This is a blog post about hiking Half Dome…duh! It was the most epically awesome and most difficult hike I have ever done (and probably ever will do) in my entire life. For those of you who don’t know, Half Dome is in Yosemite National Park in California, and is known for its amazing hikes and beautiful waterfalls. It’s about 2.5 hours from where I live. While I’ve visited there several times as a child, I’ve not neen back in my adult life, nor did I realize you could hike Half Dome until I was in my mid-20’s. You see, my Father is deathly afraid of heights. He will not walk out past the fence on the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco. So it’s not surprising that while my Dad loves to hike, he would not ever go on this hike, or tell me about it.
It’s a ridiculously long hike for an average hiker like myself. 8.2 miles uphill on the way up, 8.2 miles back down some steep declines and steps, 16.4 round trip.
My husband and I chose to do it in one day, like most people seem to do. We woke up at 4 AM to eat breakfast, left at 4:40, and proceeded to hike the first 2 hours, with headlamps, in the dark. You could see other peoples’ headlamps in the dark, both in front of us and behind us. It was comforting to know we weren’t the only ones on the trail at that hour. We hiked up steep rock steps, in the dark, by Vernal falls. It was crazy to hear the water splattering on the rocks and not be able to see it. We couldn’t even see over the edge of the trail with our headlamps.
We ran into a couple that was planning to climb up the back face of the dome. I forgot to mention that I have inherited some of my Father’s fear of heights. So you can imagine how un-fun that sounds to me. I was concerned about the part of the hike where you walk up the side of the dome using cables that are drilled into the granite. Yes, my fear of heights almost stopped me from even starting out on the hike. As the light started to appear, we could see the beauty of Nevada Falls before us, and then we could actually see all of the rock steps we kept hiking up.
After hiking about three miles, we stopped at the Merced river to re-fill our water supply and we got our first view of the back of half dome.
This was the coldest part of the hike, right after the sun came up. I distinctly remember putting my fingers in the river and commenting how warm the water was (and thinking that was gross). Then I sipped on that same water after sterilizing it, and realized it was nice and cool, and my fingers were just so cold that the cool water felt warm. We finally warmed up after about a mile of uphill hiking in soft dirt.
Finally, we made it to the sub-dome. This is the part where you’re hiking on granite but before you climb the cables up to the top. It is no joke, there are tons of steps carved into the granite, and if you make a wrong step, you could very well hurt yourself or fall off the dome. It was exhausting to climb here after hiking about 7 or so miles uphill already
You can’t see the steps in the rock, and my husband and I were actually confused on how we would make it up until we actually reached the steps. But if you look at the part of the granite with the trees, that’s where the steps were carved.
Finally, we made it to the part where I had psyched myself out. The cables. This was the reason I insisted on leaving early. I wanted there to be less people going up/down so I could take my time and not feel rushed.
I was surprised to find that I actually wasn’t very scared once they were in front of me. We bought rubber gloves to help us hold onto the cables as we hiked up, and I just forced myself to have tunnel vision so I couldn’t see the steep slope to certain death on either side of me (I’m exaggerating, but it was quite steep and if not death, at least serious injury). There were only two people coming down as we headed up, and we just communicated as to who would go are our who, and it was a very smooth climb up that took about 10 minutes.
Once we finally made it to the top, we rested for about five minutes before we started looking around and were treated with spectacular views of Yosemite Valley.
It was such an amazing accomplishment to make it to the top. It took us exactly 5 hours to get there from our campsite. I even felt brave enough to take the coveted picture on the beginning of the ledge known as the diving board. Google what the real edge of the diving board is and prepare to poop your pants…
We spent about an hour at the top enjoying the views, watching people climb out on edges, and eating lunch. Heading back down the cables was way easier, as we just went down backwards. There were a lot more people coming up as we were coming down, and we just communicated with each other in order to pass. We got to see the waterfalls on the hike down, and seeing how little water was pouring over them reinforced how bad the drought is this year.
The hike down took us the same amount of time as the hike up, for a grand total of 10 hours of hiking. It was shockingly hard as we were exhausted from the hike up. Our feet were achy and my calves were on fire. I truly did not think it would take us the same amount of time to hike down as it did for us to hike up. I always feel downhill is faster. I was proven wrong. We made it down at 3:40pm. What a long 11 hour day. We ate pizza for dinner and went to sleep at 8pm. We slep in our tent for 10 hours, which is unheard of for us when we camp.
I would highly recommend this hike for anyone that is in shape! I would have greatly benefited from training with shorter steep hikes and more endurance training. But it’s totally doable if your in ok shape as well, just be prepared for your calves to hurt for a week!
Now that it’s done, I still have not conquered my mini fear of heights. However, I am so proud of myself and I will not write off any future trips based on my assumptions. Half Dome is an amazing feat of nature. I feel honored and humbled to have been at the top.