Our Half Dome climb day was Tuesday, July 9th, so I drove up to the Bay on Saturday morning to spend some time with friends (and drink a lot of vodka, which was maybe not the best training strategy). On Monday morning, I set off from Pleasanton to make the trek to Yosemite, about a 3-hour drive. I had planned to meet my friend and another girl that was hiking with us along the highway somewhere, but we didn’t have firm plans, and I didn’t realize until I was about halfway there that I didn’t actually know where we were staying.
I realized this at almost the exact second that I completely lost cell service, which I had known would happen well in advance. I called my husband the night before since I knew I wouldn’t be talking to him that day or probably until I left Yosemite, but it never occurred to me to find out where I was actually driving to, since I wouldn’t be able to contact my friend once we were there.
Even though I was pretty stressed and annoyed with myself, the drive there was stunning, there is a beautiful lake as you come up to Yosemite, and the rock formations are gorgeous. It took a lot of swearing and little bit of standing on top of my car, but eventually I got a text message through, and we met up at our rental cabin in Half Dome Village. There are a few rental options in Half Dome Village, including tents that are already set up, and little cabins, which are basically like hotel rooms with a bathroom, and two beds in each room.
We got lunch right away, there are a few little restaurants there, including a pizza place, a burger place, and a coffee/ice cream place, then went exploring for a few hours around the park, including riding the shuttle over to Yosemite Village to stamp our National Parks passports (I bought one at Yosemite, even though I’ve been to about 10 National Parks in the last two years and have never before felt the urge) and check out Lower Yosemite Falls. There are a lot of really cool looking hikes in the area, but we thought we should save our energy for the next day.
We headed back to our cabin to get our stuff organized (read: to pack our snacks), ate all the carbs for supper, and went to bed early, although I don’t think any of us slept much.
We woke up at 3:15 the next morning, put on our hiking clothes and some sunscreen, and head out. One of the reasons we wanted to stay at Half Dome Village, is you can walk right to the trailhead, and don’t have to worry about parking, which we heard can be kind of tricky.
We arrived at the trailhead at 4:30 a.m. It was still dark, but two of our group had headlamps so we were able to see the trail. It was really neat to be roaming through the forest in the dark, although I did freak out a couple of times when I saw random shadows and decided they were snakes/bears.
There are two waterfalls along the way to Half Dome, and we made it to the first one just as the sun was starting to come up. The hike from our cabin door and back down (spoiler alert, we made it!) was about 18 miles total. The first part is pretty well groomed trails, with lots of stairs. After the second waterfall, there is kind of a flat wander through trees and meadows by a river that was really pretty in the morning, but goes on for quite a long time.
We made really good time on our hike; we were so energetic and excited that we got to the sub dome by 10:00 even though we thought it would take us until noon. Right before the sub dome is where you have to show your permit to be able to continue up. I feel like everyone talks about the terror of the cables at Half Dome, but the sub dome is kind of scary in its own way. It’s very steep, parts of it are stairs, and parts are just flat rock that you kind of scramble up, but there are no railings or anything and it’s a long way down if you fall.
The view from the sub dome is beautiful, but the first glimpse of the cables is pretty sobering. It looks very steep, especially from the top of the sub dome. There was definitely part of me that didn’t want to do it, but I told myself I had hiked 9 miles, and I wasn’t ever doing this again, so I had to at least try to get up to the top.
The cables are bolted into the side of Half Dome, and there are pieces of wood laid out about every 10 feet. It’s pretty steep, and it’s basically a straight drop down on either side. Some people bring harnesses to clip onto the cables to make it a little safer, I would say about 20% of the people had them, including the two girls I was hiking with.
But I didn’t, I just wanted to get up as fast as I could, because I knew if I had too much time to think about things I might freak myself out. I didn’t want to be behind anyone that was taking extra time to clip and unclip all the way up, so I decided to go first.
It’s about 400 feet of cables to the top, and it starts out a little bit steep, ends a little bit steep, and then is pretty much straight up and down at parts along the middle. It was pretty scary, but the best thing about Half Dome were the other hikers, as there are people going up and down at the same time, and almost everyone is super friendly and helpful, and works together to make sure everyone has a safe climb.
I couldn’t tell you how long it took me to get up, time kind of stops as you just pull yourself, try to go by other people, and keep your footing, but I would guess it took me 20-30 minutes to get up to the top.
The view from the top was amazing; we had great weather so it wasn’t too hot or too windy up there. We hung out for a while, took pictures and had some snacks, all while trying to fend off attacks from the hungry squirrels that swarm the Dome. If you left your pack alone for 30 seconds to take a picture or talk to someone else, they would be in your bag stealing your food, and throwing your stuff all over the place.
We stayed up top for about 45 minutes, and then started the trek down, which I honestly thought was scarier than the climb up. It might have been because there were a lot of people coming up at the time and there were points were I was just kind of hanging out and not able to move for a few minutes at a time.
I didn’t fully relax until we were back at the bottom of the sub dome, that’s when we really felt like we had done it and everything was fine, but then we still had nine miles to hike to get back down, and we were starting to run low on water. The sun was fully up by then, it was about 1:30 when we got back to the trail, and it was very hot, and slow going on the way down, since we were all tired and sore from the first half of the hike.
By the last mile of the hike, I really didn’t know if I could finish, the bottoms of my feet were burning and it hurt every time I took a step. I was about to just lay down on the side of the trail and give up, when out of nowhere, like 3 baby angels, a group of very attractive Australian boys joined up with us. They were on a tour of the U.S. and had just done a two mile hike, so they asked us a bunch of questions about where else they should visit, and we told them all about the hike we had done. Before we knew it, we were back at the village, essentially unscathed, and it was basically a miracle.
The first thing I did when I got back to the cabin was crack open a grapefruit LaCroix, take off my boots and put my sore little feet up on the headboard. They were very dirty and puffy, but I didn’t really have any blisters (maybe thanks to these socks) and elevating them for a few minutes really helped.
We had big plans to celebrate, but after we showered and went to get burgers, I think I drank about half of a beer, and then went home to bed. I slept like a rock, except for several times when I jolted awake because I had nightmares about being back on the cables. The next day, I woke up feeling a little bit stiff, but honestly, fine.
In the end, I’m SO glad I got to do Half Dome, it was a great experience with girlfriends, and I’m proud of myself for making it to the top even though I was scared of the cables. If you’re thinking about doing it, I would just say, it is kind of hard (nobody really said that to me, everyone just told me how much fun it is and how great the views are) and make sure you bring a lot of water, more than you think you’ll need. Also, bring Oreos, which aren’t technically a necessity, but are definitely nice to have.