With a lot of doubt, I said ‘yes’ to my friends who invited me to hike the Half Dome.
Half Dome is located in Yosemite National Park, California. The half dome trail is about 14 – 16 miles round trip with a change in elevation of approximately 4800 feet. The last 400 feet requires a cable hike that helps the climber to reach the peak without climbing gear. With that much elevation above the Yosemite Valley, it sums up to a total of approximately 8800 feet above the sea level. Unlike a lot of other hiking trails, Half Dome trail requires a permit to hike the cable in order to reach the peak. The permit can be obtain from the official National Park Services website for the cost of $4.50 per entry to the lottery. Since it is a lottery based, it might be a good idea to submit each and every member of the group that plans to hike on that day for a better chance of winning. The cable is up from around May – October every year, and the pre-season lottery starts as early as March with the decision given out by April. Plan Ahead!!!!
Here is my journey hiking to the summit of Half Dome.
Among the 18 hikers in my group, I was the last person that agreed on hiking the Half Dome. Not that I did not want to do it, but honestly I thought that I would never reached the peak with the lack amount of training I had at that time. I did not have any proper training aside from being part of Insanity program for 6 months before this hike. Looking at my teammates, I was so afraid that I would be a stumbling block that slowed them down until I realized that we will hike in our own pace. Yeay!!!
We left our lodging before the sun actually rises. I woke up at 3AM to take shower before the hike and left the lodging by 3.30AM. We stayed in a lodging that is located 90 minutes away from Yosemite Valley where we started our hike (Not sure why they got this place. I am not planning the trip… remember, last member to join). It was a little past five and we arrived at the Curry Village to park our car and started walking to the head of the trail, which is approximately 0.75 miles. I still managed to capture a picture with a smile, unknowingly about what will happen next.
In order to reach the peak, there are two routes available: The Mist Trail (14 miles roundtrip) or The John Muir Trail (16.3 miles roundtrip). NO!!! Don’t get fooled by the number, the Mist Trail is shorter but steeper compare to the John Muir Trail. But anyhow, I wanted to see everything so I decided to start with the Mist Trail and come back with the John Muir Trail.
We started exactly at 6AM in the morning and everyone started to hike at their own pace. After the first 30 minutes, I noticed that I was actually the last person in the group. I was way behind them and I was losing my breath until I realized that I was too focus on chasing them that I missed the view. Finally i caught up to them on the first vista point where they were busy taking pictures. I skipped this one so I could go first knowing that they would passed me in no time.
It was true, some of them passed me and I was just there going with my own pace until I reached the Vernal Falls. I stopped here for pictures and taking a really quick break. Well this year, drought has been a big issue for California. Not much water but I could still notice the splash that caused some of the trail a little flooded. (Tips: this is the last place with water fountain, so fill up your bottle)
Another few hours of walking, climbing up stairs, and hiking before reaching the next waterfall – Nevada Falls. I managed to catch up with one member of my group, so we decided to walk in the same pace together (at least there is companion). At this time, there were some group-mates that were ahead of me and also behind me.
From Nevada Falls, a journey of another half mile took me to Little Yosemite Valley. This is the place where backpackers can camp if they have secured a spot for camping. The good news about this place is it is so flat which makes it very easy to walk after a tough 45 degree steep hike. Here I split with my buddy as he wanted to take more pictures. Throughout the journey, I rarely stopped because I did not want my heartbeat to slow down.
The flat path did not last that long and soon enough I reached another steep path with stairs. where I met another two of my buddies (who eventually went all the way with me to the summit). The good thing about this path was the shade from the trees. Not long after the steep path, we knew that we are reaching the subdome area. It was almost noon and we reached the checkpoint where the pass from the lottery is needed. Here we chilled down and relaxed waiting for our pass holder to arrive. To my surprise, there were a lot of people here asking for people whether they have extra permit or no. So if you really wanted to hike the Half Dome and did not get the pass, this might be an option (No guarantee though!). I saw some people actually have extra passes and willing to share them.
When the pass holder arrived, we quickly advanced through the checkpoint and the view was totally different. The subdome area mostly covered with white slippery rocks. To add more danger to it, the path is so small, steep, and rocky. This place is covered with 500 granite steps that is uneven. Seems like the paths are created from fallen rocks. The last 100 steps were miserable. There was no clear path for the hike, so we slowly navigated the best path to reach the base of the cable. To be very honest, this was the most challenging part for me throughout the hike.
