Monday, September 16, 2019

How to Hike Half Dome

For years I've wanted to hike Half Dome. I remember being a young boy staying at housekeeping and looking up at the massive rock. I always wondered what was up there. For years I was too young to climb it. Then for years I was too selfish and caught up in my downward spiral. For years the dream was forgotten. But in the last couple years it came to life again. I would talk with people who accomplished the hike and wanted to know more.

I began researching it and wanted to compile all I learned to help others. This is not an extensive list; I'm sure if you are looking at this you have done some other research for the hike.

Applying for permits

When I was a kid you didn't need a permit, now you must have a permit. There is a ranger sitting at the base of the sub-dome checking your permit. You can apply for a permit here. A couple times I applied and got denied so just beware that you might not get it the first year you apply. I had friends who applied, got them, and then there was too much snow for them to make the trip.

For our trip I chose fall and in the middle of the week. My hope was for less people in the valley floor and hopefully less on the trail. Our group of six applied for permits for three different days (18 options) and three guys got them. If you are doing this is a group make sure to decide on the days and have everyone apply. The max you can have per group is 6 people.


Once you have your permit you have to decide where to stay. It is HARD to get a camping site on the valley floor. It is not impossible. Once we got our permits for the hike I found a site at Crane Flat. But I never gave up on finding a spot in the valley floor. I literally checked for months and we finally got one at Upper Pines. This was a huge blessing. Our site was a five minute walk to the start of the trailhead.

Keep checking on for a site. If you don't want to camp, you can look into the tents at Curry Village or find a great place at housekeeping. Both of these locations are close to the trailhead. Keep in mind that the shuttle in the Valley floor doesn't start running till about 7pm so you are walking to the trailhead in addition to the hike.

Getting on the trail

There are a few options for the trail you can take to the top. We chose the Mist Trail- we went passed Vernal and Nevada Falls. I've never seen the falls in the early hours of the morning and they are simply beautiful. We got on the trail at 5:20am. Our goal was to be on the trail at 5:00am but missed that goal a little. Don't worry about being a little late. The hike took us a total of twelve hours. We strolled back into camp at 5:20pm.

The trail is well marked, we had no issues staying on the trail. I also need to warn you; the trail is busy. You will be passing people on a regular basis. Many hikers are aiming to get on the trail around the five o'clock hour also.

We met some people on the cables coming down who were staying in the same area we stayed. They ended up taking a different route to the bottom at the Nevada Falls area. This trail adds 1.5 miles to the hike. I've heard it is switchbacks versus the stairs you encounter on the falls trail.

I'm sharing this so you can know the options you have for the trail.

Most of the trail is an incline hike. You need to be in shape for this hike. When you get to the top of Nevada Falls you are not even a quarter of the way complete. Once you leave Little Yosemite Valley you are about a quarter of the way complete. This means you still have a long way to go. Make sure you are ready for this hike.

After you complete the sub-dome you will see the cables. This is an intimidating view. At this point in the hike we saw a few parties turnaround. I know it sounds crazy but hear me out. Less than a week ago (from when we hiked) a woman fell from the cables and died. I don't know her story so I'm not going to try to share it.

I would suggest that you bring a climbing harness for this part of the trial. You can clip in and give yourself the added security of safety. Remember the goal is not to see the top of Half Dome, the goal is to live to tell others about it.

What I forget to bring

For this hike I did most of my packing the night before. Not the night before I left my house, but the night before we left the campsite. Let me explain. We arrived at camp, set up tents, ate dinner, and then I packed my daypack for the hike. I made my sandwich, packed my snacks, and filled my water bladder. I did forget to pack the powdered Gatorade I brought and this was a big miss on my part. I love drinking water but with all the energy you exert on this trail it is smart to bring something that will replenish your body.

One of the guys in our group brought a small bag/squeeze water filtration system. It worked, don't get me wrong. I would bring a better water filter. I know that MSR has some good travel ones that will make filtering water easier. You really want to have a minimum of 4 liters on this hike. I had a little more than that and could have even had more.

I would also bring something to snack on that is sugar. There were a few times I wanted a bag of Skittles or a Snickers bar. I think the sugar would have helped give me a boost.

Stop for a swim

Once we came down the sub-dome our group stopped for a quick circle up. I had the idea to stop in the Merced River for a swim. There is a great spot where the trail Y's that you can find a place to swim. Once we left the sub-dome we didn't take a break until we arrived at the river. Some of the group beat me there and had already seen a snake.

The water is COLD at the elevation. There was still a small amount of snow on the mountains. Once I jumped in I was freezing cold. The water took my breath away and it was a touch hard to swim, but so refreshing on the other hand. When you've been hiking all day long this swim was well worth it. Keep in mind, at this point in the return of the hike you are 3/4 of the way complete.

Have a crew

At all means possible, don't do this hike alone! You can do it alone, but life is meant to be done in community. I am so thankful for the men who allowed me to hike with them. We had a great time! We laughed together, pushed each other, and sat when a guy needed a rest. As we left the Little Yosemite Valley I wanted to take a break and rest. I was hiking with Levi and asked if he wanted a break. He said: "Let's hike another twenty minutes." I needed that. I needed him to push me on at 7,000 feel elevation. We kept hiking and I got another wind.

Once we arrived at the top, the view was well worth it! In all honesty, I began to get emotional and almost cried. This was a bucked list for me. This was an experience of a lifetime!

Have a great time on the trail and hope this helps!