In honor of yesterday being EARTH DAY, I thought I would *finally share photos from the Half Dome hike my brother and I took last JULY! I almost can’t believe how much time has flown by since this trip …
Half Dome permits are pretty difficult to get — so much so, that Alex and I had applied the two seasons prior with zero luck. And of course when we finally got a date (we applied for any day of the entire season and figured we would just make it work since we’re about a half day’s drive away), Al was in some of the worst stages of his back pain. Luckily, I had been listed as the Alternate Trip Leader on our two passes, so I was still able to go and pick up the permits … but I needed someone to go with me!
The Half Dome hike is about 15 miles round trip and there are some really strenuous parts to it. In my opinion, the initial climb past Lower Yosemite Falls is tough because it’s comprised of really steep stone steps. But the really tough part is The Sub Dome (right before you reach The Dome — where the famous Half Dome Cables are located). While I wouldn’t say Half Dome is up on the list of the hardest hikes I’ve done, I would say that these two sections of it may test your muscle 😉 That being said, I needed someone who could take this hike seriously and who would be prepared in a rather short period of prep time. Luckily, my brother, Jim, is always up for a challenge and he’s always in incredible cardio shape cus he’s a crazy marathon runner !! After a little bit of persuasion, I convinced him to come out to California yet again to visit another National Park, hike Half Dome, and oh yeah, spend a couple of nights sleeping in a tent on the ground 😉 He’s a trooper!
We hiked Half Dome in the dead of summer, on July 3, 2019, and we had the freaking best time. We opted to wake up at our campsite at 3am in order to get going from the trailhead by 5am (we had a little bit of a drive from campsite to trailhead). The whole way up we kept talking about what a great decision that was. If anything, because we got to see Vernal Falls with nobody around. Jim didn’t quite understand why I was freaking out about that until on our way down when he saw just how crowded that area gets with visitors. It was pretty cool that his first time seeing it, we were pretty much the only two people around. In addition to avoiding crowds, just the difference in temperature was huge. We ran into a lot of people struggling in the heat on their way up as we were already hiking our way back down. We summited by 9:30am and spent about half an hour up there with only one other group. We did the whole trip in nine and a half hours.
The hike itself is absolutely breathtaking. You start on a paved section — the initial climb is steep — and then you find yourself taking step after step up and around Vernal Falls. The mist here can get crazy, so boots with good traction are important, and rain gear to cover your camera equipment or backpack is important. There is a very narrow climb when you get close to the top of the first falls … hitting this before the crowds will save you a ton of time. There’s a lot of area to hang out at the top of the falls before you continue onward. The second set of falls you’ll hit are Nevada Falls …. there is a lot of rock hiking here so don’t forget to pause and look up once in a while or else you’ll pass the falls before you know it! After the second round of falls, the hike flattens out for a bit and gradually climbs…you’ve already done a vast majority of the steep climbing by this point. This part of the hike is pretty shady and one of my favorite parts was running into the Trails Team — the group of NP workers whose job it is to maintain the trails. They work extremely hard and I’m very grateful for them!
After a nice shady section of the trail with a gradual incline, you’ll reach the base of the Sub-Dome. This is where Park Rangers will be positioned with that day’s list of Permit Holders. No permit, no passing. They check you in, check your ID, and give you a rundown of rules. Then you climb the Sub-Dome, which is, arguably, the toughest part of the Half Dome Hike in my opinion. It’s steep and there is no shade whatsoever. We got there around 9am and we were still sweating bullets … If you can push through the Sub Dome, you’re rewarded with a really great view of the cables where you can sit and decide if you want to brave them or just watch other hikers go up and down them instead.
Jim thought the cables themselves were a breeze. I, on the other hand, was scared out of my mind. Because they are steep and the rock face is a bit slippery, and honestly if you don’t look down you’re fine. Going up is definitely easier mentally than going down, but it does take a toll on your upper arm strength. I whole-heartedly recommend bringing a pair of gloves to grip the cables with. I, dumbly, forgot my pair, so Jim and I each wore one of his. Make sure you secure everything in your bag before heading up the cables .. the last thing you want to do is drop something from your bag and hit someone else behind you! The other important thing to note about the cables is that there is only one set. Meaning, while you’re going up, there will be people coming down. You’ve got to keep an open line of communication with everyone and you’ve got to keep it moving. Since we got there pretty early in the day still, we only had two people head down while we were going up … but we had more people coming up on our way down. My method of descent was definitely “low and slow” … and Jim got a huge kick out of me kissing the ground when I finally made it off those dang cables!! Were the views worth the climb though? Abso-freaking-lutely.
Coming down the Sub Dome was also tough … as there isn’t much to hold onto. But after that, going down was smooth sailing. We definitely felt a sense of relief as we descended and felt the temps rising…other hikers on their way up were wishing they had gotten an earlier start.
When we reached the trailhead upon completion, our toes were definitely sore (the last descent is pretty steep) … we loaded our stuff into the car, put on our sandals, and headed to one of the lounges in the Valley for an ice cold beer, aptly named Half Dome. Our server was mad impressed that we were already done hiking and he loaded our plates up with some of the tastiest chips ever. We spent the rest of the day mostly just walking around the Valley before heading back to camp where we cooked a big meal and passed out pretty early. For the rest of the week, every time we would see Half Dome we’d say, “hey remember when we summited Half Dome???” It will forever remain one of my all-time favorite memories with my big brother…
We scored the Half Dome Hike as moderate — if you hike pretty regularly or have a pretty normal cardio routine, you can do it! I think actually attaining the permits is harder 😉 The views the entire way are more than worth the effort. Get started early to avoid crowds and rising temps. Pack lots of water (at least 4L) and snacks. And don’t forget to stop and look around — for bears and rattlesnakes! Don’t try to sneak past the Rangers at the base of the Sub Dome if you didn’t get a Cables Permit…it won’t work. Stay hydrated and always hike with a buddy! Good luck!
thanks for stopping by!