10 Oct California Dreaming Part 5: Yosemite Day 2 (Half Dome)
Woke up at the butt crack of dawn. Nervous and excited. Not only am I climbing Half Dome, but I am climbing Half Dome ON MY BIRTHDAY.
Feeling that exhilaratiion that makes you wanna dance a jig yet throw up at the same time. I have never hiked anything like the Half Dome before and it is definitely anxiety-inducing. Am I ready? Do I have enough water? What if I slip on the cables? What if (fill in the blank)…?
I was so anxious couldn’t even eat. I had a sip of my Vega protein shake and that was it. I brought 2 of them, a Costco-sized bag of beef jerky, and some protein bars. I should be ok foodwise. I also have about 5 liters of water and Gatorade in my backpack.
It was still dark when we got to the Happy Isles parking lot. Aileen has her headlamp on. I have my uber powerful LED flashlight that I am so grateful that my friend Albert forced me to get. Walking up to the trail, we met a park ranger whose job it is to dissuade hikers from hiking up during the forest fire. He told us that he cannot tell us what to do but strongly advised us to postpone the hike to Half Dome due to air quality and poor visibility. Well, we came from across the continent and only had 2 nights in Yosemite so we didn’t really have a choice.
It was dark for about an hour into the hike. It was pretty accessible with a paved and relatively easy trail. Then it starts to gain elevation and my little sea-level lungs start to feel it. The first thing we saw at dawn was the beautiful Vernal Falls at around 1,000 feet. Check it out.
Also FYI, there are bathrooms at this part of the trail, right before you go up the huge granite staircase.
At the top of Vernal Falls is the stunning Emerald Lake Pool. There are numerous signs that indicate swimming is not allowed but apparently, there are people with major cojones that go in and risk slipping and falling into the waterfalls.
Not too far from this are bathrooms in case you need a break.
It got a bit more strenuous after this part. You gain another 1,000 feet and get to see the beautiful Nevada Falls. Just past the top is the last public bathrooms. After that, it’s you and nature or the composting toilet at the Little Yo campground.
Then the path kinda gets more monotonous after this. You hike through miles of switchbacks lined with pine. Lots fallen pine, in our case, as we were hiking at the height of the forest fires.
Right before you reach the sub-dome, which a lot of people say is more difficult to climb than the cables, we got a smoky glimpse of Half Dome.
The sub dome is composed of huge granite stairs, seemingly built for long-legged people. I didn’t have that difficult of a time because I had long legs for short person (inseam 31 inches) but it is still quite strenuous.
As you get closer to the top, you see a line of people hiking up the rock face, and you’re like, “WTF…that’s what I’m climbing?”.
As you approach the cables, you will see a group of people right before, resting after they get back down or leaving a lot of their gear before they climb. They advised us to leave our water and anything heavy because the climb will be easier with a lighter backpack. But we had to take food (and Gatorade) up with us because there are little squirrels and chipmunks that go through your stuff.
This is me starting the climb.
The cables are no joke. There were moments when I wondered why I ever decided to do it. You have to have relatively good upper body strength, especially your grip.
As you can see from the photos, the cables are looped through these steel poles embedded in the rock. At each steel pole, there is a wooden 2×4 step attached to it. Which sounds really easy, but the steps are about 10 feet apart, longer than most people’s strides (31 inch inseam or not) so you have to pull yourself up quickly, walk on rock, then get on the next 2×4.
We took small breaks and sat down on the 2×4. Be prepared to let people pass you or pass people as you climb. Apparently, this gets super crowded during the summer. I can’t even imagine!!!
You will curse and you will wonder why you put yourself through this, but once you get to the top, it is all worth it. Unfortunately for us, our visibility was really terrible due to the wildfires. What was supposed to be a beautiful panoramic view of the park was this:
But, you know what? Still beautiful and what an incredible thing to accomplish on your birthday, right?
Tips for climbing Half Dome:
1. Don’t look down. This will remind you how high you are and realize that sliding past the cables ensures a not so happy ending.
2. Wear really grippy shoes. I bought new hiking shoes that have really good soles. I recommend investing in a good pair because it could literally save your life. There were times when I felt my shoes slipping despite this. So do not cut corners here!
3. Work out your upper body and do exercises that increase your grip strength. You can’t depend on your lower body for this one.
4. Get really good gloves. This will also save your life. I got a gardening/tool hybrid and it did the job.
5. Do your research. I am sure you can wing this hike (like we kinda did) if you are in incredible shape but knowing what to expect is better. Honestly, if I would have known how incredibly difficult this is, I might have chickened out.
6. There are no restrooms at the top. And no good place to relieve yourself either, so ease up on the fueling before you go up.
This is us after the climb.
On Part 6: Yosemite Day 3 (Redwoods and El Capitan)