It is difficult to ignore the intimidating Granite structure when you are in Yosemite.Often known as icon of Yosemite,the rock looks like a dome cut in half.I attempted this hike when I was not in very great shape. In fact, I didn’t know anything about Half Dome at all.It was my first time in the park and my goal was to hike it.
How to get hiking permit?
We won hiking permit in a lottery and decided to hike the monstrous rock in the summer of 2016.
Only 300 hikers per day are allowed beyond sub dome when cables are up.
Where to stay a night before hike?
We booked a cabin in Half Dome village.The cabins were clean and was a mile away from Mist trail via Happy Isle Loop road.We chose to stay here because we wanted to start early in the morning.
Which trail to hike – John Muir or Mist trail?
There are 2 hiking trails to Half Dome – Mist trail and John Muir trail.
John Muir trail is 16.5 miles round trip and less steeper.
Mist trail is 14.2 miles round trip and shorter one.It is easy to follow, mostly paved all the way but the steep stairway can be hard on knees.Most of the elevation is gained by climbing stairs which can be very strenuous.We took Mist trail both ways.
In both cases, elevation gain is about 4800 feet from Yosemite valley.
It took about 14 hours for me to complete the hike.
I recommend to take Mist trail while climbing up and John Muir trail while climbing down if you got balky knees.
The hike starts at Happy Isles parking area.Both John Muir and Mist trail start from the same trail head but separate out later.Mist trail is more scenic and vastly popular because of majestic views of Vernal Falls,Nevada Falls and panoramic views of Yosemite valley.
The Mist Trail
I started the hike at 5:30 am in the morning.It was soothing cold and sky was pitch dark.Initially, trail followed a river until I reached a foot bridge which offered a first misty glimpse of Vernal falls with first rays of sun falling on it.All the way long I was thinking why it is called Mist trail and suddenly I realized why.The name became more clear as I followed the path alongside the river and swiftly I was hit by the soft and damp air in the face.As I started climbing up the stairs, my face got little damp and soft breeze turned into a light rain.The transition happened so slowly that I hardly noticed until I was completely soaked.Soaked from head to toe, my shoes, my socks, my clothes – everything.Was it cold? Was it freezing?Yes, it was bit cold but it was amazingly refreshing.It was so amazing I forgot that I was actually freezing:-)
At the top, there was a large plateau where I rested and dried myself under the sun before moving forward.
I continued along the Mist trail and hiked another 1.5 miles to reach Nevada falls.
After Nevada Falls, the trail pretty much flattened out for few miles until I reached Yosemite campground followed by steep switchbacks in forest.
Hiking another 4 miles inside the forest gave me the first glimpse of Half Dome, a single stubborn rock stood on its own.But before Half Dome there was another major obstacle which was the most difficult part of the hike for me – the sub-dome.
The sub-dome was on a steep switchbacks like stairs carved on the rock.I was so tired by the time I reached sub-dome that Half Dome felt unconquerable.There were people resting at the base of the sub-dome.Some people didn’t have permit to climb the cable route and others physically gave up.This was my first hike where I saw people literally giving up so close to the final target.Probably, this is the only part of the hike which might discourage you to move forward.I gave a final push to myself to cross the sub-dome and reached the foot of the another 400 ft rock called Half Dome.
My body was drained and my legs were shaking but when I saw Half Dome and its famous cable route, adrenaline rushed through my body and I was all pumped up to face the final hurdle of my climb.No matter how many times I watched the pictures or videos online, I could have never prepared myself for what I was seeing in front of me.Now the hike was all about how I envisioned the 400 ft steep rock in front of me.The cables were placed at 50 degree angle with wooden support every 15 feet to maintain balance.It required a lot of upper body strength to pull myself up.I would recommend to use gloves to get better grip and avoid painful blisters.It took me about 20 mins to reach at the top of the Half Dome.I found nice cool space and slept for few minutes.There was a huge sense of accomplishment though my body completely gave up when I lied down.
The views of Yosemite valley were majestic and unobstructed from the top.I spent about 45 mins on the summit and started descending down.Depending on the weather one can decide how long to stay at the summit.Long stay is not recommended if weather conditions are not good.If you think coming down from cable is easy.. it’s not.. its even harder than climbing up.My heart started pumping fast when I saw the height at which I was standing and below me was Yosemite valley.A small mistake could have led to a nightmare.But I went down backwards facing the rock which made the descent relatively easy.
Once I was out of the cables, return journey flew by and before I knew I was at the top of Nevada falls.The falls felt more pleasant hiking down compared to hiking up.
By the time I reached Vernal falls, it started getting dark and I had to switch on the headlights.About 30 mins later I reached the trail head, took shuttle,went to Half Dome Village food court and ordered pizza.Oh my God ! Pizza never felt so divine.
Though I was totally fatigued and drowsy, the feeling of triumph and sense of achievement overpowered the soreness in the body.
Gatorade was my best friend throughout the hike:-) Definitely, this hike will always be one of the most adventurous and memorable hike in years to come.
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