I was in Northern California on a speaking tour but had a couple of days while I was there that I didn’t have any speaking engagements.  I had combined the speaking tour with a conference I was attending in Seattle, the plan being that I would travel to several locations in California to talk about my books then fly to Seattle for the conference before heading home.

The day before I was to fly to Seattle ended up being free with no speaking engagements.  I knew that a few days in advance, so I decided to put in for a permit to climb Half Dome in Yosemite.  Whenever I tell someone from California that I like to hike, they invariably ask me if I have hiked Half Dome.  They all seem to think it is the greatest hike in the world.  In order to be able to tell them that I had hiked Half Dome, I figured I’d put in for the permit and, if I was lucky enough to get it, I’d make a quick trip out to Yosemite, hike Half Dome, then head back to Sacramento to catch my flight the next morning.

I had a speaking engagement on the 17th in San Jose in the evening.  I also found out I got my permit on the 17th, so I had to inform the people who were going to host me that night that I was going to drive out to Yosemite instead.  The presentation went well.  After signing books and chatting for a bit, I took off for Yosemite around 9 pm.  It was about a 4-hour drive.

I asked my wife to help me out by trying to find me a place to stay near or in the park so I could drive straight there, crash for a few hours, then start my hike.  She ended up finding me a cabin in the park.  Luckily, the office for the campground is open all night, so when I pulled in around 1:30, they were open, handed me my key, and gave me a map to show me where to catch the shuttle to the trailhead for Half Dome.  I headed to the cabin and went straight to bed – around 2 am.

I got up around 6:30, packed up, checked out of the cabin, then geared up and caught the shuttle to the trailhead.  There were quite a few people on the bus and most were getting off at the Half Dome trailhead.  After I got off the bus, I made a quick decision to take the steeper trail to get away from the herd of people.  It was a good decision.  After I reached the first waterfall (Vernal Fall) and first set of stairs, the crowds started to thin.

By the time I reached the top of Nevada Falls, there were very few people hiking on the trail.

I continued to push my pace as I still had to summit, hike back out, and then drive to Sacramento that night.  I passed a few people who asked me if I had a permit, as they didn’t and weren’t sure if someone was going to check for permits.  Sure enough, about a mile and a half below the cables, there were rangers checking for permits.  I had mine and showed it to them, but they were turning others away.

I made it to the cables after about 2 1/2 hours, where there was, unfortunately, a massive group of very slow climbers.  I ended up helping a woman who was afraid of heights make it up the cables, but it took me almost 45 minutes with her and her slow-moving friends in front of me.  I was happy to help and it made for interesting conversation.

After I got to the top, I took about 20 minutes to grab a bite to eat and air out my feet, changing my socks in the process.  It was still fairly early, but the heat was starting to rise and my sweaty feet need to breathe.

Wary that I would get caught behind other rather slow hikers on the way down, I didn’t want to stay long.  As it turns out, I did get stuck behind a very slow couple, but they eventually let me pass them.  It is definitely true that you can make good time getting to the cables, but the cables are a traffic jam just waiting to happen.

Here I am just below the cables with Half Dome in the background.

After getting past the cables, I tried to move pretty fast on the way down.  I did, however, stop just above Nevada Fall to let my feet cool off.  I pulled my boots and socks off and soaked them in the river for about 10 minutes as they were getting really hot.  It felt amazing.

From there, it was a quick trip back to the bottom.

Here’s my route:

Total hiking time was 6 hours and 45 minutes to cover 15.1 miles with 6,216 feet of elevation gain across the hike.

Half Dome was a cool hike.  Is it the most amazing hike I’ve ever done?  No.  It was beautiful in spots, and the waterfalls were really pretty.  But it has a serious competitor with Zion National Park, where the cliffs are equally amazing and the slot canyons are other-worldly.  I have been to lots of places that are stunningly beautiful.  I’d definitely do this hike again, but I think it might be more fun to hike half way and camp, summit, then hike out, giving yourself plenty of time to get stuck on the cables and to enjoy the river and scenery.  Sorry, Californians, Half Dome is cool, but it’s not the best hike I’ve done.

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