Christian Kemp's USA travelogs

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I awoke at around 6am, surprised to find that  temperatures hadn't go down below 15°C in the night. I had only planned to hike Half Dome the following day, but when I saw that the pre-dawn sky was clear I reasoned that I'd be better off doing it straight away. Since I had not prepared my backpack the night before, I still had to assemble everything I thought I needed - these days, on longer hikes I prefer to be well-prepared.

I took off at 6:30am. The beauty of staying at the top of Upper Pines Campground is that it's just a very short walk to Happy Isles. I was at the mile marker by 6:40. A mere fifteen minutes later I was already past the first bridge with a view of Vernal Falls, which were not carrying a lot of water. A short time later, on the irregular stone staircase ascending next to the fall, I started passing the first hikers who were also on the way up. (I'd pass about fifty hikers on the way up.)

7:15 saw me at the top of Vernal Falls, where I took a short break to eat and drink a little. By 8am, I was at the top of Nevada Falls, where once again I took in some calories. Two hikers said they'd seen a bobcat five minutes before. I headed on, into Little Yosemite Valley. Here, the trail is pretty flat, but not all that nice to walk on because it's somewhat sandy.

Further on, I restarted gaining elevation through the forest above Little Yosemite Valley, and reached the "2 mile" marker to Half Dome at 8:55. 45 minutes later, I was at the start of the first dome (?), where the trail left the forest and plateau and would climb over more rock steps and smooth granite. This part was pretty exhausting, because the climb is quite steep, but I went at a steady pace and made it to the start of the cables at around 10am.

After a final calorie refuel, I put on my climbing harness and shortened my hiking poles, and at 10:15 started to climb up the cables. The cables are two steel cables, about three or four feet apart, and with steel pikes holding them up at arms height. They, along with wooden boards on the ground every fifteen feet or so, would provide support on the way up the 45 degree granite wall.

There were only a handful of people at the cables at this point, so I could climb at my own pace, clipping and unclipping myself to the iron cables after every iron post. The climbing harness wasn't strictly necessary - in fact, I didn't see anyone else wearing one - but it did provide a layer of security, a knowledge that even if I slipped, I wouldn't fall.

I was still glad to reach the top of the cables, not because the climb was scary (I quite enjoyed it, actually), but because the muscles in my legs had started cramping up and needed a break.

I took that break on the plateau on top of Half Dome, which is surprisingly large and flat. I stayed 45 minutes, walking around and resting, and then set off again for the hike down. By this time, the cables had become more crowded, in particular the bottom part would be quite full with hikers on their way up. As such, it would take about 30 minutes to head down, since each time I met someone we'd need to figure out if I'd let them pass, or they'd let me pass.

I received a few compliments on wearing the climbing harness - "now that's a smart move" - and was a bit surprised why in a country as safety-conscious as the United states, there aren't more people who limit the risks on this climb. (Although granted, not many people slip and fall to their death on Half Dome, or maybe the park service might mandate such a policy.)

I continued my hike down at noon, opting to take the direct route via Mist Trail rather than the longer John Muir trail that would have added 1.5 miles to the trip. The elevation loss would be the same on the two trails, anyway, and my knee braces helped - after all, the elevation loss was considerable either way. By 3pm, I'd only made it to Emerald Pool, at the top of Vernal Fall, and it took me an additional 50 minutes to get back to my camp site.

In total, the hike from Upper Pines Campground to the top of Half Dome, and back down took a total of 9 hours 15 minutes, including breaks and a few photo stops. (But fewer photo stops than is usual for me.)

I drove to Curry Village for a shower, and then opted to stay in the valley rather than still rush to Glacier Point for sunset pictures. Instead, I took some pictures of deer in a meadow, and then headed to a nearby bridge that afforded a clear view of Half Dome, and the shadows of night creeping up its sheer rock face.

I finished the day with a Pepperoni pizza and soda at the Curry Village Pizzeria.

Miles driven: 8mi (13km)

Campground Accommodation: Upper Pines Campground (Yosemite National Park): $20

Written Tuesday, September 23rd 2008 at Upper Pines campground, site 214; between 6:15 and 7am.