Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Hiking Half Dome

I can't believe it has already been almost SIX WEEKS since we were in Yosemite. It feels like it was just last week or so (but I guess the old saying "time flies when you're having fun" is true... especially the older you get ;)).

I also can't believe that I never really shared anything about our adventures on the blog (everything I shared was on my social media accounts) - #BadBlogger. Guess it's time to remedy that! And what better place to start than with our MAJOR accomplishment of the trip... HIKING HALF DOME!

But before we get to that, let me set the stage.

Friends of ours had planned a trip to Yosemite a while back (if you've ever tried to go in the summer you know how quickly spots fill up and how far in advance you have to book everything). Well, lucky for us, their campsite held six and there were only going to be four of them. A couple weeks before the trip, they asked if we wanted to join them. Uh... HECK TO THE YES! We had only ever been once before (over Thanksgiving of last year), but it was AMAZING and we have been wanting to go back when it wasn't freezing (literally it was in the 20s at night while we were there).

Since we were sort of a 'late add', we didn't really have anything planned - we were just thrilled to be along for the ride!


Three of them had permits to hike Half Dome on the Wednesday we were there. Since the preseason lottery for Half Dome permits had closed months before, we had a couple options. First, we could hike with them until the cables (where the permits are now required). Second, we could do a different hike while they were doing Half Dome. Third, we could apply for daily permits (availability is based on the estimated rate of under-use and cancellations).

We decided that what we would do would be to apply for the "last minute permits" - if we got them, awesome, if not, we would do the Clouds Rest hike while our friends did Half Dome. The lottery window is two days prior to the hiking day with a notification late that night. The application period is from midnight to 1pm.

A shot of Half Dome I got when we were checking it out from Glacier Point

The hubby set his alarm for 12:00am Monday morning and applied for our permits for Wednesday. (Truth be told, the Internet was slow in the camp site so he fell asleep while the page was loading, woke up at 3am and quickly finished the process.) We found out Tuesday morning (the notification email came around midnight) we did not get the permits...


I had read on one of the websites that for previous years (I believe the specific data was from 2013), that average success rate for the daily permits on weekdays was 56%, but only 31% on weekends. Here is what we decided - since we were already told "no" for Wednesday, the odds were in our favor that we would be told "yes" for Thursday (if the 56% success rate held for 2017). The game plan was to apply for Thursday permits (at 12am on Tuesday morning) - if we got them, then we would hike on Thursday, if we didn't, we would hike Clouds Rest on Wednesday (since you can do the majority of the hike along the same route as our friends would be going for Half Dome).


This meant the hubby set his alarm for 12:00am Tuesday morning and applied for our permits for Thursday. The bummer thing was we wouldn't find out until about 12:00am on Wednesday morning if we got them. So, another plan was concocted... Hubby would wake up at 12:00am on Wednesday morning to check his email. If we got the permits for Thursday, we would turn off our alarms, make a "sign" for our friends who were hiking Half Dome that morning that we wouldn't be coming and go back to bed. If we didn't get the permits, we'd re-set our alarms for 4:00am so we could get ready to hit the trail for Clouds Rest (hiking the first 85% or so with our friends as they went to Half Dome).

A view of Half Dome and Clouds Rest from Glacier Point

Well, I would assume that from the title of the post you guessed that we DID get permits to hike Half Dome on Thursday - YIPEE! (I've gotta #KeepItReal, I was a little nervous about it... Although the hike to Clouds Rest was about 20 miles round trip {with an extra 1,000 feet of elevation gain}, there weren't cables involved {which was what was freaking me out most about Half Dome} so I think I would have been totally okay had we not gotten the permits.)


With the information we had read online and our friends' beta from hiking it the day before, we set off Thursday morning ready to tackle Half Dome. Our game plan was to set our alarms for 4am, wake up, eat some breakfast, use the bathroom and hit the trails. We were staying in the Upper Pines Campground so we were really close to the trail head - which was AWESOME! Although the sun didn't technically rise until close to 5:30am, we left our site around 4:45am (using headlamps) and made it to the start of the High Sierra Loop Trail by 5am.

