The Day I Climbed Half Dome….

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“The summit is what drives us, but the climb itself is what matters.”

~Conrad Anker~

Climbing Half Dome (the Dome) was NEVER on my bucket list – not even for a second. I am scared sh*tless of going down hill and have a fear of heights. Until I went to Yosemite National Park several years ago, I didn’t know what Half Dome even looked like…I didn’t get it.

How did I manage to climb the Dome without planning months in advance? In the end it boiled down to some dumb luck and a lot of serendipity. The process may have changed since then so please do your research!

So the story begins...On my last day in Yosemite Valley, I hiked up the John Muir Trail (JMT) to Nevada Falls. If you can find the strength, go about a half mile beyond the falls, there is clearing on the left where you can catch a glimpse of the Dome.

Just as I was about to head back down to the Valley from the JMT, and leave the park, a group of 4 burly, tattooed guys came to enjoy the scenery. One of them had binoculars and was chatting away about how he wanted to climb the Dome but was always afraid to do it. He handed his binocs to me – I could see people grasping on to cables, slowly inching to the top. I was instantly inspired to make it to the top. No clue why, except I like a good challenge.

The most famous part of this hike is the cables that cover the last 700 feet of the climb to the top.    The cables are about 30 inches or so apart – wide enough for a death grip with both hands and just wide enough so 2 people can inch past each other coming and going.   Wooden boards have been strategically placed about every 10 to 15 feet so you can stop and rest if needed.  The incline on this stretch of the climb is anywhere between 45 and 60 degrees.  It is so steep in some areas, you literally have to pull yourself up to get to the next wooden board.

I immediately became obsessed and hiked down the Mist Trail, (a must do if you have the fitness to climb/descend stairs) determined to find a way to secure a permit.

As soon internet connectivity was available, I went to the National Park Service website http://www.nps.gov/yose/planyourvisit/halfdome.htm to do more research on the climb and the permit process. I heard from various climbers, you could get one through a lottery process 2 days prior to the day you want to climb.

What I found was this: The website sucked (maybe I am just incompetent) and finding a way to apply for a permit on line was a ridiculous waste of time. After a very long day of hiking, discouraging discussions with Park Rangers, and the website debacle, I had given up on my 3 hour dream to climb the Dome. Hopefully things have changed since then!

The next day, I was leaving the park around 11 am and literally veered into the parking lot of the Ranger Station to inquire about climbing permits for a future visit. Coincidentally, at 11 am, they start issuing backpacking permits for the following day.

Before I knew it, I was issued a backpacking permit for the Little Yosemite Campground. The most precious words were then said by the Park Ranger: “And by the way, if you want a permit to climb Half Dome, it will be an extra 5 bucks.”  I quickly jumped on the offer, spent one more night in the Valley, packed up my crap and hiked back up the JMT to the base camp campground the next day.

The thing about this hike (outside of the fact that it will jack with your mind when you see how steep the final ascent is), is that there are many inexperienced, unfit people out there making the pilgrimage to the top of the Dome and many of them start from the Valley. 

Starting from the Valley is a very ambitious plan – if you decide to do it this way, please don’t wear converse tennis shoes, flip flops, cotton shirts, or carry a little 16 ounce water bottle for the very difficult 17 mile journey. You will create a safety hazard for you and those around you.  I would also avoid climbing in the rain with lightening present.

Key Tips:  Bring A LOT of water with you, gloves with fingers else your knuckles may get shredded, wear the ‘stickiest’ shoes possible as the rock is very slick with overuse, and read the National Park Service website I noted above before you attempt this hike.   I would also recommend getting a campsite at Little Yosemite Valley so you can break up the hike – if you are in your 20’s, it probably doesn’t matter.  

If you get a campsite, start early, this will give you the luxury of having the cables all to yourself.  It starts to get crowded about 11:00 am when all of the ‘Valley’ hikers have made it to the cables. Also descend backwards.   Some people recommended going down sideways – they must have been on crack – can’t imagine how that would be a good idea, but I do have a fear of heights…

After I accomplished reaching the top of Half Dome and descending without incident, I realized that I can eventually overcome my fear of going down hill and if I go slow enough without panicking and remaining focused, I can pretty much do anything I set my mind to. Keep on truckin’.

I choose this!!

Pam

46 comments

  1. WordPress just ate my comment. What the hell?!! 😤 Now I have to start over again …

    I’m willing to give special kudos to anyone who can successfully climb the Half-Dome in flip-flops. It’s a different kind of crazy-stupid but if it works, who am I to criticize?

    All I can say is, you have cojones, girl!! I’d be cheering you on from the bottom, probably with an adult beverage or two to entertain me while you’re slogging away on the rock face 😉

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I hate that! I accidentally turned a sweet comment from a reader into spam! Can’t figure out how to fix it from my phone!

      Yeah, had I read too much about it, I probably would not have done it! When I got to the top, I had to dig deep to go back down – it was like looking over a cliff!! There was a really nice kid helping me navigate down so that helped a ton. Pretty sure I had a few adult bevies when I got down 😉.

      And the flip flops…I couldn’t watch that go down – had to look away!!

      Like

      1. I accidentally send comments to spam on a regular basis. You have to go into admin comments and change its status. It’s super-annoying.

        I’m not afraid of heights, but I admit I’d have weak legs going over the side of the cliff to get back down. There is a place in New Brunswick that’s on my list. You rappel down the cliff frontwards!! I’ve rappelled backwards but this would be a challenge!!

