My Experience Hiking Half Dome & Everything You Must Know

DAY 3

Our alarm goes off at 3:45am.. yup that early! We had a two+ hour drive to the trail head from June Lake. Rolled out of bed and my calfs were more sore then the day before!

Want to know how I won the daily lottery?! Click here and read about how we entered

We never looked up where to go but once we got close we just asked around. A Ranger told us to go to the Trail Head Lot and then the trail starts at Happy Isles. We stopped at Half Dome Village for a coffee and a bagel. People told us we were starting the hike too late in the day and that we would not make it to the top. We ignored them and went anyways. Right after we parked, the shuttle arrived, saving us .5 miles of walking (Ill take advantage of any break).

TIP: Half Dome Trail starts at Happy Isles Trail Head, there is a shuttle that can take you from the trail head parking lot.

Used the toilet thinking it would be my last but there was one at Vernal Falls. We started the hike at 7:59am. I was under the impression that it was going to be a mild incline because we’re going up 5000ft over 8 miles vs the 3,200ft over 4.8 miles on the Four Mile Trail we did the other day. I was WRONG, it was steep. We were already sweating. The views were beautiful though. It was like walking threw a massive boulder grave yard with streams and greens all around. The paved trail turned into 1ft steps, basically lunges with my tiny legs. I love using nature as my gym. Bring on that butt lift!

Hiked 1.5miles along the Mist Trail and arrived at Vernal Falls. It felt like a fairy tale with the soft morning light, bright green grass and the sound of  water crashing against fallen boulders.

I love when nature makes me feel so small. Can you find me above?!

Since we went in August the falls were much smaller then usual but I didn’t mind, the colors of the face were beautiful. The lines reminded me of a eucalyptus tree.

We continued up the steps

Making our way to the top of Vernal falls, we had two feet of space between a boulder and a drop off, thankfully there is a fence.

The views from the top were awesome.

Stay behind the fence, its there for a reason. More people die on the Mist Trail than almost anywhere else in Yosemite.

We continued and started hiking, John Muir Trail. We got a bit confused at first since we didn’t look up the trail before we left. We were looking for an obvious trail head that said “Half Dome.” We asked to look at some strangers map, thankfully we were on the right track. 

After a few switch backs we came across the side of Nevada falls. If you turned back at this point you would of completed 5.4 miles round trip. It is strenuous so expect a 5-6 hour hike.

Waterslide anyone?!

The ground floor eventually flattened out. From this point on you’ll need a backcountry permit.

The flat elevation lasted a couple miles before we finally hit the check point! The ranger checked my email confirmation for my permit and state ID. If you don’t have it they will not allow you to continue. I screenshot the email the day before to make sure I had it.

This was the checkpoint spot.

I was beginning to think this trail can not be the most difficult trail of all Yosemite, we had three miles left and it wasn’t so bad… boy was I wrong!

From the check point on we began to climb again. I couldn’t stop staring at all the red woods. Look at all that moss!

When you think your so close you get hit with another two miles!

We saw a glimpse of the Dome about a mile left into the hike. It looked like tiny ants crawling up the dome in a single file line. My belly began to sink, it looked like a 90 degree incline!

Once we made it to the base of Half Dome we had a steep climb to get to the cables. I’d say it took us around 15-20 minutes from this point to get to the cables.

There was not a define trail, just head to the top and stay low.

The views were truly incredible.

We couldn’t stop looking back. It was as if we were on top of the world with 360 degree views all around us!

At last! We made it to the base of the cables around noon. Its recommend to arrive before 11 to avoid congestion on the cables. After watching others go up I was 100% content to stay put and watch. After about ten minutes or so Ron and a group of other hikers encouraged me to do it! They were right, it was my birthday and I would of regretted coming all this way to not finish. You climb 425 vertical feet at a 45 degree angle to get to the top of the dome.

TIP: Bring a pair of rubber coated gloves for best grip of the cables. If you take a pair of gloves from the used pile, Ranger asks for you to take them home so he/she don't have to carry so many at the end of the day.

I picked a pair of gloves from the “garbage pile.” The closer I walked to the cables my “what if” radar started going off trying to sike myself out of doing it. There were some sketchy people sliding down that made me even more nervous. This is one of those moments in life where you have to face your fear head-on and know you can do it! Everything you want is on the other side of fear… right?!

The steps to climb up are two by four boards attached to the poles. They are about 10ft apart. The poles are resting in the holes drilled into the granite about 4-5 inch deep, they will come up if you pull up. If it does happen just put it back in the hole and try to pull down the cables as you go up.

