Yosemite National Park
Yosemite Valley, California
Mileage - 18.55
Time - 8:52
AEG - 6,537 ft
Six months of anticipation led up to Wednesday morning at 5:00 am when Matt, Lisa and I left our site at the Upper Pines Campground for an all day trek to reach the summit of Half Dome. Famous among climbers as one of the largest granite monoliths on earth, and certainly one of the most recognizable features of any National Park, climbing Half Dome draws adventure seekers around the world. There are two ways to the top, climb the 2,000-foot face or be fortunate enough to have your name drawn in the annual lottery for a permit up the cable route. I finally landed mine.
The journey began on the Mist Trail hiking nearly 3 miles in the dark before we reached the top of Vernal Falls. The next 5 miles steadily gained elevation on the back (Southeast) side of the dome, giving an entirely new perspective of the mountain. Those miles went by rather quickly as the excitement continued to build the closer we came to the cables. Minus the smell of smoke (from a nearby fire) everything about this trail was really enjoyable. Once we hit a junction with two miles remaining, the views really started to open up, exposing most of the valley floor and distant glacial activity from eons ago.
An early start and fast hiking would work in our favor, arriving at the cables and descending before the crowds showed up helped make our overall experience as good as it could possibly have been. I'm not going to lie, when I first saw the cables from a distance I was nervous. As we drew near, standing at the base of the dome directly underneath the cables had a way of easing the tension. All I had to do was keep a firm grip, ensure my footing, make three points of contact, don't look down and I would be fine. Oddly enough, I wasn't in a rush to stand on the true summit, conquering the cables was the real accomplishment on this hike. We did have a chance to relax on the mountain for at least 45 minutes or so, Matt and Lisa fought off the persistent squirrels and took a short nap. I soaked in the views and warm sun rays before preparing for the down-climb. It wasn't as bad as I envisioned, and looking down over a 2,000 ft cliff on either side was not as scary as one might think.
It was all smiles on our return to the valley, mission accomplished! The hike down became quite leisurely, cooling down in the Merced River, stopping to take pictures and taking the extra time to see all the viewpoints. A big surprise was waiting for us when we opted to take the John Muir trail down instead of the Mist Trail. This turned out to be my favorite view of the day (pictured below, left to right is the backside of Half Dome, Mt Broderick, Liberty Cap and Nevada Falls). What a sight to see!
Nine hours later we returned to camp in Upper Pines, cleaned up and walked over to Curry Village for beer(s) and pizza. We found a prime spot on the porch of the lounge building where the three of us recapped the days adventure relaxing in the wooden rocking chairs. As the hours passed, more and more hikers strolled by and we shared stories and relived the infamous cable route.