A travel and lifestyle blog

Sunday, February 16, 2020

Hiking Half Dome

       I was innocently unprepared for one of the most remarkable, iconic and arduous hikes in California. Located in Yosemite National Park, which is one of the most naturally beautiful places in the US, half dome is a well-known and very distinct granite rock. It stands 4,737 feet above the valley floor and is about a 16-mile hike up there and back.   
     I’m glad I didn’t know what I was in for because in hindsight, I probably would have chickened out. My husband and I had been on several hikes before half dome. We had most recently hiked Mount Baldy and an 11-mile hike close to our house. I had also ran a couple of marathons in the last year, so I felt pretty confident. Yet, even with all of this preparation, half dome was still so challenging for me.  If you’re out of shape, I really wouldn’t recommend doing it.

    The hike up to half dome is almost all uphill with several feet of large granite stairs, so by the time I got to the cables, my limbs were shaking. For many like me, it became more of a challenge and adventure than I could have ever imagined.

       My husband grew up near Yosemite, and I know he had always wanted to hike half dome, but never got around to it. We both love to hike, so it only made sense to surprise him with a trip up there. Without really researching what I was getting myself into, I booked a hotel in his hometown of Oakhurst, which is about 30 minutes from Yosemite National Park, bought some permits and made the nearly four-hour trip up there.  It turned out to be one of the most memorable and amazing hikes that I had ever been on, but with that said, I just want to warn you that this hike is not for the faint of heart.  

Here are some half dome hiking tips to help you prepare:
-You will need to have a permit in order to hike half dome.
     They allow a maximum of 300 hikers per day in order to reduce crowding, improve safety, and protect the natural resources and wilderness. They accept applications for permits from March 1st to the 31st. This is done by lottery, so I heard the best chances of getting a permit would be on the weekdays. You will then get an email in mid-April notifying you whether or not you were selected to receive permits. Cables are put up from late May to early October. For more detailed information go here and visit Recreation.gov  to apply. When we got up to the sub-dome, we saw a little ranger station, but no one was there. We could’ve actually not paid for the permit and still entered half dome, but I wouldn’t recommend this because there is always the chance that they would turn you away if they were there. You would also have to pay a large fine. It’s actually pretty easy to apply online anyway. Good luck! 

-Book your stay. There are quite a few places to choose from that are close to the hike like Curry Village if you want to camp, Tenaya lodge, which is a very nice hotel in the area, or the infamous and very beautiful Ahwahnee hotel. I would book these well in advance because they can fill rather quickly. We stayed at the Queen's Inn , which is about a half-hour drive outside of Yosemite in order to save some money. We also booked during the week, which also helped save us money. I loved this little hotel because it was quaint, quiet, there was a little pond that ran in the back of the hotel to enjoy. It was also attached to a little winery, and we received a complimentary tasting, which was really nice 

-Get in shape! Run the treadmill or stairs before attempting the hike. Try some other difficult hikes in your area to prepare your body because it really is quite the challenge. It can also help lower your chances of injury. There are a lot of stairs and rock, so you want to be careful. I thought I could make up time going back downhill since I was slow going uphill, but the reality is that there is so much rock that it’s difficult to go fast downhill without risking fall or injury. The key is to have endurance and keep a steady, careful pace.   

-Start early. Most hikers take about 10-12 hours to get there and back, and some take even longer. Leave around sunrise or earlier. If you haven’t reached the half dome by 3:30pm, you will need to turn around, because the last thing you want to do is hike in the dark. Check the sunrise and sunset as well as the weather report the day of your hike. Plan to carry a flashlight or headlamp, map and compass just in case you get stuck in the dark.

 -Hiking the cables. People left gloves and hooks to connect to the cables there, so you don’t need to bring any of these items. Take your time and be careful because it is easy to slip and lose your footing. Stay to the side and allow faster hikers to pass you, and never go outside of the cables. I wouldn’t attempt to do this if there are storm clouds or if the rock is slippery because most accidents happen when it’s wet. 

-What to bring. Broken in boots with ankle support and good traction are a must. It can get slippery when you are on the granite stairs and at the dome areas, so good shoes are very important. It’s also very rocky and it’s very easy to roll an ankle if you’re not careful. Bring a trash bag, at least 4 liters of water, and flashlights. We brought a backpack that had a built-in water case, which was very helpful. We filled up at a fountain by Vernal falls. Pack light, since you will have to carry it for 16 miles. Cell phones are also good to bring since my husband actually had some great service at the top of half dome. Good phone service is not located all over the hike, but it’s still good to have since the ranger stations aren’t always fully staffed in case of emergencies. 

-Wildlife tips. Never leave food unattended. If you see a bear, act immediately and scare it away by making as much noise as possible. Make yourself big and stick together. 
-Parking info. Trailhead parking is just beyond curry village. Shuttle stop number 16 or Happy Isles is where most people begin the hike. The shuttle begins service at 7am so if you are planning on hiking before then just walk on the road which will lead up to the trailhead
  There have been some fatal falls from the cables as well as lightning strike fatalities, so make sure you are as safe as possible. Don’t forget to take a lot of pictures and enjoy your hike! Hope this helps you!!

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