“The summit is what drives us, but the climb itself is what matters.”
Climbing Half Dome (the Dome) was NEVER on my bucket list – not even for a second. I am scared sh*tless of going down hill and have a fear of heights. Until I went to Yosemite National Park several years ago, I didn’t know what Half Dome even looked like…I didn’t get it.
How did I manage to climb the Dome without planning months in advance? In the end it boiled down to some dumb luck and a lot of serendipity. The process may have changed since then so please do your research!
So the story begins...On my last day in Yosemite Valley, I hiked up the John Muir Trail (JMT) to Nevada Falls. If you can find the strength, go about a half mile beyond the falls, there is clearing on the left where you can catch a glimpse of the Dome.
Just as I was about to head back down to the Valley from the JMT, and leave the park, a group of 4 burly, tattooed guys came to enjoy the scenery. One of them had binoculars and was chatting away about how he wanted to climb the Dome but was always afraid to do it. He handed his binocs to me – I could see people grasping on to cables, slowly inching to the top. I was instantly inspired to make it to the top. No clue why, except I like a good challenge.
The most famous part of this hike is the cables that cover the last 700 feet of the climb to the top. The cables are about 30 inches or so apart – wide enough for a death grip with both hands and just wide enough so 2 people can inch past each other coming and going. Wooden boards have been strategically placed about every 10 to 15 feet so you can stop and rest if needed. The incline on this stretch of the climb is anywhere between 45 and 60 degrees. It is so steep in some areas, you literally have to pull yourself up to get to the next wooden board.
I immediately became obsessed and hiked down the Mist Trail, (a must do if you have the fitness to climb/descend stairs) determined to find a way to secure a permit.
As soon internet connectivity was available, I went to the National Park Service website http://www.nps.gov/yose/planyourvisit/halfdome.htm to do more research on the climb and the permit process. I heard from various climbers, you could get one through a lottery process 2 days prior to the day you want to climb.
What I found was this: The website sucked (maybe I am just incompetent) and finding a way to apply for a permit on line was a ridiculous waste of time. After a very long day of hiking, discouraging discussions with Park Rangers, and the website debacle, I had given up on my 3 hour dream to climb the Dome. Hopefully things have changed since then!
The next day, I was leaving the park around 11 am and literally veered into the parking lot of the Ranger Station to inquire about climbing permits for a future visit. Coincidentally, at 11 am, they start issuing backpacking permits for the following day.
Before I knew it, I was issued a backpacking permit for the Little Yosemite Campground. The most precious words were then said by the Park Ranger: “And by the way, if you want a permit to climb Half Dome, it will be an extra 5 bucks.” I quickly jumped on the offer, spent one more night in the Valley, packed up my crap and hiked back up the JMT to the base camp campground the next day.
The thing about this hike (outside of the fact that it will jack with your mind when you see how steep the final ascent is), is that there are many inexperienced, unfit people out there making the pilgrimage to the top of the Dome and many of them start from the Valley.
Starting from the Valley is a very ambitious plan – if you decide to do it this way, please don’t wear converse tennis shoes, flip flops, cotton shirts, or carry a little 16 ounce water bottle for the very difficult 17 mile journey. You will create a safety hazard for you and those around you. I would also avoid climbing in the rain with lightening present.
Key Tips: Bring A LOT of water with you, gloves with fingers else your knuckles may get shredded, wear the ‘stickiest’ shoes possible as the rock is very slick with overuse, and read the National Park Service website I noted above before you attempt this hike. I would also recommend getting a campsite at Little Yosemite Valley so you can break up the hike – if you are in your 20’s, it probably doesn’t matter.
If you get a campsite, start early, this will give you the luxury of having the cables all to yourself. It starts to get crowded about 11:00 am when all of the ‘Valley’ hikers have made it to the cables. Also descend backwards. Some people recommended going down sideways – they must have been on crack – can’t imagine how that would be a good idea, but I do have a fear of heights…
After I accomplished reaching the top of Half Dome and descending without incident, I realized that I can eventually overcome my fear of going down hill and if I go slow enough without panicking and remaining focused, I can pretty much do anything I set my mind to. Keep on truckin’.
I choose this!!