        Liked by 1 person

        1. Oh jeez, how about I cheer you on from the bottom with a wine bottle in hand?! No way Jose could I do that!! I’m looking forward to the post already!!

          Like

  2. Oh man, I cannot imagine attempting anything this difficult but you did it with style, in a safe way. Good job. People try to walk/climb 17 miles in flip flops? That is beyond stupid. I can’t even fathom that lack of awareness…

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks AB!! Yeah lack of awareness was rampant! I don’t think they realize how harmful it can potentially be to others if they aren’t prepared. Thankfully I didn’t notice any mishaps…I was too busy being scared sh*tless thinking about how I was going to get down!!

      Liked by 1 person

    1. You must do it! You would love the thrill of it for sure. Yosemite is sooooo gorgeous, but man, it’s the Disney land of national Parks. So many people! If you go, LMK and I can give u the lowdown on lodging options. We stayed in ALL of them on that trip!

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Snip “please don’t wear converse tennis shoes, flip flops, cotton shirts, or carry a little 16 ounce water bottle”. In the 90s, my wife and I did a hard hike down (the hard part was back up) into the Grand Canyon. As we descended the temps climbed steadily into the 110 range. A few hours later we emerged at the top tired and sweaty and proud of our difficult achievement. As we stood on the rim taking in the beauty of what we just accomplished a kid (20?) jogged by down the trail in flip flops–a hot dog in one hand and an 8 ounce bottle of juice in the other. That trail literally went nowhere except to the waterfall we just hiked to. His image is forever burned into my memory. Was he an idiot or did we overreact about the difficulty of the hike. We’ll never know.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. First off, I love the image of you and your wife at the top beaming with pride – that is an AWESOME accomplishment!! The Grand Canyon is one of my favorite places in the world.

      Second, I just told my boyfriend your story about the hiker. He used to work in the Grand Canyon years ago and said, he too, would hike down in flips, but better shoes on the way up! This guy was probably experienced!! He said they made fun of people in big hiking boots because it gets sooo hot on the trail.

      Also, backpacking in the Grand Canyon, our guides made us wear cotton shirts for breathability. I normally would not wear cotton for too many outings!

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Camping above the main valley was very wise! The last time I was in the valley overnight, it was at Housekeeping… which was kind of joke. But I was only there to help ferry in supplies to the base of the dome. Someone else was taking the direct route up.

    Some more prepared hikers will treat the cables like a via ferrata and wear a harness with a couple of carabiners on runners, then hook-in to the cable between supports. Don’t know how Kosher that really is, but a confidence-booster I guess. I know first-hand that being roped-in can do a great deal to alleviate fear of heights.

    T-shirt, flip-flops and a small (empty) bottle of water… yeah. I’ve written about that.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I actually kind of liked housekeeping!! If you can find a spot near the water it’s not that bad!

      The carabiner idea is probably the best way to do it if everyone does it that way. I think there were 5 out of a 1,000 ppl with the ‘biners. Thanks for reminding me about this. Others who may decide to do it may feel more comfortable with that approach!

      Definitely camping at the base was great, because u could be up and off the rock before noon without a problem.

      It was a great experience! Thanks for taking the time to read about it!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Just bad timing for us, I think. It was very crowded (and hot) when we were there, which made it feel a bit like a refugee camp. I think that with places like Yosemite, timing can make a big difference in that regard. And the area can be extraordinarily beautiful during some the “off” seasons. I also feel a bit overwhelmed by some of the valley floor development — though I can understand the desire to make it more accessible to everyone. It is someplace worth experiencing first hand, and the area offers experiences for a wide range of abilities and levels-of-adventurousness.

        Liked by 1 person

        1. Yosemite is a beautiful place, but I do call it the Disney of national parks!! Housekeeping was similar to a RC. However, we did stay at that tented camp where they had the hantavirus. THAT place was a RC. It was awful.

          I’d like to go in the winter and z country ski. Dreamy. 😊

          Liked by 1 person

          1. Almost mentioned the hantavirus outbreak… it was at Curry concurrent to our stay in August of ’12. I recalled the trip in a Feb of ’16 post. Been back several times since ’12, but no more overnights in or from the valley. We stick to Tuolemne anymore (Tioga Pass is nearby)… Cathedral Peak last year. And winter… YES! d( ̄▽ ̄*)

            Liked by 1 person

  5. An incredible feat, Pam! As I also have trouble going downwards, I empathise and shudder as I read your account.

    You have shown us yet again what can be done despite our misgivings and fears, and when we jump at opportunities when they come around.

    Thank you for this inspiration!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you! YES, do not pass a good opportunity by – EVER. No matter what it is. Something wonderful will always happen. hugs 🙂

      Like

  6. Good for you, congrats! I too have a fear of going downhill (I’m like a cat that climbs up OK and then gets stuck at the top, afraid to come down). I’d love to get to Yosemite one of these days but I’m not sure I’ll be tackling this one. Great story and info.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you Caroline! I don’t know what it is about going downhill. I sometimes have panic attacks – it’s nuts! Friends try and coach me and I just have to shut em down, cuz it doesnt matter, I’m still going to be afraid! Yosemite is sooo beautiful – it’s very crowded in the summer. It’s on the bucket list to go during the winter and snowshoe or cross country ski. I hope you make it there some time. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

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