I won the lottery! The lottery to climb Half Dome that is. Back in March, my friends and I applied for four of the coveted permits to climb the symbol of Yosemite. They only let a maximum of 300 hikers on the cables each day. Each one of us applied for seven different dates and in mid-April we heard back. I was the only one to secure the passes and we were confirmed for a September 23rd ascent. A little over 18 miles of hiking later, including braving the Half Dome cables, we lived to tell the tale.
Even though we found out that we would be climbing Half Dome back in April, our climb date snuck up on us. About a month out from the hike, with all of the campgrounds offering reservations already booked out, our options were to try for first-come, first serve campgrounds, backcountry backpacking permits or stay outside of Yosemite Valley. We opted for staying outside of the Valley and settled on the Comfort Inn in Mariposa, about an hour outside of the Valley. We read up on supplies and gear that we would need and here are the things that are especially important to highlight:
1. Bring gloves. The cables up to the peak of Half Dome are slightly slick and you’ll want to protect your hands as you haul yourself upward and lower yourself down the cables. I invested in a pair of fingerless biking gloves from REI. There is also a pile of discarded gloves at the base of the dome, but I personally wouldn’t depend on those.
2. Wear grippy shoes. It’s important to have comfortable shoes for the lengthy hike to Half Dome along the Mist Trail, but it’s equally important to wear shoes with adequate traction for scaling the granite up the cables. I faced the cables in my Nike tennis shoes and I struggled with slipping a bit.
3. Bring a gallon of water. It sounds like a lot, but the altitude (8,839 ft. at the top of Half Dome) and the elevation change (4,800 ft. each way) mean that your body needs the extra hydration. There’s a water refill station at the base of Vernal Falls, less than a mile from the trailhead, but beyond that you are on your own.
Our Half Dome Hike
Our alarms went off at 3:30 a.m. Friday morning at the Mariposa Inn and we were on our way into the Valley by 4. We felt pretty good when we started at the Happy Isles Trailhead while it was still dark at 5:30 a.m.. Head lamps ablaze we made our way up past Vernal and Nevada Falls along the Mist Trail, opting to spend time taking in the beauty of the falls on the way down.
You encounter most of the elevation change on the portion of the trail past the falls and then hit the more flat, but lengthy portion of the hike past Nevada Falls to the Subdome. The Subdome is the rock terrain you must traverse to get to the start of the Half Dome cables. And when I say traverse, I mean prepare yourself for a fairly long section of steep switchbacks.
It’s certainly worth it when you emerge over the top of the Subdome and your adrenaline starts pumping as you witness the cable section that you are about to tackle. We reached the base of the cables around 11 a.m., gloved and ready to go. The cables were surprisingly more difficult than I had imagined. For one, there is traffic going both up and down within the same set of two cables. Although they limit the number of people that can climb Half Dome, there is still a fairly high volume of traffic going in both directions.
There are poles that the cables run through every few feet and sketchy wooden slats placed across the base of each pair of poles that you can stand at as a break from the slippery granite. It took our crew about twenty five minutes to make it up Half Dome and the panoramic views you are greeted with at the top are unbelievable. We posted up for a quick snack break and then proceeded to find the most scary looking rock projection on Half Dome, aptly named the Devil’s Diving Board.
There is also an area under the Devil’s Diving Board that you can access by crawling through a hole at the side called the Captain’s Chair. I decided that one was a little much, even with my inclination to get as close to all ledges as possible. After a bit of Half Dome chilling and taking in Glacier Point from the new perspective, we started back down the cables around 12:45 p.m. The descent down the cables is much easier, especially if you go down backward and sort of step/glide down.
On our return hike to the Happy Isles trailhead down the Mist Trail we stopped for a quick snooze at the top of Nevada Falls. I highly recommend braving the extra .2 mile stray from the Mist Trail to Nevada Falls. The water level was pretty low given that it’s so late in the year, but the falls and the view are still pretty darn majestic.
We made it back to the trailhead around 6 p.m. and headed straight back to Mariposa to consume our weight in pizza at the Pizza Factory. On Saturday morning we woke up, enjoyed the wonderful breakfast provided by the Comfort Inn (including the make-your-own-waffle station) and hit the road back to San Francisco. Our Half Dome journey was definitely one for the books. Ever since I was little and would visit Yosemite with my family, climbing Half Dome seemed like an unattainable dream. Standing on top of Yosemite and looking out over the valley was an incredible feeling.
Taco Bell Critique
This review is for the Taco Bell at 4526 Las Positas Road in the Plaza 580 Shopping Center, Livermore, CA. I hit this Taco Bell up on the way back to San Francisco the Saturday after our hike. After hiking over 18 miles, I like to think that I worked off enough calories to consume an entire Doritos Cheesy Gordita Crunch Big Box ($5 with drink), and you can’t convince me otherwise. The Big Box came with a Cheesy Gordita Crunch, a Burrito Supreme, a Crunchy Taco and a medium drink. My experience at this Taco Bell was quite lovely. The establishment was very clean, the cashier was kind and the sauces were well-stocked and out in the open so I didn’t have to embarrass myself by asking for ten packets of mild and hot sauce.
I was also asked if I would like to make a donation to the Taco Bell Foundation, which provides scholarships to youth pursuing their personal, educational and career goals. This was the first time I’ve ever been asked to donate to the charity and it prompted me to research Taco Bell’s efforts (pretty impressive). My final rating is as follows: