September 24, 2015 by Deborah W. Trotter
Starting an 8.8 mile round trip hike at 1:30 in the afternoon might seem ill-advised. But it was almost the summer solstice, so darkness wasn’t going to be a factor, the weather was pleasant, and we were in pretty good shape. Besides, we had driven all the way from our home that morning to Yosemite specifically to hike to North Dome, so we weren’t going to let slow traffic and road work delays change our plans. Processing the mountain lion warning at the trail head, we set off on what was touted as and proved to be a fairly level trail. Until it wasn’t.
We peeled off the miles at a good pace through the woods. The trail trended downhill from its 8,100 foot starting elevation, not surprising since the top of North Dome is at 7,540 feet. We crossed a creek and saw the first of many red snow plants pushing up from the pine needles and detritus on the forest floor. They often come up through or near patches of mountain snow as it melts away into summer, but I haven’t seen any snow plants in years. They reminded me of childhood summers hiking in Lassen National Park.
After about three and a half to four miles, the view opened up, and the pine needles underfoot became solid granite. Half Dome and Clouds Rest were just across the way, and the mountains of the Yosemite back country crowded the eastern horizon.
But where was North Dome? The trail pretty much disappeared here, but we continued down the steep granite slab toward the Valley, where North Dome must be hiding.
It was tough going for us older folks with older knees. There were spots with loose gravel on the granite which made footing slippery, and the farther we descended, the more we thought about having to climb back up. Finally we came to a sign that showed 0.5 miles to North Dome. Here there was an actual trail again, and we continued for a while until it started to switchback steeply downhill toward the saddle from which you hiked out onto North Dome.
It was now 3:30, we had great views from where we were, our knees hurt, we were tired…did we need to go all the way out onto North Dome? We looked at each other, and without really any discussion, mutually decided that we did not.
After resting a spell, we hauled ourselves in stages back up the granite face we had already descended, and made it back to the car before 6:00. An 8-mile hike at elevation was not a bad afternoon’s work. If we ever try this hike again, and we might, we will start earlier, pack a lunch and allow ourselves plenty of time to do it all.