Beth and I just got back from a week of hiking, climbing and peak scrambling in Yosemite National Park. This and the next few posts will be from that trip.
fatalities, led the National Park Service to establish a permit system in 2010. When we scored a permit in this year’s pre-season lottery, we planned our Yosemite trip around hiking Half Dome.
Snake Dike, the only moderate (5.7R) technical climbing route up Half Dome, ascends the skyline on the left.
Occasional views of Half Dome through the trees provide motivation to keep pushing up the trail. Finally, at the base of the sub-dome, the character of the trail changes. Emerging from the forest, the trail climbs steeply up an open rock saddle - the sub-dome - leading to the base of the cables. Views from the sub-dome are almost as good as from Half Dome’s summit, with panoramic vistas to the north, south and east, and an in-your-face view of Half Dome’s summit monolith and the cables to the west.
Interestingly, many of the hikers we encountered along the Half Dome trail seemed inexperienced and less than well-prepared. Perhaps that’s a by-product of the permit system: people enter the lottery, get a permit, and just go for it. As a result, a fair number of hikers never make it all the way to the summit. That’s probably for the better, since the final ascent up the cables intimidates many hikers. Actually, it’s the climb back down the cables that really seems to sketch out most hikers: fear-frozen hikers are often stalled out along the entire length of the descent. The best advice for anyone who is uncomfortable with the exposure descending the cables is to walk down backwards.
Even though this was my fourth time up Half Dome (three hiking, one rock climbing), the summit views were as spectacular as ever. Yosemite Valley lies nearly 5,000 feet straight down, with El Capitan guarding its western end. Nearby, Cloud’s Rest rises straight up from Tenaya Canyon, its summit a thousand feet higher than Half Dome’s. In the distance are Mount Conness, the Cathedral Range and the Clark Range. Peering down the vertical north face, we saw a pair of climbers on the final two pitches of Half Dome’s Regular Route, a 23-pitch, 5.10c route first climbed by Royal Robbins, Mike Sherrick and Jerry Gallwas in 1957.
I’d be happy to stay on top of Half Dome for hours, but clouds were beginning to stack up against the Sierra crest. Lightning and slick granite make Half Dome a notoriously bad place to be in a thunderstorm. And with dinner reservations at the Ahwahnee, we had a schedule to keep. So after enjoying the summit for 40 minutes or so, we headed back down the cables and retraced our route back to Yosemite Valley, finishing up at 6pm.