J&I were always interested in hiking the Half Dome, but with the permits going lottery a few years ago we just never found the time to apply for it. Seasonal lottery application typically starts in March, and by the time we remember to apply there weren’t any left. Then I found out about the daily lottery, which you apply 2 days prior to your planned trip. Chances of winning a permit lottery is higher if you plan a mid-week hike, and even higher towards the end of the season in early October. So that’s what we did, and got our permit on the first try.
After reading a little about the Half Dome hike and what to expect – 4800-ft climb, 17-mile round trip, 10-14 hr average hike time – we set off on our hike at 6:45AM knowing we had to beat sunset at 6:30PM. Each of us packed a gallon of water, 4 sandwiches, and 8 trail mix bars.
The trail starts at the Happy Isle Center and up the Mist Trail. October isn’t the best time to see spectacular waterfalls. The Yosemite Fall dries up late summer, the Bridalveil Fall turns into a trickle, but the Vernal and Nevada Falls are still flowing during this time of year, thanks to the fact that both are fed by the Merced River.
The trek up Vernal Fall was up steep granite steps.
Another 2 miles of steep climb brought us to Nevada Fall.
This was about the point when we started eating our first prosciutto, salami, chicken sandwich. J encountered a back country hiker who suggested trading her PB&J for his.
All was well until we got to around 6000 ft elevation past the Little Yosemite Valley. J started to lag, and I was worried that it was his chronically bum ankle, but he was tiring out, short of breath, and dizzy, which was strange because he’s about the fittest guy I know.
Me: You have no stamina.
J: You know why you’re not tired? Because you have fat reserves and I have none.
Me: Oh, now you’re calling your wife fat because you can’t keep up?
We eventually figured out that he was suffering from altitude sickness, so we slowed down, rested more, and made sure we were well hydrated. Both of us were working on finishing up the second liter of water by then.
As we slowly made our way up the trail, we passed a few hikers who had started the hike at 4AM. Seems everyone was taking it slow.
The rest of the 4 miles was a gradual climb until we reached the sub dome.
Some say that the sub dome is actually more difficult than the half dome because of all the granite steps late into the hike.
Finally we saw the cables. It was straight up – not a 45 degree angle as someone had described – more like an 85 degree angle.
We sat around for awhile – enjoying our lunch & scenery, watching people scale the dome. Then left our packs at the base of the half dome and up we went…
It really wasn’t difficult as long as you have hiking boots with good traction. At each set of stanchions is a wooden plank that allows you to stand on and rest if needed. For me, the sorest muscle were my fingers as a result of my death grip around the steel cables, which in hindsight wasn’t really necessary – death gripping that is.
The top gives you a bird’s eye view of the valley below…
We hung around – taking pictures and checking out the view – but the sun was beating down on us by now so we decided to venture back. Another 8.5 miles…
Remember the 1/2 gallon water we drank on the way up? Yeah, it was ready to come out. The nearest outhouse was in Little Yosemite Valley – 5 miles away. We were speeding down to prevent any “accidents”. As it goes, the faster you go downhill, the higher the chances of trashing your quads, and that’s basically what we were doing to our quads. On top of that, we realized our boots were too snug, and our toes were pounding the insides of our boots with EVERY SINGLE step (J&I had bought our hiking boots about 7-8 years ago, and since that time, our feet have gotten bigger – it happens with age due to loosening/flattening of the plantar fascia, which explains why my shoe size has increased from 5.5 to 6.5 in the last 20 years). By the time we reached Little Yosemite Valley we were spent, and we still had the 3.5 miles of steep downhill & steps ahead of us. It was the slowest and most painful journey. The 2 of us were moving like mooooolaaaaasseeees by then – like a couple of arthritic 70-year olds. It was pathetic and comical! At the end it took us the same amount of time going downhill as it did going up, but we made it down before sunset at 5:50PM.
Seventeen miles, 11 hours and 5 minutes, and never again – unless we get new hiking boots.