Still dark out when we hit the main trail

When we were in Yosemite for Thanksgiving we had hiked to Vernal and Nevada Falls. I remembered the hike being soggy, slick and strenuous. Well, I was right. And with the rainfall we received this past winter, the "Mist Trail" was extra misty. Thankfully we wore layers that would keep us warm and dry quickly.

The first video is on the way up (you can still see the moon): 

The second video is on the way down (from above the falls):

The data we saw said that it took folks an average of 12 hours to complete. We didn't have any goals (other than to enjoy the scenery and make it to the top), but it was nice to know some of the times our friends had hit certain landmarks at so we knew how we were doing overall.

Seeing as we started early, there weren't very many people on the trail. I think by the time we got to Nevada Falls we had seen about 5 people total. Since both of us are in fairly decent shape, we seemed to be cruising.

We had the trail to ourselves the majority of the way up

Shortly before we got to the split for the Half Dome/ Clouds Rest trails, two hikers were coming down towards us and told us they had seen a bear up the way. This freaked me out a bit A TON (even though they said you could hear him before you could see him because he was ripping bark off a down tree). Thankfully (for me) we never came across him (although the hubby really wanted to see him). We did have a couple encounters with wildlife - but mostly just deer ;)

A friend of mine calls me Snow White because I "talk to the animals"

As I said, we were cruising because we ended up getting to the cables around 8:30am (which means it only took us about 3.5 hours to get UP). The closer we got, the more freaked out I got (but that also might have been due to BEAR WATCH {I swear, I thought the bear was a crazy ninja and might jump out from behind any tree I happen to walk by.}.).

In case you are unfamiliar with the Half Dome hike, let me give you a couple stats. The hike distance is approximately 14.2 miles (22.7 km) round trip via Mist Trail. Half Dome's elevation is 8,842 feet (2,695 meters). The last 400 feet to the summit have two metal cables which allow hikers to climb without rock climbing equipment. The Half Dome cables usually go up the Friday before Memorial Day (conditions permitting) and come down the day after Columbus Day. Due to the large crowds, permits were introduces in 2012 and are now required seven days a week for the cables.

This is a picture Ryan took of Half Dome from the valley... We hiked TO THE TOP OF THAT!

Although waking up BEFORE the butt-crack of dawn can be difficult, it helped make this hike ABSOLUTELY AMAZING! When we got to the cables there were only a couple people on them, and by the time we had taken our backpacks off, I put on my harness and got up the courage to climb, they were empty.

Having the cables to ourselves made the world of difference. They are scary to begin with, but not having to deal with them wiggling from other climbers or having to wait for other climbers was a total blessed (especially for me). 

My man!

As you can see from the pictures, you are literally climbing up a rock face with two cables to hold on to and wooden 2 by 4s every so often to stand on for balance. I decided since we had all the time in the world, that I'd go first (that way if I slipped I'd fall into the hubby who could hopefully stop me ;)), climb a few sections and take a break when I got tired. Once I got tired, then the hubby would climb up to me. This way only one of us was climbing (and therefore moving the cables) at a time. This system worked out perfectly for us. I literally don't think we could have planned it better.

[Side note: The hubby is a rock climber and a friend of ours who is currently deployed let him borrow some of his gear. His wife had a harness and so I used it as a "safety net". This was more for comfort. Our friends who hiked the day before had their kids each wear a harness with two carabiners attached. At each pole, they would clip the free carabiner one to the higher cable and un-clip the back one - that way they were clipped in at all times. I ended up only clipping in when taking a break and waiting for the hubby. Again, this is not a requirement and had we not had the gear it wouldn't have been an issue, but since we had it, we used it, and I wanted to mention it in case folks saw it in the photos.]

So proud of myself for getting up to the top after being nervous. 

When we got to the summit it was just about 9am (meaning it took us about 4 hours from when we started at the trail head to get to the top). We decided to take our time, snap some pictures and enjoy the views. There were only seven people up on the top (three of which were rangers). #TheEarlyBirdGetsTheWorm #AndTheCablesToThemselves

Can you see me?! I'm out on the end of the "diving board".

