Half Dome – The Ultimate Day Hike
- Name: Half Dome – Cables Route
- Location: Yosemite Valley
- Summit elevation: 2695m (8,842 feet)
- Elevation Change: 1600m from Yosemite Valley
- Round-trip distance from trailhead: 7 – 26.5km via Mist Trail or John Muri Trail (We took mist trail up and returned on the JMT approx. 23.6km)
- Round-trip time from trailhead: 10hrs 30mins
- Difficulty: Very Hard
- Water on trail: Yes
- Trailhead facilities: Free Parking
- Date: 7th August 2014
- Team: Christel
Half Dome is a granite dome at the eastern end of Yosemite Valley in the Yosemite National Park, California. It is a well know rock formation in the park, named for its distinct shape. One side is sheer face while the other three sides are smooth and round, making it appear like a dome cut in half. The granite crest rises more then 1444m above the valley floor.
GETTING TO HALF DOME
- Region: Yosemite National Park (High Sierra)
- Trailhead Parking: Yes
- Trailhead Coordinates: 732178, -119.558036
- Summit Coordinates:
The trailhead is at the east end of Yosemite Valley, to which almost all roads in Yosemite lead. From 140, just stay on the road until you’re in Yosemite Valley; from the north (Big Oak Flat) entrance, do the same; from the Tioga Road, go west until it terminates at Big Oak Flat Road, then turn left and follow Big Oak Flat Road to the valley; from the south entrance, take highway 41 (which you’re already on) all the way to the valley.
Once you’ve reached Yosemite Valley, keep an eye out for signs to Curry Village and head in their general direction. Once you’ve reached the Curry Village vicinity of the valley, you should start spotting signs for trailhead parking. Follow them to the trailhead lot or park at Curry Village.
Your closest option is the trailhead parking lot. It’s just past Curry Village, on a road that’s marked “Service Vehicles Only”. However, your private car is apparently allowed to enter this road to perform the service of getting you to the trailhead parking lot. The trailhead lot has a few dozen bear-proof storage lockers in which you can store all the scented stuff you don’t want to haul up the trail with you.
If the trailhead lot is full, you can park at Curry Village, which you’ll find near the east end of Southside Drive. As you head east into Yosemite Valley, you’ll find road signs pointing the way.
For most Yosemite Valley hikes, you can park in any lot and catch a free shuttle bus to the trailhead. If you’re planning a dawn start for Half Dome, though, as most day hikers do, that won’t work, because the buses don’t start running until 7 a.m.
We were staying at Curry Village, so we choose to park there and just walk the extra 1.5km to trailhead as we set off before the free bus at about 4am.
At Happy Isles (including plumbing), just across the river from the trailhead; at the bridge below Vernal Fall (also with plumbing); near the Emerald Pool above Vernal Fall (outhouse style); above Nevada Fall (outhouse); and at Little Yosemite Valley campground (requires a short detour from the trail).
There is fresh water 1.5km into the hike at Vernal Fall Footbridge, however for next 9.6km along the trail there is no potable water. You can however filter water from the Merced River. At the time of doing this hike I didn’t carry a water filter, but we did however start out fully hydrated and carried 7 L of water each. It wasn’t a very hot summers day, but we did run short of water maybe 2km away from this water supply on our decent. This was not an issue as we were fully aware of the water source and its location.
However, for all hikes more than 10 km, I now learnt for this mistake and always carry my sawyer mini water filter. I grabbed mine from Aussie Storm Shop for about $40. AUD.
Here is some footage about Hiking Half Dome, this is the official park services video, you can see the cable route from about 5:40 mark.
Hiking in Yosemite has been on my to do list for a very long time, ever since seeing my first “Reel Rock” Rockclimbing videos. For maybe 10 years I’ve told myself I will go here when I make it to America, in the summer of 2014, Myself and my now wife Christel, stopped into Yosemite National Park for a quick 2 days during our road trip from LA to San Fran.
Hiking Half Dome takes lots of preparation especially for tourist like us who are travelling across America on a 5 wk holiday, we had to pack ultra-light and account for all possibility as the weather can change and you could stuck on the trail. I will go through a detailed post about my gear in my next update.
I will also post a link to all the great websites I read through to get as much information about this hike before I went out.
