Hike Yosemite, Hike Half Dome, Yosemite Valley
to the top of Yosemite's magnificent monolith Half Dome means miles of stone
stair steps, miles of switch backs, chugging water continuously and then
upon approaching the goal you find that you must risk your life hauling
yourself up the side of HD on two steel cables at about a 45° angle before
reaching the summit and the spectacular view. After doing it in a day,
up and back, I understand why it is considered a two day hike.
My son-in-law, Mike and I got a good start, passing the trailhead, Happy
Isles, by 6:15 AM, Friday, July 25, 2003. The air was cool and no
threat of rain was expected. The first mile of easy walking brought us
up to the bridge that gives a good view of Vernal Falls (the photo to the
left is of Mike at the end of our journey when the light was better for
taking this shot). As we continued our way along the Merced River we
soon reached the famous mist trail just below VF. Here
encountered the first challenge of the day: wet stone stair steps and not a
few. (When I speak of a challenge I don't refer to the perspective of
my companion but to that of the old guy who is more than 30 years his
senior.) Mike was almost always in the lead setting a good pace
because we were told that our goal should be to get to the top of both falls
at least by 9:00 in order to reach the top of HD by noon or no later than
1:00. This is so that you don't find yourself on the return trip
having to work your way down wet stone steps next to a drop off and in the
dark. We attacked the stone steps with vigor since we were fresh and
new to the chase. At the top of Vernal Falls we had gone 1.5 miles.
This is a good jaunt for families wanting a short hike and a spectacular
view and quite a few were there already. We moved on quickly finding
more rocks to climb all
way to the top of Nevada Falls and at that point it was only 8:00, one hour
before schedule. I must admit that the old guy had slowed down with
Fortunately the next mile above the falls was, as we had been told, pretty
flat and wooded so there was some shade. I was glad that I had applied
sun screen because the mid summer sun was feeling warm. Near the end
of this section of the hike we saw the back of Half Dome to our left and
Little Yosemite camp grounds off to the right and the last chance to use
This was where the switch backs began and where a sign warned: "BEWARE.
If a thunderstorm is anywhere on the horizon DO NOT PASS BEYOND THIS SIGN.
Lightning has struck Half Dome during every month of the year." We
moved ahead, little knowing that a thunderhead was moving our way,
unexpected and unseen.
We trudged on for the next 3 miles of dusty switchbacks with a lot of cover
from the ponderosa pine, cedar and fir. We did see one deer (left).
Two days previous on our hike to the top of Yosemite Falls we encountered a
black bear of moderate size and had to chase it away from the trail so we
could pass. There are warnings everywhere about the wildlife.
Even though they may seem friendly they are still wild. We were told
that the deer have caused more accidents than bears. Their hooves are
sharp and have been know to kill people, so its wise to keep ones distance.
As we approached the bare granite shoulder of HD we caught our first sight
of our goal from a new angle (right). We were almost there.
Before us were more stone stair steps and some scrambling over boulders and
panting because we had been hiking for about 4 1/2 hours and had come from
4,000 feet above sea level to approximately 8,800 feet in altitude. We
were however pumped, having the summit in sight and knowing that we were
making good time.
As we trudged our way over the shoulder we could see very clearly what kind
of experience was ahead of us; the 400 feet of infamous HD cables (left).
Our wives were nervous about our making this hike because they had gotten
news of a woman who fell from the cables the previous day and had to be air
lifted to the hospital with quite a few broken bones. She would
probably have been killed if her leg had not gotten caught on one of the
At the base of the cables were piles of leather gloves left by previous
thoughtful hikers. Gloves make the ascent and especially the decent
much easier (my thanks to whoever left the red gloves, size large).
Mike let me take the lead here and he waited patiently as I struggled,
pulling my way up from pole to pole. Besides having to let the ones
coming down pass us, I had to stop and rest quite a few times as fatigue was
taking its toll and my legs were not cooperating. We made it up in
about 15 or 20 minutes, even though Mike could have gone ahead and made it
So here we were actually on the top of what has been a part of my dreams
ever since first visiting Yosemite as a child in the late 1940s. Here
we were and the view was awesome.
"Let them praise the name of the Lord, for he commanded and they were
created." Psalm 148:5
The old guy did, in fact, make it to the top surrounded by all of Yosemite's
splendor (left). It was 11:15, time for lunch and we were definitely
hungry. We took the obligatory pictures and after that Mike explored
the vast bald head of HD while I rested. By 12:00 we were ready for
the decent. As we started to make our way to the cables we heard
distant thunder and looked up to see dark clouds moving our way. We
could have practically run down, sliding our gloved hands along the cables,
if it had not been for the increase of people needing to pass us on their
way to the top.
I felt more comfortable getting off the rock and back into the woods because
it was beginning to rain a little. We never heard any more thunder as
we hurried on, trying now to get back to the trail head at a respectable
hour. The 8.2 mile descent was easier than hiking up but it had its
challenges. We did see a rattle snake below Vernal Falls, the second
one of the week.
We took more pictures on the way down so we could share the experience and
arrived back at Happy Isles by 4:00, one hour earlier than when we had hoped
to return. The approximate 5 hours up and 4 hours down didn't seem too
bad for a 16.4 mile hike. If my companion had not stuck with me he
could have gotten back much sooner. Our back packs were a good bit
lighter now for we had drunk over a gallon of water each. I for one
was glad to find a seat on a crowded shuttle bus and rest my weary bones on
our way back to Curry Village and supper. It had been quite a day, one
long to be remembered.
Need I say, as a final note, that the better shape you are in, the more you
will be able to enjoy this unique Yosemite excursion? In spite of the
fact that this 60 year old guy ran six miles a week, cycled and hiked in
preparation, I should have done more because the strain on the legs during
the nine and a quarter hours of hiking was tremendous. I should point
out that its nice to have a doctor as ones traveling companion.
"Let everything that has breath praise the Lord." Psalm 150:6
Yosemite National Park website:
Some other popular hiking areas
up Yosemite Falls is a real challenge
the big island of Hawai'i allows you to see it's unique beauty up close
hiking Ricketts Glen
in Pennsylvania where there are
Here is the most popular hike
in the Mid-Atlantic region:
Hike Yosemite, Hiking
Half Dome, Yosemite Valley
2003, Elton D. Hannaman
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