Yosemite Half Dome Day Hike

It’s funny how sometimes we travel to the ends of the earth in search of the fountain of youth, and all the while it’s been right in our own back yard. I just got back from my first trip to the Yosemite valley and can’t believe how such an incredible place is stamped so close to every major city in California.

Apparently the valley gets really crowded with campers and tour groups during the summer months, which is why I chose to make the trip in November. Ever since I was a little kid I’ve done my best to score the early and tail ends of seasons in order to avoid impacted spaces.

Although it looks warm in the photos, it’s the brink of winter so it got pretty cold at night. I’m not accustomed to camping in below freezing conditions, which added to the experience.

On the second morning of the trip I decided to set off on a leisurely 4 mile walk to check out some of the many waterfalls in the valley. After reaching the falls relatively quickly, I decided to push on another couple miles to Little Yosemite Valley. At Little Yosemite I was still feeling really good, when I ran into a couple campers. I asked the campers how far it was to the base of Half Dome, and they said it was another few miles. I asked them if I’d be able to get to the top once I got there, and they told me there was no way because the cables were “down” and I wouldn’t be able to make it back to the valley before dark. I had no idea what they were talking about when they said the cables were “down” because I’ve never looked into doing the hike or even visiting Yosemite before my arrival.

Half Dome is in the background.

I decided I’d hustle to get to the base of Half Dome in order to check it out, to see what I’d be getting myself into if ever decide to make the trip to the top. During the climb to the base of Half Dome I began to feel fatigued. There were a bunch of switchbacks in the woods that prevented me from seeing the destination, and with the sun falling into the late afternoon and the words of caution from the campers fresh in my head, I was a little bit worried I would be stranded on the mountain for the night.

Eventually the trail took me above the trees where I caught my first close view of the top. I was surprised to see how steep the final ascent is, and when I got closer to it, noticed there was a guy climbing down the spine.

I couldn’t believe it. I thought to myself that he must be a pro rock climber, and that there was no way I would be able to free climb to the top. I’m a surfer, not a mountain man, so I’m completely out of my element on the rock faces.

Either side of the spine rolls off over sheer vertical cliffs thousands of feet above the valley floor. I’m not really scarred of heights, but wasn’t feeling very comfortable up there at all.

When the climber reached the base of the dome I asked him if it would be possible for me to climb to the top. He smiled and said “yes, you should, the view is nice up there.” I asked him how, and he said just muscle the cable off the rocks and slowly crawl your way up there. With that, I was determined.

Since the trip I’ve looked into the hike and found that it’s not very difficult to make the final ascent when the cables are “up” and there isn’t any ice on the face. Apparently there are even wooden steps that rangers set to make the climb possible for just about any average person with the desire to get there during the season. Someone said you even have to wait in line to get up there during the peak summer months. Seems like that would take a lot away from the experience, but it would still be well worth it.

Look close to see if you can see the dude who got me motivated climbing down from Half Dome. He’s the little black speck!

I was really nervous when I got about half way to the top. I looked down, which was a bad idea. I then started to think about the fact that I could be stuck if the sunset before I could get the strength to climb back to the base and down the trail after reaching the top which was distracting.

Had to keep telling myself to stop being such a little pussy and crawl my ass to the top. There were guys literally sleeping in climbing hammocks halfway up the top of El Cap while I was scared hanging onto this heavy cable on a face that isn’t even near vertical.

Couldn’t believe it when I got to the top. The dude was right, the view is jaw dropping. I was even more surprised to find that there were two hardcore rock climbers that had just made the final ascent from the face of Half Dome up there.

They were tripping that I was up there too and offered to take my picture. After asking where I climbed up, they took off and left me with god on top of the world. I’m not religious, but am a spiritual being. Although weak in the knees from the combination of fatigue, hunger, vertigo, and arriving at the top of Half Dome from sea level in San Diego in just over 24 hours, I felt confident that I would make it back to the valley just after sunset so I took the time to soak it all in.

This climb was three days ago. Since then I cruised through the Tioga Pass, checked out Mono Lake, and stopped by Mammoth Mountain. My body is still pretty shredded from the 19 mile round trip day hike to the top of Half Dome, 4,800 feet above the Yosemite valley floor, but I’m feeling really good. Changed my momentum if you know what I mean.

Do not do this hike when the cables are down, and check in with a ranger before doing any activity in the Yosemite valley.

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