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.
Immortalized by Ansel Adams, the Half Dome is the most recognizable icon of Yosemite National Park. The rock rises over 4500 feet above the Valley floor at an elevation at over 8800 feet. The other "half" of the dome is presumed to have fallen into the Valley during the Ice Age as a result of a passing glacier.
In the summer months, you can hike to the top of Half Dome by winding your way up its back on a trail that is 17 miles roundtrip. Serious rock climbers will prefer to take the more direct route by scaling its face.
Back in 1865, they never thought it would be possible . . .
"It is a crest of granite... perfectly inaccessible, being probably the only one of the prominent points about the Yosemite which never has been, and never will be, trodden my human foot." — California Geological Survey report about Half Dome, 1865.
Standing 8,836 feet in the air, Half Dome is hard to miss anywhere in Yosemite. For those so inclined (and in good shape), a cable system is set up to climb to it's peak. Approximately 18-20 miles roundtrip. In the evening hours, the bridge near Curry Village is filled with photographers. They all anxiously wach as this massive piece turns from white to orange, as the sun sets on it.
Half Dome is one of Yosemite's most famous sights. The mountain is 8,842 feet high but its steep granite ridge is a popular and, I'm told, challenging hike. With a 4,000 plus foot elevation gain, I'd believe it too.
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
The waterfalls, el capitan and Half Dome are the most popular signs of the park. You can hike or climb to the top (not today for me, maybe tomorrow hehehe) and I loved the views from the road where you can see the El Capitan and Half dome and a corridor in the middle (even if they are not near!)
One of the most impressive mountains in Yosemite Valley! Very easy to recognize and visible from many corners of the valley. It is vertical, no question!
I heard it's relatively easy to go up Half Dome from the back, but just to look at it, especially from Glacier Point, these views stay in your mind for a long time!
Peak is at 2695 m by the way.
Distance: 17.0 Miles (roundtrip)
Elevation gain: 4,796 feet
Time: 10-12 hours roundtrip
Hike to Half Dome begins at the Happy Isles trailhead in Yosemite Valley.
Most hikers go up through Mist Trail, a steep and wet route next to the river. The John Muir Trail - 1.5 miles longer but slightly less taxing on the legs - is the preferred route down. I chose the Mist Trail both ways.
If you plan on hiking the half dome in 2 days...you can camp at Little Yosemite Valley. A wilderness permit is required to camp at LYV campground which is 2.5 miles below Half Dome. Visit www.nps.gov/yose/wilderness/permits.htm for details. Oh Black bears are a nightly nuisance here. We saw 2 (mama & baby bear) on our way down.
The trail to Half Dome is one of Yosemite's most popular trail. Make sure you allow 10 to 12 hours to complete this strenuous but awesome hike. Afternoon thunderstorms are frequent in the summer, so I highly recommend you start at 6 a.m. or earlier. Also make sure to check the weather report at the Visitor Center the day before you hike.
Take leather gloves for the cables, wear hiking boots with good traction, take plenty of food and water.
AND at the end of the hike, when your'e back at the trailhead....don't miss the chance to dip yourself in the river. Well, that is if you get back before the sun goes down. The water is cold but refreshing. Feels good on your achy muscles. Once you've freshened up.....pig out time! Get some ice cream at Curry Village!
Half Dome, (one of) the largest monoliths in the world, is Yosemite's most dramatic landmark. It can be seen from almost anywhere in the park.
The name already says it. It looks like this rock is cut in half. People suggest that the other half disappeared during the ice ages, due to glaciers passing by.
This picture is taken from Glacier Point.
It goes without saying that Half Dome is the most famous of all the landmarks within Yosemite National Park. It rises 4,000' above the Valley floor, and has well marked trails to the top. Or if you're really ambitious (and experienced) you can rock-climb up.
But, I still have 1 question - Just where did the other half go?!
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.
Half Dome stands at the elevation of 8,840 feet. Its unique profile has become a symbol of Yosemite and geologists presume that its missing half had fallen off when the Ice Age glaciers passed through. It is made up from a type of granite. The trail to Half Dome is approximately 17 miles round trip and the hike is one of the most anticipated for avid hikers. Trail starts at Happy Isles Trailhead.
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.
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.
What can I tell you about Half Dome that will make it any more magnificent than it already appears. That it was formed by unimaginable geothermal forces deep under an ancient sea, that it was never really a full dome, that it was however chopped and chiseled by glacial forces, that its sheer face soars 4733 feet above the valley floor. None of that stuff makes any difference when you are face to face with Half Dome. It is enough to just be there, staring at the gorgeous yet stark granite creation that makes all other rock formations pale in comparison.