July 9th, 2012: Half Dome, Yosemite Valley, CA

Fiona and I (Graham) booked a week off work so that we could visit California. The plan was to spend the first half of the trip in Yosemite Valley, and the second half in Napa Valley. During our time in Yosemite, my plan was to try and hike up Half Dome, something I had learned was possible on my previous trip there (but did not have time to do). 

The day before we left to go, while printing the directions for everything, I discovered that they had introduced a permit system for the last section of the Half Dome hike (Quarter Dome + the cables). The only way we would be able to hike Half Dome would be if we could win a daily lottery for the remaining 50 permits. 

We arrived in California, spent a day in San Francisco, then drove to Yosemite. We parked around the north side of the park, and started hiking around some of the smaller trails. Half Dome would always pop out to greet us:

We applied for the lottery each night, and found out on our second day that we were successful. We would be allowed to hike Half Dome on our third (and last) day at the park. 

Near the end of our second day, the day before our big hike, we drove to Glacier Point and looked at half dome from much higher:

You could actually see the route we would take. The hike goes through a forest, up past two waterfalls, then follows a river around the back of half dome before the approach on the far side. 27km round trip.

The next morning we woke up bright and early, and were on the trail by 5:30. 

Following the mist trail, we got to the first waterfall (Vernal Falls) after about an hour of hiking.

The sun started to rise casting shadows behind us as we climbed up towards Nevada falls.

After climbing up Nevada falls, we followed the river upstream for a few more kilometers, passing Mercer lake along the way.

The the trail turned left and switch-backed up the far side of Half Dome. After following this trail for a couple more hours, we got our first views of the back side of Half Dome. This was the first time we got to see people on the cables, and it looked very steep:

Not only the cables looked steep, but even the climb up Quarter Dome (shown here in front of Half Dome). You can see people climbing this too if you look closely

So, we began up Quarted Dome, which luckily did not feel as steep when you actually get to it.

We reached the top of Quarter Dome, and the bottom of the cables around 11am.

Fiona needed a little time to work up the courage and climb the last section.

We grabbed a pair of gloves each (from the community pile that has built up), and set off on our way up.

The cables are very steep, around 50% slope in parts. There is a resting spot every 20-30 feet where poles have been installed to hold the cables off the ground. Between these poles, the rock is very slippery. People are coming down as you go up, creating traffic jams along the way. The whole time you feel super exposed on both sides, and with the knowledge that people die here every year, it's a pretty scary climb up.

We made the ascent in about 20 minutes, and were greeted by a hungry marmot at the top. 

The view back down towards Quarter Dome:

And of the valley in the other direction

Me on the diving board. Notice the hole under and to the left of me:

You can climb in that hole, and follow a short tunnel to the "King's Chair". Someone coming out of the hole told me about it, and I had to try it. It was terrifying:

We ate our lunch at the top, then explored around a bit more.

Then decided it was time to hit the cables back down. The descent was less scary than the ascent for me, but more scary for Fiona and her very slippery shoes.

We did it! We started back down and the day got HOT. So, we took a big pit stop to go swimming in the Merced while our water refills were being purified.

Then continued back down back to the car via the slightly longer John Muir trail. 

We got back to the car around 6:30 pm. 13 hours total, and we were in pain. We hit the pizza place in Curry Village before driving back to the Hotel for a night of deep sleep.

All in all it was an amazing day.


  1. hey very cool blog. amazing those cables. what is your next destination?


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