Half Dome is one of the most interesting climbs in the United States. People from all over the world come to Yosemite Valley with the determination to climb Half Dome. Because most people climbing up are “tourist hikers”, you will see people doing all sorts of funny things. But, people watching isn’t the only highlight, some of the scenery is fantastic. One highlight are two incredible waterfalls (Vernal Falls and Nevada Falls), both with amazing trails adjacent to the water cascading near the hiker. The trails themselves in places are interesting because of the money and work it must have taken to construct them. Views of massive rock outcroppings like Liberty Cap and the distant High Sierras are very picture worthy as well. Finally, you get to climb up 400 feet of rock at 45 degrees holding onto a cable. I couldn’t believe it when I was doing it that they let everyone do this…one slip and you are dead! Thousands reach the summit each year and few have died since this practice started in 1919, so that’s pretty good odds. From the summit, enjoy an overview of Yosemite Valley from 5,000 feet above the valley floor.
www.WillhiteWeb.com: Hiking, Climbing and Travel
Distance: 9 miles
Elevation Gain: 3,800 feet
Summit Elevation: 8,842 feet
Access rating: Level 1
Mav with dad behind on the ladders
The Park Service will warn that overcrowding exists on the cables during weekends and holidays. The more people that are on the cables or waiting to get on the more likely bad things can happen. We hiked out on a Saturday morning and I stopped counting hikers at 100 after only an hour. My experience on Half Dome was seclusion; I was racing up the cables to summit before darkness. Other than my wife and son waiting at the base of the cables, I had Half Dome to myself…except anyone on a port-a-ledge on the face!
From the large parking areas, hike up the loop road to its furthest point and start up the trail. You know you’re in for a crowd when there is a vendor booth at the trailhead. At first, you have an easy hike up through forests, then the Merced River raging on your right side. At one mile the trail crosses the river on a bridge with a glimpse of Vernal Falls. Shortly after the bridge, the trail will split. If you intentions are to summit Half Dome or to do the loop, continue straight toward Vernal Falls (Mist Trail). If you do the scenic loop you will return at this spot. Continue up to Vernal Falls where a series of rock steps take you along side the misting falls. You might think you are in “Lord of the Rings” at this point. This is also a good destination for an easy “in and out” trip if you have less time. The trail continues, soon switchbacking up along the side of Nevada Falls. At the top of the falls is the viewing area where you can look straight down the waterfall, giving normal people vertigo. This area seems to be the highlight for non-summit climbers because there were people everywhere wading in the pools and enjoying the scenery. To do the loop hike, find the trail that traverses the hill down, on the other side of the waterfall. To get to Half Dome, find the trail going into Little Yosemite Valley. The trail is fairly level until you reach the turnoff left and a major campsite. (We stayed here, putting our tent up around 6 and deciding to stroll up to the summit that evening). The camp was great, around 70 other people…all the fires, singing and story telling. Back on the trail, you will now climb a few miles up a pine/fir forest to the base of Half Dome. Then the trail climbs up a moderately steep rocky area where if there was no trail, you might be using your hands in places. At the top of this, a short traverse leads over to the base of the cables…a very exposed area. There is a pile of gloves here, pick out the best pair and start climbing. I should mention that the cables are not in place from mid-October to mid-May. This is when many accidents occur as people try to climb with the cables laying on the rock…not at waist level. The summit was flat and bald; the view was pretty but not what I would call amazing (sorry if that offends anyone, just the facts). I do applaud the thousands of non-hikers who show their determination to conquer this goal they’ve set…to Climb Half Dome.
Half Dome Route:
Half Dome Access:
Make your way to the Curry Village area in Yosemite Valley. Follow signs to the trailheads which are around a half mile from the official start of the trail. By bus, it’s Happy Isles (shuttle stop #16) but bus service doesn’t begin until 7 a.m.
Liberty Cap and Nevada Falls from upper trail
Half Dome and Liberty Cap from upper trail
Looking down Nevada Falls
Sierra Nevada Mountains
Views from the trail
Picnic area just above Nevada Falls
On the cables
Mist trail below Vernal Falls
Stone steps up Vernal Falls
Liberty Cap and Nevada Falls from upper trail
Carrying my one year old up to the base of Half Dome
Upper Map: Trail up Half Dome goes like this Map Below: More detailed map shows the loop
Half Dome from Glacier Point
Half Dome from the trail