The Half Dome hike is a strenuous, all day hike. It takes you to terrifying heights, through the vast wilderness of California, pushes your body to the limits, yet is so completely worth it!
We got up while the campsite was still completely dark, using flashlights to find the little stove and heat up some coffee. We had already hit the trail when the sun made its first appearance.
After hiking up hill through the woods, you reach granite rock which takes you even higher. From there, you can see all the way down into Yosemite Valley - the site is unnerving, yet inspiring.
STEEP, STEEP, STEEP!
We arrived at the final destination, the Half Dome. The path leading to the dome curves down before it scoops high into the sky like some magnificent giant.
At this point, I don't know if I had altitude sickness (as it's a 5,000 ft climb above the Yosemite Valley), was just exhausted (I was not in shape for this), or plain afraid of the heights and plummeting to my death... my stomach was in constant somersaults. I did NOT want to go up the dome. I turned to Andrew and said, "Nope, I'm not doing that". He looked at me and said, "We didn't hike all the way up here... I'm not going to let you NOT go up there. We'll just take it one step at a time". I knew he was right, but I was flat out terrified. The climb seems sky high and completely vertical, and it's curved so that you can't even see the top.
The Half Dome cables (loose wire cables and planks of wood spread out every 5 feet or so) allow you to climb the last 400 feet up to the summit. It's scary, not going to lie. I kept telling myself "easy peasy" and trying not to look down. As there is only one set of cables, people are going up and coming down at the same time. So quite often, we had to stand to the side and balance, holding the cable tightly to let others pass. We were prepared with our own gloves which helped immensely for gripping the wire cable. I'd also recommend hiking boots with GREAT grip! It's truly amazing that this otherwise inaccessible peak is made reachable to the public because of the National Park Service.
I made it to the top, laughed, then took a rest. I was too freaked out by the heights to want to look around... just the idea of how high up we were frightened the heck out of me. I think I was more afraid to go DOWN than climb up the dome. As you can see in this photo, on the descent, you can only see the beginning rails, which look like they completely drop off the surface. I felt as though I was going to slip all the way down as we made our way, very slowly, scooting on our butts to reach the railings. I was so shaky; I just tried to remain focused and think "one step at a time".
Needless to say, the hike down goes a lot faster! Altogether, it's a 14-16 mile hike. We left before dawn (around 5am) and got back just before dark, total hike being around 12 hours. As stated on the national park's website, this hike is not "safety guaranteed" as you are venturing out into the wilderness. If you choose to do this hike, make sure you are well prepared: physically, mentally, and with the proper gear. That being said, I would definitely recommend this hike to anyone seeking true adventure in California's vast wilderness.
Wearing: vintage L.L.Bean leather hiking boots
Photos by Andrew Gregor