Finally, we pulled ourselves up the last few grueling steps and reached atop Half Dome.
For nature lovers, hiking to the top of Half Dome in Yosemite National Park is a quintessential item on the basic “USA Nature Bucket List”.
While most of the hikes are open year round, the final stretch requires a pass to access the “cables”, ones that guide hikers up the last 400 feet of the hike on a slippery and steep rockface. Half Dome is only open from May through October. The process to get passes is competitive as only 300 hikers are allowed each day. An initial lottery takes place in March and subsequent last minute lotteries allow hikers who weren’t able to nab a pass in the first lottery to pick up passes resulting from cancellations or no-shows.
Having found out at midnight on a Friday that my friends and I had been successful with our entry for Sunday, we quickly packed our bags and we were on the road out of San Francisco by 2am. The traffic was light as we arrived in time for sunrise on Saturday morning at Tunnel viewpoint. This stunning viewpoint becomes clogged with tourists during the day but in the early morning light, we sat alone, enjoyed the view of the beautiful valley before us. Next, we drove up to Glacier Point and surveyed the mountain which we would soon conquer. The rest of the day was spent on an easy hike around Mirror Lake on the valley floor. It offered grassy meadows to lay on along the stream and views of the towering cliff facing both sides of the valley.
After an early night at a hotel in nearby Mariposa, we woke up at 4am to embark on the day’s 11-hour trek up to the top of Half Dome. Our energy was a mix of nervousness and excitement on the car ride into the park. We set off at 6am with heavy packs full of food and water – the last water stop was early on in the 16 mile roundtrip hike. The trail was enjoyably quiet. We arrived at the subdome Just before midday. After handing over our passes, we began the steep ascent. The final part of the hike was a climb up a slippery rockface guided by the cables and rungs. While our last minute departure hadn’t allowed us to prepare with gloves or hiking boots, both of these are highly recommended.
Finally, we pulled ourselves up the last few grueling steps and reached atop Half Dome. The adventurous hikers among us dangled our feet over the cliff face as we contemplated the thousands of feet we had gained from the morning departure from the valley floor and the essential Californian adventure we had just completed.