By the time we reached the base of the cable, it was around 1 PM already. You can see that the cable was not as crowded as what I have read.
We did not stop for long in this area and started to move as soon as possible. The cable path is actually 400 feet long with two metal cables run on the side for handle. Around couple of feet away there are wooden planks placed for the shoes to grip i believe. I was about to give up in this place but my mind kept on questioning me when I will have a chance to hike this trail again. So yeah, right here at the exact spot of the picture above, I made up my mind to just go with it thinking what’s the worst thing that could happened.
I had my gloves ready and I started my first step into the cable path. Not bad at all, but as I climbed higher, I noticed some of the steepness is actually above 45 degree angle. To make thing worst, there were traffic going on because the path was shared by people from both directions. People were actually very supportive during my hike. Everyone was supporting each other. I noticed that the signal “Your Turn” and “My Turn” were very common during my hike. When the person from the opposite direction said “Your turn”, it actually means that my turn to climb to the next wooden plank, vice versa. When I was stopping, I tend to ‘hug’ the metal cable with my right arm as it is more dominant. At least to keep me safe from slipping. And so does the “Your Turn” and “My Turn” rhythm went on for approximately 30 minutes before I reached the peak. I let go of the cable grip and turned my head around. I was not feeling well in the first couple minutes, maybe due to the elevation difference. I shook my head trying to get my conscious back and I started to look around while whispering to myself “I made it to the top”. The view was just amazing.
From the summit, we could actually see El Capitan and Cloud Rest (I want to hike there someday. I heard it is higher elevation but easier than Half Dome). Of course, no one should ever missed the “Diving Board” or “the Visor” when you already reached the peak.
Since the peak is a large flat area, I took the time to walk around before going down. One last picture before leaving the summit.
After all the fun of taking pictures and enjoying the view, the horrible thought of going down came across my mind. I planned to faced inward as I walked down but I quickly changed my mind to looking forward to the skies as I went down. No traffic when I went down but I did what I called ‘the closest to death experience’ that I ever had. I slipped. Lucky enough that my hand grips were strong enough to hold my body. I travelled at least 20 feet without any grip from my feet. I slowed down and managed to get down safely just to find out that my hands were bleeding due to the friction between my gloves (that pulls my hands) and the cable. Oh well, at least I made it down the cable. Still I think going down is easier than going up.
Going down through the subdome was not the most friendly path at all. My hands were still hurting, so I was not really focus on the tough path. As I made it down to the subdome entrance, it was around 4PM already. The same path as before, I passed through a long flat route but I noticed something different. It was so quiet this time. I guess most of the people hiked down already.
Walking all the way keeping the stop as less as possible until we reached the top of Nevada Falls. Here we stopped awhile and realized that our group was split into two groups now.
From Nevada Falls, we decided to go through the John Muir Trail. Four miles more and we would be sitting in the car, but unfortunately, the sun set down faster than our hike. That’s fine, we came ready with torches available. We hiked down through the John Muir Trail longer than expected due to the darkness that we encountered. The good thing is that John Muir Trail is a long flat path. We arrived down at approximately 9PM and I noticed that all my food stocks and water in my bag were really drained out, which was just perfectly enough for the 15 hours hike. I think it is possible to do the roundtrip faster, especially if you are going solo or small group and you are trained well. Anyway I’m still extremely happy that I did it. We waited for another half of our group that went through the Mist Trail and after that we walked to the Curry Village and went straight to our cars.
Among 18 hikers from my group, actually 9 people managed to reach the peak (50% is not bad at all). A lot of times, I have been asked if I would ever do the hike again, and without hesitation I always answer Yes! It is an amazing experience that I think everyone should do it at least once in their lifetime. Tons of challenges throughout the journey but the reward is definitely awesome.
I listed what I bring and some tips for future goers based on my experience.
What is in my backpack?
- 3 liters of water
- 4 slices of breads
- Hiking Poles
- Camera / Phone
What advice will I give?
- Strength training is important, but endurance is more important
- Walk at your own pace, minimize the number of stops
- Start as early as possible
- Don’t give up!!!!
Well that wraps up my hike to the peak of Half Dome. If I can do it, pretty sure any of you can do it too. It is challenging but seriously, once you have reached the top, there is nothing to regret about. In whatever you do, always remember to have fun!