After seven days in Yosemite, I’m getting back to this dubious business of living in the “real world.” Back to emails, and voicemails, and stacks of snail mail, and TV shows sitting on the DVR (well, those I’ll take).
But in between all of that, I’m starting the daunting task of downloading, browsing, and editing all my pictures from the last week… a few hundred of them off my camera and the hub’s camera, from our entry trailhead at May Lake in the High Country all the way to our exit trailhead at Happy Isles in the Valley. (More from those in a few weeks… if I’m lucky!)
The impetus for this trip was my friend finding out back in April that she’d won the Half Dome lottery to climb the cables. We were excited but hesitant about the 16-mile hike… while completely doable, it didn’t sound very appealing to hightail it in and out of the valley in a span of 12 hours. So Will and I decided to turn the opportunity into a trip we’d always wanted to do: one week in the Yosemite backcountry, culminating in the climb up to Half Dome.
We would camp in Little Yosemite Valley (the closest starting point to Half Dome) and have a leisurely hike to the cables the next day, reducing our round-trip total to just 7 miles instead of 16. And, we’d have the freedom to go at any time of day, rather than being limited to a sunrise start time like most other people doing the in-and-out in a day.
On a Monday afternoon, we were incredibly lucky to be the only ones on the cables and have the whole dome to ourselves. After making it to the top and back, I’ll be the first to admit: I highly underestimated Half Dome.
I knew a few friends who’d climbed the cables, and I’d remembered seeing pictures of kids clambering up the slope and ultralight hikers wearing their “barefoot” shoes on the approach, all of which made it seem like Half Dome would be a walk in the park.
But I also think quite a few people bail on their permits, or reach the base of the dome and then turn back. If anything, the hike up the subdome seemed far more strenuous than the cables themselves.
There wasn’t a ranger to check our permits that day (at least, not that late in the day by the time we got there) and it seemed like everyone was coming down the same moment we were going up.
The first haul up Half Dome (on a section called the subdome, elevation 7,900 feet) was a series of steep switchback stairs carved out of the granite, some of them over a foot tall.
While channeling our inner mountain goats, we had views over the entire eastern side of the park, including a peek at our previous campsite on top of Cloud’s Rest.
About 500 feet of vertical later, we reached the base of the cables. In front of the route lay piles of old leather work gloves, free for the borrowing.
The cables loomed 400 feet up a granite slab, worn smooth from thousands of hikers ascending this same route over and over again for the last 90-some years (when the cables were first installed). Looking up, my first thought was… What the f@%k!?
The route seemed to disappear straight into the sky, at a much steeper angle than I’d expected. I’d assumed the cables were only in place as handrails of sort, but with the slope angled at 45° to 50°, you definitely needed to use the cables to climb the whole way (and good, grippy gloves are a godsend). Not only that, wear great shoes and trust your feet… and maybe do a few chin-ups or push-ups to prepare yourself, because that’s pretty much what you’ll be doing for 400 feet.
Every 10 feet or so, poles were put in place with flimsy little wooden boards on the granite to help you gain some footing. Climbing the cables took a lot of upper body strength, but if you focus on just taking deep breaths, moving from one board to the next, pinning your feet against the poles for support as you ascended, it was a manageable feat. (Some people harness up and clip in to the cables as they climb — via ferrata style — but I don’t think it’s necessary unless you’re really afraid of heights.)
I can’t imagine what the cables must have looked like earlier in the day when throngs of tourists were moving up and down the dome, or what the route used to be before the permit system was in place. To climb the cables with hundreds of other hikers in front of you and behind you seems like a nightmare. I’d read stories of hikers getting aggressive or impatient, or trying to pass the slower hikers, or even climbing outside of the cables — seriously? There are no mistakes on Half Dome. Getting cocky on the cables is a sure way to take yourself out or even worse, take someone else out.
So with our group of seven, I was so grateful to be the only people climbing up the route that time of day. We took our time, giggled and chatted, and enjoyed the views over the park. All of us made it to the top with a final exhilarating scramble to 8,840 feet above the world!
It’s rather unbelievable that no one was on the summit with us, and we still had a few hours to spare before sunset. We had Half Dome to ourselves! What amazing luck. We rested, snacked, took pictures and made friends with the resident marmot.