The first thing you will need before you can attempt this summit legally is a permit. There is a permit system due to the safety risks involved with climbing the cables. We applied for our permit back in January nearly 8mths prior to starting the climb. The permits are issued in March of each year approximately 225 per day. For more information please check out the National Recreation Reservation Service. I applied for the permit lottery in both mine and Christel’s name for the same 2 days just to increase our chances of getting one. This wasn’t really an issue as we were hiking on a weekday however it was the busy season being August. Once I found out we got one we preceded to pay the remaining fee. I think it cost about $4.5 for the lottery then an additional $8 for the permit if successful. There are extra 50 permits awarded two days before each hike day by Park Services.
If you are unsuccessful in getting one of these 2 permits there is another option this is called a wilderness permit and it allows you to camp for more than 2 days and also allows you to climb the cable route. The last options is to Rock Climb up one of the many routes up the face of half dome, thus only needing to descend the cables this is the only legal option where a permit is not required.
We started our hike from Curry Village at approximately 4 am, after eating a quick breakfast, we packed up our camp and checked out. Leaving everything we didn’t need for our hike in the Bear Lockers near the Curry Village reservation office. We headed off on the trail in the dark using our headlamps, once there our plan was to walk up the mist trail past both Nevada Falls and Vernal Falls. The last few hundred meters of the ascent of Vernal Falls cuts into the cliff side this hike alone is very strenuous and we are only 2.4 km into the hike. These waterfalls fall a combined 270 m to the valley floor below.
We were making good time up the trail as it was still nice and cool and sun was just coming up, at the top of Vernal Falls we took our first break. We met a lovely gentleman who has climbed half like every summer for past 30 years I think, he takes a small group of 5 up every year.
After our short break we then traverse across the flat Little Yosemite Valley before taking the gradual climb through the forest to the subdome and then onto the cables. This next part was pretty good but it was very sandy this lead to me getting some pretty bad blisters on way back down. I was prepared for this, I had spare socks and liners and moleskin for my blisters. The ranger wasn’t at the start of subdome to check off our permits as we got there early in morning we figured they would be waiting on our descent.
After making up to subdome via a series of switchbacks which nearly killed me and Christel, my knees were starting to feel this. It was at this point Christel didn’t want to attempt the cables, as the elevation was starting to get her. They say climbing those switchbacks to the top of subdome is actually harder and more intense than the next part the Cables. I was very proud of Christel of making this far and anyhow she was at the bottom with her DSLR to capture my ascent. I was very happy that we left on time as we were at the cables before most. The only people who really beat us there were those that were camping at Little Yosemite Valley Camping Ground.
The Summit, aka the CABLES. I didn’t really see this problem with these, I’ve read many a review saying they are very difficult and time consuming however, I was prepared for this part of the hike, I quickly threw on my Outdoor Research leather gloves pictured in my gear photo and got to the cables, I was up as fast as I could, I think I had to wait for maybe 1 or 2 people who were a bit scared and descending however where I could and I did, I went on the up just one cable, I think I got to the top in about 15 min. Upon finishing this I should have worn my harness and via ferrata lanyard so I could safely ascend and descend on the outside of the cables. I did carry this all the way here so Christel could feel safer on the cables, but she ended up sitting this one out and taking a well-deserved rest. How else could we get these awesome pictures.
When you are ready to head down, make your way back down the chains. You can face out from the rock now, and take in more of the view, but it is helpful to walk backward down the steep sections. Expect the descent to be a bit more challenging than the way up. At the bottom of the chains, return down the switchbacks, through the forest, and down the river past the falls to the trailhead.
The descent was much the same as the ascent however once at Verna Falls we took the John Muir Trail, while this added about 2km to our route, we thought it would be nicer to see the trail and awesome scenery from a different angle. There is alot of switch backs this way however as its designed for the mulls to pack gear upto all the ranger outposts. That’s Half Dome and Sub-Dome in the distant behind Liberty Cap and Mount Broderick. I think we still have about 6 km to trailhead to go. We were very lucky with the weather, I think we got a small rain storm just after this photo was taken, but that is standard in Yosemite.
At the Trail Head sign, we made it, well we thought we did, we forgot we still had about 1.5km to go to the carpark ☹
We took so many photos as I will never forget this day, hope you enjoyed it as much as we did and if you have any questions regarding this walk, please ask me in the comments below.Continue reading