We double checked our bags to make sure nothing could slide out and we began the scariest thing I have ever done in my entire life. The cables were full of people going up and down. Every few minutes a step would clear. I would then take a deep breath and with momentum pull myself up to the next step and stop. I used both sides of the cables to pull myself up. Ron liked using one side. We all worked as a team on each step encouraging one another. No one was pushy or rushing anyone. If you wanted to sit there for five minutes we were all sitting there and it was okay. If someone wanted to pass I would snug my foot in front of the pole and brace myself.  The middle part was really steep, thankfully I work out and could pull myself up. At this point were leaning backwards and holding on tight. My heart was racing and adrenaline was pumping, I was almost in tears I was so nervous. I kept telling myself one foot in front of the other.

After making it past the steepest part I felt like a pro. Shortly after that we made it to the top! It took us nearly an hour to climb 425 vertical feet! Ive never been so excited in my entire life to be on a flat surface. The top was much bigger then I thought! We found a great view, sat down and let it all sink in what we just did!

As our lunch stewed we watched people take photos close to the edge. They called it “The Diving Board.”  I didn’t yet know what that meant but I wanted a photo on it too!

After we ate our lasagna I headed over to the diving board. From where I stood it didn’t look anything like a diving board. I crawled to the end and stood up so Ron could take a photo. The hikers that encourged me to go up the cables told Ron to join me for a photo and this is what it looked like!

 When I looked at the photos my jaw dropped!  I had NO IDEA we were standing on the edge of a 2,000ft drop beneath us! Doesn’t it look INSANE?!
This was such a memorable moment in my life that i will cherish forever and I wouldn’t of rather done it with anyone other then my husband, Ron. Cheers to spending my 28th Birthday on top of Half Dome!
 We walked to the other side of the dome. We could see Glacier Point from afar.
 Ron added a pebble to the pile of rocks taller then him and then we got ready for the hike down.
It seems like we all decided to head down at the same time so the traffic wasn’t bad. Taking some tips from some fellow hikers we walked down backwards. Even though it’s not a natural feeling we leaned backwards, held on to one cable and rappelled down one step at a time. It seemed easier because the rock was slick and prevented us from sliding down.  Facing forward felt like we wanted to roll our bodies forward. It was much harder to stop your feet from sliding so we both went backwards.
 TIP GOING DOWN: Hold onto one cable, lean back, feet flat on the ground and walk down slowly to each step.
WE MADE IT SAFLY TO THE BOTTOM!!

Going down took half the time going up. In honor of concurring the cables this was my farewell moment with the cables.

We were one of the last people to leave. As much as we would of loved to stay, we had another seven miles to hike down before dark.  We thought we took the shorter route down but it was the same one we took up. Our knees were shaking, we were starving and exhausted. About a mile left in the hike Ron jumps in mid air yelling in pain! He got stung by a bee! Me being an evil wife, I couldn’t help but laugh and feel awful at the same time.

11 hours 44 minutes later, we made it to our car at 7:43pm! It never felt so good to sit down! This marks the furthest day hike, scariest and most challenging hike I have ever done to date!

I used All Trails app to track the day. Its suppose to track you without having to use phone service. It froze a few times so its not 100% accurate since the trail was 16.5 miles round trip via John Muir Trail and we walked back to our car rather then waiting on the shuttle. Ive used it a handful of other times and it worked great!  I wanted to show you the trail we took since there are several different options to get to the top of Half Dome.

HIKING HALF DOME

DISTANCE: 16.5 miles (26.5 km) round trip via John Muir Trail

ELEVATION GAIN: 4,800ft

HIKING TIME: 10-14 hours; It took us 11hr 44min.

TRAILS WE TOOK: Started at Happy Isles along the Mist Trail then John Muir Trail to Half Dome.

TIPS:

  • Must have permit to access the cable section.
  • Bring rubber gloves for extra grip on the cables.
  • The earlier you start the better. 7am is considered a late start
  • Bring lots of water, we shared a 3 Liter Osprey Bladder and 2  1 liter water bottles
  • Be prepared to be hot and cold. I wore a light long sleeve, tank top and sports bra.

 

Have any questions or concerns? I would love to hear from you! Comment below, Pin, share and subscribe!

5 Comments on “My Experience Hiking Half Dome & Everything You Must Know”

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  4. This article had my heart pounding out of my chest! That looks so thrilling and scary!!! How “in shape” would you say you need to be to do that? At one point you said you were using some upper body strength to hold yourself on the cables. You’re one brave lady!!

    1. HI Julie!

      It was VERY thrilling and scary, truly one of the greatest things I have accomplished yet! There were all sorts ages from probably 12-70 years old I saw. I would say anyone making it to the cables could do it, since it is a long hike! Your adrenaline is pumping as you climb and you take your time so it’s not too bad. My arms did get tired nearly to the top but it’s all more of a MENTAL game! I most likely made it harder on myself because I was terrified hah!

      You should DEFINITELY add it to your bucket list you wouldn’t regret it!

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