The half dome is one of the most popular hikes in Yosemite. At over 400 feet incline, it is a difficult hike. The trail runs 12 miles; 6 miles each way. It is a seven hour hike in all. Since I was with my family and my son is only 15 months, we decided not to subject him to the torture of such a long hike.
We enjoyed the views from a distance and planned to return when the children are not with us.
I climbed to the top of Half Dome more than 20 years ago, but recently all my images have been from below. Fortunately, the restoration of the meadows has helped. This year there wasn't much snow, so spring broke early.
For those not familiar, Half Dome never was a full dome. It was however, cut by glacier action so that it appears this way. Climbing the back of Half Dome, like I did, is something any healthy and strong person can accomplish. Climbing the face of Half Dome is a once in a lifetime world-class act within the rock climbing world.
Half Dome is the most distinctive monument in Yosemite. It's size alone soaring up to 8,842 feet is breathtaking alone, but it has also been tabbed as 87 million years old, and it is still the youngest plutonic rock in the Valley. It looks as though the dome was split in half by a science fiction laser beam but it is believed to have been caused as a result of glacial action or fallen apart during rockfalls. I like the sci-fi reason. ;-) The view changes with each angle and you can see it from below or above, depending on where you are within the Park. I found the view from the bridge over the Merced River just before the Valley Village was magnificent.
If I'm lucky enough to get back Yosemite then I think that I'll have to tackle the granite beast known as half dome. To do it justice I'll have to start off at around 5am to have a decent chance of getting to the top around noon. So next time I'll have to stay in one of the valley campsites. Then it's only the 15-20 mile round walk to worry about.
In the summer passes to the top of half dome are restricted at the weekends, so a weekday would be good. Mondays are busy because of the number of people on a long weekend , so maybe a Tuesday would be better.
So next time hopefully I'll be jointing the queue at the bottom of the cable and waiting for somebody to let me have their sweaty gloves for the ascent to the top.
Next job is to pursued the wife to come with me.
A symbol of Yosemite Valley is the cut in half rock rising above the far east end of the valley. Half Dome (which may never have been a full dome) reflects the power of the glaciers and the magnificents of nature.
The hike to the top of Dome should not be underestimated and this is exactly what most people who attempt this highly strenuous hike do. The sheer length of 16 miles round trip should be deterrent enough but the lure of glory is strong. If those miles were over relatively flat or undulating terrain, it wouldn't be so bad though 16 miles of any kind of walking is more than the average person can handle. The average person is the key term here as that is who often embarks on this endeavor only to find themselves way over their heads.
Going for a hike and climbing nearly 5000 feet are two very different things and that is exactly what getting to the top of Half Dome requires. Even if fit enough for this expenditure, many hikers are ill-prepared, either carrying too little water or not a means of purifying water readily available along the trail. You really cannot hike for 12-14 hours (and that's how long it takes) with only a half liter of water. There are thankfully toilets at Little Yosemite Valley so those not carrying shovels to bury their feces are not really causing havoc. This should remain as pristine as is possible, not easy with so many people using this trail. According to estimates, 50,000 people climb Half Dome each year.
Obviously, with such a long hike, you should start very early in the morning. Some start at night which is probably a good idea given the slick rock peak's attraction of lightning. The earlier you get up and back down the better. The hike would be grueling enough but it ends with 400 feet of cable-assisted slick rock traversing that brings out the vertigo in all but the most fearless. There are a few problems with this section. First off, most people are flat out exhausted at this point and the cables do require a bit of physical exertion. Couple this with the fact that most people having never done anything remotely like this makes it all the more daunting. Be sure to grab a pair of the gloves that sit at the base of the cables. The cables are steel and your hands will be bleeding on the way down otherwise unless you have very rough skin from manual labor or go very slowly. There are two cables and unfortunately most people going up seem to want to use both of them. Those coming down tend to use just one. It seems pretty obvious that it would work a lot better if one side was only for those going up and the other for those returning. It is a western hemisphere hike, so let's stick with the old stay to the right philosophy. But this is currently not the case so you have people crossing paths, making it not only more dangerous but time consuming and scary. There's nothing worse than just standing there, hanging onto a pole on the side steep slick rock trying not to look down.
