Written by Prosperine on 17 Jan, 2003
This is perhaps one of the most adventurous and invigorating day hikes at Yosemite. This one will either make you or break you--not for novices. I’ve heard that some train for this hike, which is insane; but I do a fair amount of running a…Read More
This is perhaps one of the most adventurous and invigorating day hikes at Yosemite. This one will either make you or break you--not for novices. I’ve heard that some train for this hike, which is insane; but I do a fair amount of running a few days per week to know that this will take endurance. This is a strenuous 16-mile round-trip hike with elevation gain being 4,842 feet. If you are interested in camping overnight, you need to obtain a camping permit from the Yosemite Parks Department. These are very difficult to come by unless you book at least six months in advance, since camping in Little Yosemite Valley is the most popular spot. The best time of year for this hike is summer, but I prefer early summer--May . . . You’re able to see the waterfalls at their fullest and some of the wildflowers are in bloom. The high point of this hike are the two waterfalls and the amazing views at the top of Half Dome. You may want to tote a walking stick . . . there are parts of this hike that are so steep that I have discovered that I’m a bit acrophobic. Start the hike as early as you can, for trying to find your way back after the sun sets can be a bit difficult.
You begin the hike through shade, leading to steeper switchbacks. You share this portion of the trail with horseback riders. You can take a shortcut through Mist Trail, where you can get a closer glimpse of Vernal Falls. Nevada Falls is a great place to stop for lunch or to take a break while sprawled on a great big slab of granite. Be careful and mind the signs that prohibit swimming. Strong currents have been known to wash a few hapless hikers over the falls. There is a toilet at Nevada Falls, but you’re pretty much on your own after that. There is no place to refill on potable water, so either carry at least 2 liters per person or bring a water filter.
There is a point at which you will meet up with the famous John Muir Trail; but remember to stay on the Half Dome trail unless you care to hike 35 miles into the unadulterated wilderness. The views here are what make Yosemite amazing. Keep onward, for there are still 4 miles to the destination. You may want to check the weather reports before you begin this hike, for it is known for rogue bolts of lightning to strike hikers while they approach the summit.
When you reach the makeshift granite slab staircase up to the saddle of Half Dome, take a deep breath and continue upward. Although people may be descending hopping from boulder to boulder on the tricky path, before you know it you will have a line of people behind you waiting to ascend. Many times people are exhausted as they climb this portion to the saddle . . . watch your footing! At the saddle, take a breather. If you’re confident in continuing up the wires, grab a pair of gloves that some nice hiker has donated for the steep 400-foot climb to the top and be prepared for a spectacular view. In July 2002, they were planning to repair the wires for the first time in 10 years to make them "safer" . . . but in May, it was still "use at your own risk." Perhaps it's the crumbling granite surface, the absence of park rangers if something goes wrong, or the fact that the spokes may not be so sturdy anymore. The problem with the wires is that if you stop midway, the line of people behind you will slide down the smooth granite surface into the people behind them. Some impatient folk may travel outside the wires to pass--which can be a death-defying act in itself since there is nothing securing the hikers to the rock to begin with. If you’re lucky, there will even be a bit of snow at the top! Is it worth it! Definitely, but now you have to prepare yourself for the steep climb down and the 8 miles ahead of you!
Bring tons of snacks (oranges are good), more water than necessary, and good walking shoes that won’t slip on the smooth surface of granite.