This little guy (one of many yellow-bellied marmots in Yosemite) was curious and mischievous, and you could tell he was used to human interaction. He walked right up to us, posed for pictures, and we even found him snooping in one of our packs. We gave him some water and named him Hal F. Domé. (Cheesy, I know.) He definitely needs his own Facebook page!
After spending a couple of hours at the top, we started making our way down the cables with plenty of light left in the day. Because of the steepness, it was much easier going down backward. By the time we reached the last 30 feet of cable, we could turn around and simply walk down the slab facing forward.
We practically skipped back to camp in Little Yosemite Valley, and just after the sun set, we threw ourselves into the (very cold but very refreshing) Merced River for a celebratory soak.
Half Dome… success! Another one to cross off the life list! (And if you’re looking to cross it off your own list, this is the best map and guide I’ve found that describes the trail and its history.)
Trail map: Click here
Segment log: 7 miles with 5,380 feet elevation change
Next segment: Little Yosemite Valley to Happy Isles and home sweet home
theGardenBettyAugust 1, 2013 at 4:47 pm
RT @cdnrockiesgirl: I’d love to do this! RT @theGardenBetty: Exhilarating and worth every knee grind. Climbing the Half Dome Cables http://…
theGardenBettyJuly 30, 2013 at 4:03 am
Thanks for the mention! RT @winehiker: Epic Yosemite: climbing the Half Dome cables, by @theGardenBetty http://t.co/BnXR3jBYqJ #hiking
theGardenBettyJuly 28, 2013 at 10:01 pm
Epic Yosemite: Climbing the Half Dome Cables http://t.co/LDz0Ob0RQt < TY for RT! @hikinghaven @TrailSherpa @owilderness
Lori_RiceJuly 27, 2013 at 6:13 pm
Such a great pictures! Want to do it! MT @LauraFCGO MT @thegardenbetty: Epic Yosemite: Climbing the Half Dome Cables http://t.co/0r9bm0M5cu
theGardenBettyJuly 27, 2013 at 4:49 pm
RT @LauraFCGO: Marmots! Incredible Yosemite views! So much to love! MT @thegardenbetty: Epic Yosemite: Climbing the Half Dome Cables http:/…
ClearWaterSkyJuly 26, 2013 at 11:26 am
RT @winehiker: Epic Yosemite: climbing the Half Dome cables, by @theGardenBetty http://t.co/LN3NPnaXKX #hiking
winehikerJuly 26, 2013 at 11:19 am
Epic Yosemite: climbing the Half Dome cables, by @theGardenBetty http://t.co/LN3NPnaXKX #hiking
Michael FJuly 26, 2013 at 8:03 am
Thanks for the pictures and story. I know I will never get a chance to go. Who’s minding the garden?
Linda LyJuly 26, 2013 at 3:17 pm
We have a wonderful friend who takes care of our property when we’re away.
Michael FJuly 26, 2013 at 8:02 am
Thanks for the pictures and story. I know I will never get a chance to go.
kimberly michelleJuly 25, 2013 at 9:08 pm
my hands are wet and drippy looking at these photos… but they are so wonderful! I’ve only made it to the start of the switchbacks and my vertigo takes over… I have such jealousy of everyone who can go beyond! And those marmot photos are amazing!!!
theGardenBettyJuly 25, 2013 at 9:01 pm
I made it to the top! Epic Yosemite: Climbing the Half Dome Cables http://t.co/kCZCdJtxrh #california #adventure #hike
theGardenBettyJuly 25, 2013 at 3:03 pm
Part of my week-long backcountry adventure: Epic Yosemite: Climbing the Half Dome Cables http://t.co/OXQB1wvqkt #california #hike
rockmaven56July 25, 2013 at 9:41 am
RT @TheGearcaster: Congrats! Love the marmot RT @theGardenBetty 8,840 ft above the world! Epic Yosemite: Climbing the Half Dome Cables http…
TheGearcasterJuly 25, 2013 at 9:23 am
Congrats! Love the marmot RT @theGardenBetty 8,840 ft above the world! Epic Yosemite: Climbing the Half Dome Cables http://t.co/MZaxKsJGFl
TrailSherpaJuly 25, 2013 at 9:16 am
Great pics! MT @theGardenBetty: 8,840 feet above the world! Epic Yosemite: Climbing the Half Dome Cables http://t.co/oxCnxfmLd9
theGardenBettyJuly 25, 2013 at 9:03 am
And there we were, 8,840 feet above the world! Epic Yosemite: Climbing the Half Dome Cables http://t.co/O9xgHR3NsM #california #hikerchat
FreedomUSJuly 25, 2013 at 7:48 am
Epic Yosemite: Climbing the Half Dome Cables http://t.co/mLOsZAENN5 via @zite. This is a great trip, if you can get a permit.