And there's Ryan... 

Pictures don't seem to capture the scale of this majesty... 

I wish the pictures did this place justice, but they don't... You will just have to take my word for it that standing on the top of Half Dome is BEYOND what I could ever be able to describe. You feel so small, yet so accomplished. I don't know I've ever felt quite that way before (and I don't know that I'll feel that way again any time soon).

As soon as I saw this picture I thought the chem-trails in the sky said "HI"... Doesn't it look like that?! 

Once we soaked in all that God had orchestrated, it was time to head down. Although going up on the cables is more physically demanding, going down on the cables might be more mentally demanding. We had heard that some people go forward and some people go backward. I originally thought I'd go backward, but I didn't like the fact I couldn't see where I was going (the hubby went backwards and thought it was easier). Again, we had the cables mostly to ourselves (once we got towards the bottom there was a couple on their way up that we let go by us, but other than that it was smooth sailing). I swear, going down took about 1/5th the time it took going up (but you still need to be uber cautious).

[FYI: The rangers check permits. They have an iPad with all of the day's permits loaded and make sure to check you in. If you are hiking without one, you're doing it at your own risk and there's a high likelihood you'll not be able to summit.]

Some hikers will leave gloves at the base of the cables (they are HIGHLY suggested
and I would say are absolutely necessary), but the rangers we spoke with actually
thanked us for packing ours out with us...

You could tell the temperatures were starting to rise the later in the morning it got, as did the amount of people we saw on the trail. The hubby and I would stop to snap a quick picture, but for the most part we were booking it. We even started to run some of the even portions of the trail (there are parts that are rather rocky or sandy or steep, so we took those slowly, but decided to jog what we could... well, what we could in hiking boots that is ;)).

No running over the "water crossings"

When we got to Little Yosemite, we had the choice of either continuing back down the Mist Trail (how we came up) or going the John Muir Trail (which was a longer distance but less vertical). We ended up going back the way we came, which was totally fine - but definitely starting to get very congested with people.

At the top of Nevada Falls

Once we got closer to the bottom I looked at my watch and mentioned to Ryan there was a possibility we could finish in under 8 hours. Well, challenge accepted ;) We ended up running it back in to the camp site and completed our hike (which totaled 16.6 miles and 6,920 feet of elevation gain) in 7:56:51! [I didn't stop my watch at all, whether it was stopping for pictures, enjoying the summit, etc.. My Garmin said our moving time was actually 6:14:31, which cut our average pace down by about 6 minutes per mile.] HECK TO THE YES! WE CONQUERED HALF DOME!

Looks much different in the daytime, eh?

Home sweet home

That whole elevation thing is no joke!

Not sure if you noticed it, but it was 37* when we started, but in the 70s by the time we got back.

I'd say this accomplishment rivals the feeling of running a Boston qualifying time. Although I'd say I put MUCH LESS prep work into this (it's crazy because we hadn't really planned on it and it was pretty intense for the majority of the time), it was on my bucket list and am STOKED I was able to cross it off. It really reminded me that I can do hard things!

Looking back, I'd say the portion of the hike to Nevada Falls is the hardest (in my opinion, if you can make it to Nevada, you can make it to Half Dome). The distance after Nevada isn't anything to scoff at, but the majority of it is a lot flatter. Obviously the cables are cray-cray, but if you are able to attack them as early as possibly you will have the best chance of being able to go at your pace (whatever makes you feel most comfortable) with fewer folks around.

Would I recommend others do this hike? HECK TO THE YES! Would I do it again? ABSOLUTELY! (Although, truth be told, since there is so much to do and see in Yosemite, we will probably wait a few trips before repeating it.)


When was your last adventure?


Chelsea B. said...

The views look absolutely amazing! The cable part looks completely terrifying. Looks like yall had a wonderful trip.

Anne said...

Wow wow wow. Thank you for sharing this! Bucket list updated. :)

Kathleen said...

Thanks for this post. Lots of good info

Unknown said...
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Unknown said...

Thank you for all the insight, what exactly made you nervous about this hike? The height?