what it was at the time, but we thought it looked kind of mean because of the shape of its head. Later we looked it up and it turns out the only species of rattlesnake in Yosemite is the Northern Pacific Rattlesnake.

Here are a couple more photos from the trail:

A gigantic tree

Pretty soon we were feeling really tired (the first several miles are non-stop stairs, followed by steep inclining mountain). We stopped for snacks and water on a big log with a nice view. It was very sunny and serene.

Here was our first glimpse of Half Dome (from the front-ish). By this point I was extremely tired.

After clearing the tree line, we stopped for a lunch break. Dmitriy and I wandered around a bit, taking in the view. We were very excited (and slightly impatient) to get to the cables.

Once you clear the tree line, there is a mini-hill you need to summit before reaching the base of the dome, where the cables begin. There are stairs cut into the hill, which are, again, very steep. Here is a photo of Half Dome I took on a previous trip, with the red arrow showing the mini-hill:

Here is what it looked like. There were switch backs going all the way up, but it was still quite steep.

This tree was growing straight out of a solid rock face. Its trunk was all twisty.

Shortly after summiting the mini-hill, a ranger came and ask for our permits. He was pretty laid back about it, and was understanding that our group had gotten spread out and we didn’t actually have them on us. We told him the name that our permits were under, and he let us continue on. Yosemite only recently instated mandatory permits for the cables. They used to let everybody go, but apparently the cables were jam-packed and there was often a 1hr+ waiting ling at the base of the dome to get onto the cables. Now they allow 400 people to ascend per day, and permits are required 7 days/week.

We brought gloves for the cables, which I am really happy about. My gloves got really beat up (especially on the way down) and I’m sure it would have really hurt bare-handed. Plus if you got sweaty during the ascent, which you very likely would, it would be bad news. I could not believe how intense the cables were - I was expecting a gentle-ish slope, but it was really steep and you had to use some serious upper-body strength to haul yourself up the cables. Nobody in our group brought a harness. At one point during the ascent, somebody dropped a ball of crunched up paper and it rolled down the mountain, picking up speed,  and it was really scary. There is 400ft of cables to get up.

We made it! Us at the top of Half Dome, with Yosemite Valley in the background:

The following photos are of the highest point on Half Dome (or there a bouts)

Here is Dmitriy looking out over Yosemite Meadows. You can see one of the controlled burns that were happening that day. At one point the fire got so big we saw some flames popping up over the level of the trees. Apparently you can tell if it is a controlled burn vs a wildfire by the colour of the smoke. White smoke means it is controlled, brown/black smoke means it is a wildfire. I think this has to do with the amount of material available to burn and the resultant heat of the fire. From what I gather, controlled burns have limited amount of material and do not burn as hot, and most of the smoke is made of water vapour. Wildfires have unlimited amounts of material to burn and get extremely hot, to the point where they start burning hydrocarbons in coal that remains from burned trees. The hydrocarbons burn brown/black. For a comparison, you can look at photos of the Meadows fire that happened the day after we hiked Half Dome.

Right on the edge of Half Dome

Chris took a super cool photo of us.

This is what it looks like starring right down at the Valley from over the ledge. I can’t believe people base jump off this!

Last photo from the trip! Here is Dmitriy waiting to descend on the cables. There was some kind of hold-up while we were on the cables, so were stuck on them for quite a while and I took a couple photos. I really like this one!

At the base of the cables, there is a huge hidden stash of old gloves people have used and left for anybody who forgets theirs or just doesn’t bring a pair. I left mine there when I got back down. When we got to the bottom, we watched people climb while waiting for the rest of our group to get down. A lot of people get really nervous (unsurprisingly). There was one girl going up who spent the entire time yelling at her Dad because she wanted to go back down and he wouldn’t let her, and another lady just sat down on a wooden bar and stayed there for the longest time, apparently because she just couldn’t decide if she should continue up or come back down. I can’t imagine giving up after getting so close, but in the end she decided to come back down. We also talked to a guy who told us that the metal poles are only imbedded into the rock by 5 inches. They are a bit loose and move around when you put weight on the cables.

Once everybody got off the cables we headed back down the trail and it went pretty fast. We started the hike at 5:30am and got back to our cars by 7:30pm. It is really cool being able to look at photos of Half Dome and be like “I was there!”