Crystal Rea PyrenJuly 25, 2013 at 1:08 am
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cdnrockiesgirlJuly 24, 2013 at 11:58 pm
I’d love to do this! RT @theGardenBetty: Exhilarating and worth every knee grind. Climbing the Half Dome Cables http://t.co/sYZgPMH1E3
HikingHavenJuly 24, 2013 at 10:04 pm
RT @theGardenBetty: Exhilarating and worth every knee grind. Epic Yosemite: Climbing the Half Dome Cables http://t.co/rMjKLAwDTT
LauraFCGOJuly 24, 2013 at 6:42 pm
RT @theGardenBetty: Exhilarating and worth every knee grind. Epic Yosemite: Climbing the Half Dome Cables http://t.co/LDz0Ob0RQt #californi…
Amy Watkins PellicerJuly 24, 2013 at 6:38 pm
Amy Watkins Pellicer liked this on Facebook.
theGardenBettyJuly 24, 2013 at 6:02 pm
Exhilarating and worth every knee grind. Epic Yosemite: Climbing the Half Dome Cables http://t.co/LDz0Ob0RQt #california #adventure
Thomas AmthorJuly 24, 2013 at 4:38 pm
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Carol HuberJuly 24, 2013 at 4:38 pm
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Carolyn ValdezJuly 24, 2013 at 3:56 pm
Wow beautiful pictures! I was in Yosemite two years ago and chose not to go up half dome because of height anxiety. Not sure I’m up for it yet, but maybe one day!
Linda LyJuly 26, 2013 at 3:21 pm
One of my friends, who’d climbed the cables that morning, had a fear of heights but managed to conquer it by clipping in to a harness… so it can be done! I hope you get another opportunity to try it one day!
Michael BenoitJuly 24, 2013 at 3:23 pm
Michael Benoit liked this on Facebook.
LauraFCGOJuly 24, 2013 at 1:25 pm
Marmots! Incredible Yosemite views! So much to love! MT @thegardenbetty: Epic Yosemite: Climbing the Half Dome Cables http://t.co/CQIO5bxYCG
LauraJuly 24, 2013 at 1:01 pm
Oh my! Got a little queasy just looking at some of the pics! Epic – but I don’t know about those heights!!!
Linda LyJuly 26, 2013 at 3:23 pm
LOL… The height thing didn’t bother me while I was climbing up, but I was definitely very aware of it as I was walking around on top and looking over the edge.
theGardenBettyJuly 24, 2013 at 12:02 pm
Another adventure to cross off the life list! Epic Yosemite: Climbing the Half Dome Cables http://t.co/JCv6F1yx5t #california #hikerchat
Scott Andrew EllisJuly 24, 2013 at 10:53 am
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Laura Morrow JacobsJuly 24, 2013 at 7:53 am
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Laura Morrow JacobsJuly 24, 2013 at 7:39 am
Awesome post! I felt like I was climbing Half Dome myself (which is as close as I want to get to actually climbing it myself 🙂 ). And the marmot – Love him!!
Caitlin @ Our Natural HeritageJuly 24, 2013 at 7:36 am
Wow! I am sitting here in Narragansett, RI – 52 ft above sea level and my stomach just dropped several times (I am a little afraid of heights 😉 What an epic adventure – thank you for sharing!!
Allison LynchJuly 24, 2013 at 7:17 am
Great post – awesome photos as usual! Thanks for sharing!
Stephen LêJuly 24, 2013 at 7:08 am
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Randall S. WinklerJuly 24, 2013 at 6:23 am
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Denise TysonJuly 24, 2013 at 6:23 am
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BG_gardenJuly 24, 2013 at 6:00 am
Epic Yosemite: Climbing the Half Dome Cables:
After seven days in Yosemite, I’m getting back to this dubious … http://t.co/uUenqDl3lf
theGardenBettyJuly 24, 2013 at 6:00 am
Blogged on Garden Betty: Epic Yosemite: Climbing the Half Dome Cables http://t.co/XTmA4FCrNA