Hiking Half Dome

I’ve finally fully recovered from our hike up Half Dome last weekend. I like to think of myself as a fairly active and adventurous gal, but I admit, this hike broke me. But…I totally recommend it!

On Sunday, August 5, Dan; my sister, Anna; her boyfriend, Tim; and I woke up at 4:30am in our tents in the Dry Gulch Campground in the Sierra National Forest (near El Portal, CA). Dan, Anna, and Tim are all used to waking up at O-dark-30, but I’m not! Anyway, we had packed our backpacks the night before so we grabbed our ready-made sandwiches and extra water bottles from the cooler and hopped in the truck to drive into Yosemite National Park. While we were driving towards the park, I spotted a large buck mule deer standing on the side of the road. Luckily, he did not make a mad dash across the road as we drove past him. We parked our truck in the trailhead parking lot and then walked to Happy Isles, where the real trailhead existed. It was before 6am when we started our trek.

Early Start

Quite a few other people were starting their hikes at the same time as we were. I felt energized and excited to be embarking on this hike that I’d been wanting to do for years. The moon was high in the sky as dawn progressed to daylight. Soon after we set foot on the Mist Trail, we started our steady uphill climb. First to the Vernal Fall Footbridge – then, after walking up many, many, many steps, to Vernal Fall – then, after walking up more and more and more and more steps, to Nevada Fall. Within the first few miles, we were sweating like mad, but we were also seeing amazing scenery. All four of us were constantly drinking water, eating snacks, and replenishing our electrolytes via shot blocks and gels. We continued through Little Yosemite Valley and then up, up, and up along the switchbacks through the forest. We took our time, resting when we were tired, and forging on when we felt energized. At one point (soon after I had ventured off the trail to pee in the woods), Dan shouted at me as I led our small group up the trail “Stop! Bear!” Sure enough, off to our right, not far from the trail, a black bear wandered through the trees. We watched him walk on until we could no longer see him. So cool!

Vernal Fall Footbridge

Vernal Fall

Nevada Fall

At 11am, we reached the base of sub-dome, where we ate lunch and took our final pit stops before heading up the granite. Then, we started trekking up the hump of sub-dome. Hiking up sub-dome was probably harder than hiking up the cables to the top of Half Dome. So many stairs! So hot! So tiring! At noon, though, we were standing at the base of the cables, ready to head up to the top of Half Dome after showing our permits to the ranger. We put on our gloves, secured all of our belongings on us, and hauled ourselves up. It took us 30 minutes to go up the cables. While we were ascending Half Dome, we watched a large group of people descend at a very slow (and scared) pace. Some of them were clipped onto the cables with carabiners, which, honestly, I felt provided a false sense of security. Seeing all the people having difficulty with the descent made us nervous for our trip down, but first, we had to get up! When we stepped foot on the top of Half Dome, I felt so awesome and accomplished. I had done it! And, I got to do it with my wonderful husband and sister (and her great boyfriend, too). We hung out for half an hour on the top of Half Dome, which was large and quite barren. Then, we nervously started our descent. As we worked our way down the cables, I kept waiting for it to get hard. We all did. But, we soon realized that the people we saw descending when we were ascending made it look much harder than it actually was. We were down and off the cables within a half an hour and ready to trek down sub-dome and back to the valley floor.

Resting on Sub-dome

On the Top of Half Dome!

At the Base of the Cables After Descending Half Dome

I honestly thought that the hike back down would be easy. I mean, it’s all downhill! Ohhhh…I was so naive! Soon after we stepped off sub-dome, my feet started hurting. Really hurting. I hadn’t felt pain like this on the soles of my feet since I pulled doubles waiting tables in college. My feet would hurt so bad after serving for 15 hours that I couldn’t fall asleep at night. This was worse, though, because I couldn’t just lay down and wait for morning. I had to hike nine miles first! When we got back to Little Yosemite Valley, we took off our shoes and stripped down our clothes and jumped in the Merced River to refresh ourselves (well, the other three jumped in the river; after they commented on how cold it was, I just put my feet and legs in from the shore!). The cool water did help my feet feel better, but the good feeling was short lived. By the time we got back to Nevada Fall and started heading down the John Muir Trail, each step nearly made me want to cry. Half way down the JMT, utterly exhausted and without water, I couldn’t hold my tears back. I felt like we were never going to finish. We just hiked switchback and switchback and switchback. I couldn’t see the end and I was so tired. Anna and Tim were way ahead of us at this point. Luckily, Dan stayed with me and let me tightly grip his hand as we hiked the last three miles. When we finally reached the Vernal Fall Footbridge, I was so relieved – and so glad to see my sister waiting for me with a water bottle full of cool water from the nearby water fountain. After resting and rehydrating, we hiked the rest of the way down the trail, stopping near the end to watch a mama bobcat and her two kittens play near the path.

Hiking the John Muir Trail

Just because we reached the beginning of the trail, it didn’t mean that we were done hiking. We still had to hike back to the parking lot and our truck. Ah! When I finally sat down in the truck, so relieved to be done hiking (18+ miles, 4800′ elevation gain/loss, and 12+ hours later), I couldn’t even rest my feet on the floorboards. Anything touching the bottoms of my feet sent pain shooting up my leg. I felt like my feet would hurt forever. I know I was being dramatic, but damn, seriously, they hurt! After we ate dinner at Curry Village and crawled into our tents in our campsite, I downed a Tylenol PM and fell fast asleep. And wouldn’t you know, when I woke up the next morning, my feet felt totally fine. My legs and arms were still sore, but at least the pain in my feet was gone.

Okay, that’s my long, extended story about hiking Half Dome. Is Whitney next? Maybe someday:-) Right now, though, I’m just really so happy to have checked this off my bucket list. This was a great accomplishment for me and I’m so glad to have done it with my family and made the memories that we did.

About Carrie

I'm a Midwest transplant in SoCal...spending my time exploring, questioning, reading, writing, baking, skiing, and running.
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2 Responses to Hiking Half Dome

  1. Diane Chambers says:

    Thank you for such a vivid narration! I almost feel like I have been there myself. I know I will never make that trip so, again, thank you for saving me the exhaustion and foot pain. Your pictures are great (also ones on FB with cable views) and I am so glad Dan stayed by your side and did not taunt you for being a wimp. My feet often hurt from dancing on a resilient wood dance floor for 2-3 hours, so I can barely imagine what 18+ miles and 12+ hours- a lot of it on unforgiving, hot, rock- must be. Congratulations on such a great accomplishment. I would not have crossed it off my bucket list- I would have kicked the bucket as a result of attempting it. Hope you are proud.

    • Carrie says:

      Yes, we are proud of our accomplishment! Thank you for your congratulations:-) We definitely made some wonderful memories on this trip and hike!

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