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Hiking Half Dome: A Guide

No temple made with hands can compare with Yosemite.  Every rock in its walls seems to glow with lifeThe true ownership of the wilderness belongs in the highest to those who love it most. John Muir

Basic Half Dome Trail Description

The Half Dome hike is an iconic Yosemite Valley hike that people have been pursuing for more than 100 years and is one of the most popular day hikes in the country with its picturesque landmark summit. Reaching the summit is a memorable milestone worth celebrating, and Half Dome’s unique features make it a bucket list challenge for many people. At the summit which reaches 8,846 feet, the views of the Yosemite Valley are intensely breathtaking and rewarding. Along the way, you are treated to waterfalls, soaring sequoias, and, at the end, face the challenge of a lifetime – the cables to the summit of Half Dome. The National Park permit system [See link below] limits the number of people allowed daily on the cables section to a maximum of 300 (225 day hikers and 75 backpackers). The trail is open to all, but you need a permit to get on the cables. You need to plan this one well in advance. If the steep exposed cable section isn’t your thing, it’s still a great hike up until that point or even just to other parts along the way.

Key Data:

  • Length: 17 miles
  • Time required:  plan to spend at least 10-12 hours and maybe as long as 16 hours
  • Elevation Gain: 4,746 ft 
  • Summit Elevation:  8,839 ft

Dangerous:  This can be a dangerous hike, especially the cable section. “The last segment of the hike up Yosemite’s Half Dome is nerve-wracking to many and not without risk, however fatalities there are rare.  In the almost 100 years since cables were installed to help hikers climb the steep pitch of the dome, nine people have died from falling on that stretch. Of those fatal falls, at least five occurred when the rock was wet.” – Susan Steade, The Mercury News1

Details:  

This is not an easy hike and can be quite intimidating and dangerous. Proper preparation is a must.  Here are additional resources that we recommend you read to help plan your trip.  There are many resources, these are just a few helpful ones:

  1. https://hikingguy.com/hiking-trails/yosemite-hikes/half-dome-hike-complete-guide/ – Cris Hazzard posts lots of very informative blogs on his website and YouTube channel that will help you prepare.  Cris is a professional hiking guide and author.  
  2. One Best Hike:  Yosemite’s Half Dome:  by Rick Deutsch.  Rick is an adventure traveler.  He has hiked Half Dome over 40 times and wrote this book providing many great details.
  3. https://www.shedreamsofalpine.com/search?q=half%20dome.  This is a step-by-step guide for the half dome trail

The Hike

Starting point: Happy Isles Shuttle Stop – closest you can park; but the shuttle doesn’t start running until 7am You will want to leave well before 7am– go to Yosemite Valley Trailhead Parking Lot (10 minute walk to the trail head) Key segments of the hike 
  • Key Pointer: Do the Mist Trail up – it takes you by the two high waterfalls; then merges with the John Muir Trail (JMT) past Nevada Fall. On the way back down, take the JMT instead of the Mist Trail.  It’s easier on the knees albeit a bit longer.

Getting a Permit:  This is an absolute necessity!! You need to get a permit, if you want to ascend the Sub-Dome, which is the section before the cables begin.  There are a few options to get a permit:

  1. Apply for and win the pre-season permit lottery (March 1 – March 31).  
    1. Here’s the link to the permit lottery and key dates:  Link to Half Dome Permit Lottery.  
    2. Note, the lottery is open for a month and is not first come-first-serve.  So, you don’t have to worry about being first to apply.  
    3. You can apply for 7 different dates and have up to 6 people in your group.  The permit win rate is 29%.  
    4. If you get a permit, make sure you print out a copy and keep it with you on your hike in a plastic bag in case you can’t access the email on your phone
    5. You will need to show the ranger your ID – this is very important.  The group leader will need to show ID unless he/she specified an alternate permit holder at time of permit application.
    6. Applicants will receive an email with lottery results in mid-April or can get results online or by calling Recreation.govIf you win a permit, please send us an email and let us know.  We’d love to celebrate it with you!!
  2. Apply for and win the permit lottery 2 days before your hike.  Best chances are Tuesday through Thursday.
  3. Add Half Dome to a (overnight backpacking) wilderness permit. 
  4. Hike up to Sub Dome and hope to fill a hiker’s vacated permit spot (aka a no-show).  Obviously, this is a risky option.

Click on chart to enlarge

Water sources

Bring plenty of water.  Estimate that you will need to drink about 7 quarts of water on the hike.  That’s too much to carry, so you will need to bring a water filtration/purifying system to refill your water along the way. The only potable water source is at the Vernal Fall footbridge, which is not far into the hike.

