Hiking to Half Dome

One of the famous peaks in Yosemite is Half Dome. The name will be obvious when you see a photo of it. The hike to the top requires using cables. To avoid a traffic jam, any one hiking to the top requires a permit. The handing out of permits is a lottery: there is no guarantee you’ll receive a permit.

Fortunately, we did. However, after an early start and not much sleep (because of a late arrival to Yosemite from Las Vegas), we were told that Half Dome was shut! There had been too much snow and the cables had not been put up yet.

We waited for the visitor centre to open to see what our options were. After some toing and froing, we learnt that the cables had been erected the night before!

And so the journey began. The hike to Half Dome is about 26km. The height of the granite dome is 2700m. To get to the top from the bottom of the valley would require an ascent of about 1600m. I’m not sure if I’ve ever ascended that height in one day!

There is some incredible scenery on the hike. The waterfall we see was flowing at a phenomenal rate as the snow was melting up in the mountains.

We were advised to bring gardening gloves to hold on to the cables. Because of the early start most of us forgot our gloves at the hotel!

Apparently, if the Dome had been open earlier, there would have been a pile of gloves to choose from. People discard them when they descend the Dome. But this was the first day.

We met some people who had made an early start and were returning from the Dome. Some of these people asked us if we had gloves and gave us theirs if we didn’t have any. I remember the women who gave me her gloves. After she gave me her gloves, she looked intently but benignly at me and cupped both my hands and wished me good luck. This felt strangely reassuring.

Most of the ascent is done before reaching Half Dome. Half Dome itself is only about 300m. There are two parts to the ascent. The first part is quite rocky but fairly easy to hike even though it looks intimidating from a distance. The second part is steeply up the rock between two steel cables, which you use to hold on to and occasionally pull yourself up.

With occasional stops ascending the valley, we reached the base of the Dome and soon joined the ant-like figures we saw ascending the Dome.

Ascending the rocky part of the Dome gave us confidence when we got to the cables. I didn’t wait around and started going up using the cables, especially because it looked as if it was going to rain (there were some spits of rain). The cables were initially tough until I established a rhythm. I needed to coordinate when to push with my legs and when (occasionally) to pull with my arms. Indoor top rope climbing and bouldering had taught me that your arms get tired very quickly if they’re pulling too much. It’s best to use your legs.

The granite dome had been polished by the hundreds of people who ascend it every day. That made it slippery.

The 120m went on for a long time. Or so it seemed. In reality it was all over in about 20 minutes and that was primarily due to several people in front going slowly.

It was exciting to have finally made it. The views were stunning. We had a clear day. There was still some snow on the peak. We stayed on top for about an hour having lunch and taking photos and videos.

For the descent, I videoed some of it. Listening to it now, I sound calm and relaxed even though it’s steep coming down. I’m not sure what I was taking!

After the descent down the Dome, we had a long hike down the valley. When we did finish, we were all tired. It was one of the toughest hikes I’d done.

Yosemite Half Dome hike

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