Half Dome

We got started early this morning so we could get up Half Dome before any afternoon storms. I soon entered a burn area from last year. The crew yesterday had told me that the fire burned so hot and so fast that there are giant craters all over from large trees that burned all the way down to their roots.


About a quarter mile from camp, I started getting dive bombed by a bird. The first two times I thought were accidents and then I looked up and found it in a tree staring at me. It started squawking again and came flying straight for my head so I dove onto the ground to avoid it. I held my trekking poles up then and waved them around in the air, but it didn’t care and came back a fourth time as soon as I turned my back to leave. I hid behind a tree and waited. Switchfoot had looked ready to leave camp when I left so I figured he’d be along in a minute and the bird might leave two humans alone. Sure enough, as soon as he walked up next to me, the bird flew farther away, despite that it had just been acting like it was about to swoop again. I think it was a peregrine falcon but the ranger I asked later insisted they wouldn’t act like that.

The rest of the few miles to the Half Dome junction were uneventful. I got a great view of it, and could see people climbing the cables to the top like ants. We all met at the junction, drank some water and had a snack, hid our bear cans in the woods, and set up Stretch’s tent to leave behind some more unnecessary gear and weight. Then we started up.


The first mile or so was just steep-ish trail. Great views of the surrounding area appeared as we got higher.


Then we hit the hard part. A ranger was checking permits at the bottom. He told us that storms were possible for the day and the cables frequently get hit by lightning. Have fun! It started with very steep switchback steps.


The steps turned into long granite slabs at the top of the subdome. Then we reached the main dome, where there are two rows of cables set up for people to “hike” up the mountain. It’s more of a climb than a hike, as you need to pull yourself up the cables. There is a pile of gloves at the bottom, most with the palms torn out, but I found a pair with decent grip and started up.


The cables are strung through poles, which may or may not be loose, and the poles have two by fours at their bases for people to stop and rest on. They are mostly about ten feet apart, and you pretty much have to do one section at a time because resting on the granite instead of the wood is too slippery. It’s worn smooth from all the traffic.


We made it to the top in fairly good time and enjoyed the views for a while.




Then it was time to go back down. Did I mention the one set of cables is for people going both directions? You have to take turns, one person up and then one person down each section. If there are a lot of people, or if someone is having trouble, you wait. There was a woman having trouble going down below us so it took a long time to get down. It was easiest for me to go down backwards but the rock still seemed a lot more slippery than on the way up.


We finally made it down and continued back down the trail, seeing a black bear on the way!


We stopped at the junction for lunch and to collect our gear. It started thundering and raining lightly just as we were ready to go. I put my umbrella up, but it didn’t last long.

Next, we stopped for water and swimming at the Merced River. It’s the first water I’ve been in that was a warm enough temperature to hang out for a while. Lightning appeared, so we got moving again, but the sun was back out by the time we reached Nevada Falls. We walked right over the top of it on a bridge and then followed switchbacks down the mountain with a great view of it.


We continued down the JMT until the northern terminus at Happy Isles in Yosemite Valley. I am now a JMT thru hike finisher!


We caught the shuttle bus to Curry Village, had dinner and drinks and some wifi, and then found the backpacker campsite in the dark. 14.2 miles today.


Add yours →

  1. That Half Dome climb does look strenuous. Terns used to dive bomb me in SD but I highly doubt it was a tern. The crater story is crazy!

  2. Congrats! Pretty amazing day, wildlife included. πŸ™‚

  3. Just unreal. Thanks for all the pics!

  4. Impressive! Amazing pics.

  5. So amazing, Kris!!!! Very proud of you πŸ™‚

  6. Truly amazing, what a wonderful experience!!! Can’t believe that falcon, you must be really SMELLY πŸ˜‰

  7. The trees that left the “stump holes” were already dead (and cut) before the fire came through. Live trees don’t burn into the ground like that.

  8. Half Dome is intense. Going down a slippery rock is definitely not my cup of tea. Impressive!

    On another note, I think Jim and I may’ve stayed in the same backpacker campground when we did our Yosemite trip in 2011: http://byov.blogspot.com/2011/09/northern-california-trip-yosemite.html

    • There are surprisingly few accidents on Half Dome. I asked the ranger checking permits and he couldn’t remember anyone falling off the cables. As long as you don’t have a problem with heights, I would recommend it on your next visit!

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