The biggest problem, however, is the sheer number of people on the cables. It's like a rumba line which wouldn't be too bad if everyone were equally good dancers. You have some people panic-stricken, some breathing so hard a heart attack seems imminent, some trying to pass everyone in their path, and everyone wanting it to be over as soon as possible.
While the cables are always in place, the slats from which they are hung are only up seasonally (approximately May-October). While it is possible to do it with the cables laying on the slick rock it is considerably harder. On my first attempt in October of 1994, I hiked all the way to the cables only to find them already down for the season. I went up about a third of the way grasping the cables but the weather was ominous and I turned back around only to have it start snowing soon after. Turning back was hard but perhaps the smartest thing I ever did while hiking.
Being on top is great but you never quite get it out of your head that you do have to go back down the same way. Since you are now facing down, it is mentally even worse than going up though it's not quite as tough physically. We had one girl next to us that was near hysteria she was so afraid. I really felt in danger more because of her than being on the cables themselves.
An easier and far more enjoyable way to climb Half Dome is to do it as a multi-day backpacking trip. This does not make it an easy walk as you do have to carry all your gear up to camp along with food for a few days but you get to not only rest prior to doing the cables but you also can do them early in the morning when there are less people. I tried it both ways and believe me, it is far easier when there is not someone else freaking out next to you.
Yosemite Falls might be the park's star attraction but there's no doubt that Half Dome is a close second and its default icon. If it were more accessible, there would be no competition. Made famous by Ansel Adams' magnificent Black & White photos, the sheer rock dome does have the appearance of having been halved at some point in its evolutionary life. The nearly 5000 foot (from the Valley floor) monolith is stunning but getting good photos of it involves some maneuvering. It looks so different from various angles it's easy to think it's an entirely different peak.
While it is visible from just about every high elevation hike in the park, it's not always easy to see it clearly from the Valley. One of the best spots to get a photo of it is from Sentinel Bridge. This crosses the Merced River and if it is particularly calm you could get at least a partial reflection of it. Late afternoon to early evening will provide the best light. The later, the more red Half Dome will be but you will get some shadows of the trees framing it as they level with the river. Either way, it's a magical spot.
If you have a whole day (12 hours at least) and lots of energy, Half Dome is calling you! It's a 4800 climb over 8.2 miles (one way), starting at the already high (for me) 4000 feet, so bring lots of water, a day's worth of food, and strong legs. The hike is definitely worth it! You pass two waterfalls and walk through some high granite valleys before the coup de grace -- a 500 foot cable-assisted scramble to the top. Then, you're on top of the world with panoramic views of one of the world's most spectacular landscapes. Check out my travelogue for a more detailed description of the climb.
I hiked Half Dome alone, but because there were so many other people on the trail that you pass and get passed by, you quickly find others to chat with. I met two couples from UC-Davis, a couple from Holland, a group of chemists from Michigan and a 60-year-old from Honolulu on my trip. It was quite convivial, as we were all sharing the same pleasures and pains!
Do not summit if there are electrical storms anywher on the horizon and reconsider this climb if you're afraid of heights. The scramble up the face is almost like climbing a 60-degree slope. I saw one guy's water bottle fall out of his pack and it bounded down the rocks into a plastic smashing oblivion.
By far, the most iconic formation in Yosemite is the granite monolith of Half Dome. It dominates the far end of Yosemite Valley and is especially beautiful when it lights up in the pinks and oranges of a winter sunset. The best way to see it is to walk the meadow near Curry Village or take one of the trails towad the mirror lakes at the end of the Valley. You can also get a great view from Glacier Point or Olmstead Point (on the Tioga Pass Road). But my favorite way to see it is to climb it. What a hike!