See the following resources for water treatment methods

  1. Yosemite’s Half Dome: Everything you need to know to successfully hike Yosemite’s most famous landmark, by Rick Deutsch’s 

Parking:

Having a permit enables you to park at the trailhead parking lot (Happy Isle Loop Rd., Yosemite Valley, CA 95389).  Here’s the link to the lot on the map:  Parking

Packing Checklist 

  • At least 4 quarts of water 
  • Hiking boots with good grip
  • Hiking socks
  • Selfie-stick (if you want to take awesome summit photos)
  • Half dome Summit Flag (preferably a flag from 5ummit 5omething 😊).  There’s no better way to take a summit photo than with a flag 
  • Healthy Snacks and Energy bars – 
  • Food 
  • Spork
  • Water bottles
  • Electrolyte powder
  • Antibacterial hand gel/sanitizer
  • Water treatment device
  • Paper map in Ziploc bag
  • Nitrile (rubberized) work gloves for the cables  (this is an absolute must!!)
  • Wide-brimmed hat
  • Hiking Poles
  • Rain gear – lightweight poncho
  • Wicking shirt
  • GPS device
  • Backpack – (see Chris Hazzard gear guides — www.hikingguy.com)
  • Trekking Poles
  • Headlamp (bring extra batteries)
  • America the Beautiful Pass
  • Whistle
  • Convertible hiking pants
  • Extra layer and light shell
  • Suntan lotion -remember to reapply multiple times throughout the hike
  • Lip balm- makes sure it has one with SPF protection
  • Trowel and toilet paper – there are no toilets past Little Yosemite Valley
  • First aid kit
  • Wicking moisture shirt
  • Lightweight puffer jacket
  • Merino beanie
  • First-aid kit preconfigured for hiking
  • A small pocket knife

Lodging

You’ll want to do this well in advance, and it’s most desirable to be in the park.  The lodging can be harder to obtain than the permit.  

  1. Curry Village is the closet to trail
  2. Staying anywhere else requires a shuttle, but the shuttle doesn’t start running until 7am

Links to Other Resources: 

A lot of the information listed in this blog has been provided by the sources listed below.  We have used multiple sources to consolidate the information in a convenient manner:

  1. The Hiking Guy – Cris Hazzard, www.hikingguy.com 
    1. He has tons of great information including gear recommendations, directions, advice on his website and on YouTube
  2. She Dreams of Alpine – https://www.shedreamsofalpine.com/blog/half-dome-hike
  3. National Park Service 

Yosemite’s Half Dome -Once Best Hike; Rick Deutsch, link to blog:  https://hikehalfdome.com/?page_id=23

The Cables

This is the signature and most famous section of the hike.  The slope is 45 degrees, which is steeper than house stairs—but without the stairs.  So, you will be exerting a lot of energy with your arms.  You will be pulling yourself up.  When you get tired be sure to take a break. The climb from the base of the cables to the summit is 400 vertical feet and takes about 25 minutes depending on traffic.   We highly recommend watching YouTube videos of people hiking the cables.  It will give a perspective and advice on technique.  Some of the resources listed above have great YouTube videos on the entire hike and about the cables.  You should plan your hike to arrive at the cables before 9am to avoid the crowds, and the closer you are to 8am the better.  This requires a very early start, but you will be much happier.  Eat and drink before climbing the cables!! You can’t leave your pack at the base of the cables (just hiking poles)
  • Having said that, leave your trekking poles at the base of the cables.
Secure all gear inside your pack – Don’t attempt to grab anything that is falling if that were to occur—a hiker died doing just that. Every 10 feet there is a set of poles that hold the cables up to act like a handrail. The poles are sunk into the granite but are removeable.  That makes them a bit wobbly. Between each set of poles is a 2×4 that connects each pole.  Those 2’x4’s are not secured to the granite but do provide helpful traction.   Go back down backwards.

Tips:

  • Find a spot to go “to the bathroom” or relieve yourself before the Sub Dome.  There’s nowhere to hide after that.
  • Don’t look up or down or to the sides of the cables – just focus on each set of poles
  • Never go outside the cables
  • Stay in control and go slow
  • DO NOT attempt the cables in the rain
  • Sign -up for alerts
  • Seasons
  • No go time – winter, early spring and late fall
  • The cables are usually up on the Friday before the last Monday in May or early-June and the last day to use them is the day after the second Monday in October.
  • June is the best time to go – temperature is good, days are long and the waterfalls are fully flowing.

Color coded map

Start of trail and parking

Extra map for additional perspective

DISCLAIMER: This information provided by 5ummint Something, LLC is presented as a public service to those wishing to enjoy the outdoors. The recipient may use this information with the understanding that 5ummit 5omething, LLC makes no warranties, although every attempt will be made to ensure the information is accurate. This website and blog are not intended to replace official sources and information should not be considered error-free or not be used as the exclusive basis for decision-making. The use of the information provided by this website is strictly voluntary and at the user’s sole risk.  5ummit 5omething, LLC assumes no responsibility or liability whatsoever associated with the use or misuse of this data.

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