Route: Mist Trail alternate route is John Muir trail route
Length: 14.2 miles (round trip) 16.5 miles via the John Muir trail
Best Time to Go: Mid May – Mid October
Half Dome Elevation: 8,842 feet (2,695 meters)
Total Elevation Gain: 4,800 feet (1,600 meters) from Yosemite Valley
Note: Another National Park bucket list item for the adventurer. It’s long, its steep and its dangerous. It is no ordinary hike for sure and not for the faint of heart.
The Yosemite – Half Dome Experience
Every time I go to a National Park, I say that is my favorite. The fact is they are all my favorites for what they were intended to inspire. Nature left mostly as God intended, to balance on its own, with little intervention from man and a place where we can marvel at nature’s splendor. I love Yellowstone for the animals and am in awe of the geysers and nature at its purest. Grand Canyon is a spectacle for the power of water and time and simply vast awesomeness. I could go on, but Yosemite is my most recent park and therefore, makes it my favorite today. Why, as you enter the park (which we did from the west entrance as we started our journey from San Jose, California), you are greeted with a beautiful river trickled perfectly with granite boulders and then shade from massive redwoods and many varieties of evergreens and flora.
As you drive pass the tree covered areas you enter the Yosemite Valley and are greeted with all its majesty by El Capitan. It’s a jaw dropper and car stopper moment. If you look close, you can see climbers climbing this sheer granite rock. As night falls and the sun shines in different ways on the giant rock structures as if God decided to put the spotlight on them. And then there is nightfall, with little light pollution, the sky is so full of stars that it seems like a different sky than you see anywhere else. Attached is a picture that a friend took showing the stars with the granite peaks in the foreground.
The Half Dome Hike (by way of the mist trail): The hike starts off heading uphill of course as you make your way across a bridge and water filling station. From there, the grade increases and you have full sight of the Vernal Falls. We climbed over to the rocks just across from the falls and many hikers went down to the water below for a brisk swim. The hike gets steeper still as you reach the top of Vernal falls where it levels out for a bit. At this point Nevada falls is seemingly just ahead, but it takes quite a while to get to the top. The path switches back and forth and increases in grade as you climb closer to the top. Vernal Falls does NOT mark the halfway point to Half Dome, however, you then hit a relatively flat, sandy area called Little Yosemite. The Merced River is the only source of water before Half Dome and obviously requires a water filter to consume. After this section you will travel through a wilderness section before coming to Sub Dome. Sub Dome is a quite strenuous section that precedes the cables. It is above the tree line and you have no protection from the sun. To further enhance the strenuous nature of this section, add elevation of 8,000 feet. Then you reach the cables which are not for those that are faint of heart. It was a beautiful day on our climb, but you would not want to attempt this in the rain as it can be very slick. AHHHH!! The top of Half Dome!! The top allows for some incredible views of the entire valley and excellent opportunities for pictures of your accomplishment, but don’t forget, you are only half way finished with this hike. The descent is just as if not more difficult than the climb up and one must carefully descend on the cables. You do get a little reprieve in the wilderness and Little Yosemite sections, but as soon as you start to leave Nevada Fall, the steep descents return. I actually thought that when I got to Vernal falls that the descent would be a piece of cake and I could make up time, but that definitely was not the case. Your quads and knees take a hit on the descent and your legs are fatigued from climb up. I would say training on up hills and downhills and uneven terrain would be of great benefit to this journey.
All in all, it was a spectacular hike leaving you with a great sense of accomplishment.
Permits: You must have a permit to go to the cable portion of Half Dome. Permits are awarded through a lottery that takes place at the end of March and if you get it, you will be awarded a maximum of six slots. They also do a daily lottery of 50 or so permits per day throughout the summer, but you will not get notice until two days ahead.
TAFT POINT: If you are not ready to climb all the way to Half Dome, hike the mist trail to take in the beauty of the falls and scenery below. Another spectacular hike that is short is Taft Point. You can hit this driving and parking at the Sentinel Point & Taft Point parking lot and following the Taft Point. It is only 1.1 miles to get to the cliffs across from El Capitan. There is nothing to keep you from falling to a certain death here, but standing on the rock ledges and taking in the valley is worth the hair raising on your neck.
There are so many hikes and lookout areas at the park, but I just wanted to touch on a few of my favorites.
What to bring: Hiking shoes, good hiking socks, camel back, water purifier, head lamp, layers of clothes.
Accommodations: We spent the night at the tent cabins in Half Dome Village, formally called Curry village (a trademark dispute). These tents were ideal. The one we were in had four beds and comes with sheets, pillow and 2 blankets. It does get chilly at night, so bringing sleeping bags is not a bad idea. The showers and bathrooms are camp style, but nicely kept.
Other options are the Ahwahnee Lodge now called Majestic Lodge (same trademark dispute) which is more like a regular hotel. Backpacking and camping are also options with proper permits.