My 40-ish girlfriend and I decided to climb the Half Dome, not realizing what an ordeal we were undertaking. That being said, we were determined and enlisted the help of a guide. We highly recommend using John DeGrazio of YExplore, Yosemite Adventures. He was fabulous! There was no way we could have done this without him. He was so well knowledgeable about the trail and we felt perfectly safe under his guidance. He lets you go at your own pace, but is great about keeping you on time. He and his wife Catherine were very helpful in preparing us and answering our questions before and during the trip. They tell you exactly what to bring....no less, no more. Don't take more food than what you need. My poor guide ended up carrying my .75 lb bag of dehydrated pineapple, which was very good but much too heavy to carry. I took pictures of course, but John brought his camera and took pictures of us as well. This was one of the most rewarding and exciting things I have ever done and would still think about doing the trip again...but only if I did it with Yexplore. They absolutely made the experience worthwhile!!
I think Half Dome is one of the most unique of the Yosemite sights with its sheered off northwest face, standing almost 5,000 feet above the valley.
GEOLOGIC INFO: Geologists say that this vertical fracture was caused during the Pleistocene Ice Ages--the time of the Dinosaurs.
The missing piece was broken away by glaciers during that period, about 86 and 88 million years ago. In fact, boulders found further downstream in the valley can be traced back to this immense rock formation.
A hiking trail runs from the Yosemite Valley to Half Dome, as well as from Glacier Point (see General Tips).
FYI: For further geologic information see: Yosemite National Park/Rock Formations in Yosemite Valley; Roadside Geology of Yosemite Valley by Garry Hayes and The Geologic Story of Yosemite Valley by N.King Huber
One of the most recognized attributes of Yosemite is Half Dome. It is 8,842 feet (2,695 m) tall and it is truely impressive. The views from the valley floor are amazing but my favorite view was from the top of Glacier Point. The road is closed from November to May but the view is second to none that I saw. From this 3,200 foot (975 m) pertch atop the valley you will be able to see many of the valley's notable sights. Half Dome, Varnal Falls, and Yosemite Falls being just a few of them.
We did about half of the 4 or 5 hour hike to get to the base of Half dome. Just ask for directions in camp 4 and your off to snake dike, a 7 pitch 5.6ish. That is if you stay on route. We took a wrong turn and turned it into a 15 pitch climb with a small roof. Then ended with 4 pitch's off class 4 walking that I thought would never end. My partner was ready to kill me cause i refused to untie. But if I feel he was going to. You can hike all the way to the top but its not an easy day at the park. I was winded hiking up, and we were traveling light. If your in shape it makes for a good accomplishment and a great view.
This is the most serious hike in the Yosemite Valley. If it's no longer early morning when you're setting out, prepare to be returning in the dark and to be fighting off predators along the way (not as scary as it sounds--see my warnings/dangers tips). The hike is a bit under 20 miles round trip and rather steep and strenuous, with a lot of never-ending stairs that really wear you out. The weather at the top can be ruthlessly windy, and even puffy clouds that look most benign from the ground are not nearly so nice when they surround you and tear by you at 40 mph (~65 km/hr), which was the wind speed when I got up to the top (gusts were stronger). Lightning strikes Half-Dome regularly, even from "nice" clouds, so be careful with that too. The end requires holding on to a pair of metal cables, which get COLD. Pick up a pair of gloves. They're there in the crevice specifically for you.
A good hike particularly because it takes you by Vernal and Nevada Falls, two other big Yosemite attractions.
We seriously considered hiking from Glacier Point rather that the village. The merit of this is that it avoids a fair bit of uphill and gives you some great views (supposedly). However, it is a 30 minute one-way drive to the village, and, as you will end the hike at the village (unless you want to climb an extra couple of thousand feet back up to Glacier Point at the end of a long day), you need to manage some pretty serious two-car logistics to do it this way.