Half Dome Is Waiting

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July 31, 2012 by Deborah W. Trotter

Have you ever thought about climbing to the top of Half Dome in California’s Yosemite National Park? Up the Mist Trail to the top of Vernal Falls, from there to the top of Nevada Falls, then several more miles up to the cables to the summit?

Half Dome

Well, there it is. Calling you. Challenging you. Beckoning you from high above the East end of the Yosemite Valley. But if you haven’t made advance plans for your climb, well in advance of your arrival in the Park, you may be out of luck.

Back in the 1960’s when I was a kid – yeah, I was young enough in the ‘60’s that I do remember them – there weren’t as many National Parks as there are today, and visiting them wasn’t as common as it is today. That means that Yosemite, while popular, especially in the Valley and in the summer, wasn’t always overrun with crowds. It means that my family could actually hike 22 miles round trip from Lake Merced in the back country to the top of Half Dome and back again, and hardly see another person, even on the cables or on top of the dome. “Amazing,” you say.

The Cables

Well, yes it was. Amazing the Yosemite solitude we were able to possess for a day. Amazing that I was able to complete the hike, despite some hyperventilating and some giddiness (okay, borderline terror?) going up and down the cables. And further amazing that my black and white photos came out. (Imagine or remember the uncertainty involved in taking pictures on faith, not being able to know until you got your film developed what you had!! Digital cameras really have changed everything.)

Clouds Rest from the top of Half Dome

Today, however, you must have a permit to climb Half Dome, and one may only be obtained through the Park’s lottery system. The permitting process was put in place in 2010 to address crowding and safety issues and is an interim solution while the Park works to develop a long term plan to manage use on this wilderness trail. Currently, 400 hikers per day (300 day users and 100 backpackers) are permitted to go up the cables beyond the sub-dome.

So, no permit, no hike to the top. But scoring a permit is not the only requirement for a successful trip up Half Dome.

Hiker Jam at the Cables (public domain image)

If you’re considering making the climb, check out the helpful Park Ranger video on the Yosemite National Park website here. It addresses fitness for this strenuous hike from the Valley floor (14 miles round trip with more than 5,000 feet elevation gain), carrying an ample water supply, proper footwear and weather considerations.

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