Hi hi! This was an epic hike. So epic that it requires a permit to hike it. Mitch and I knew we were awarded the permit several months before the trip and we were sooooo excited! If you ever want to hike Half Dome, make sure you apply for a permit before hand! Or you can try for a walk up permit at the ranger station the day of but you won’t be able to start as early. It is up to you! Let’s go!
Since hiking Half Dome is almost 18 miles round trip, Mitch and I woke up at 3:30 AM to checkout of Half Dome Village and drive to the trailhead. Once we arrived, we ate oats with peanut butter by headlamp and gathered up our things. We hit The Mist Trail a bit before 5 AM, hiking the first three miles in the dark. This section of the hike was paved and very hilly. In the dark, it seemed like the hills would go on forever and once we would make it to the top of one, there was another one to climb. We also were not hiking leisurely because we wanted to beat most of the other hikers up there to avoid having lots of people on the cables (more of that fun to come later!). Anyway, the trail is called “The Mist Trail” because the mist from Vernal Falls covers stairs that lead up to the falls and around it. Once we made it there, we took our time navigating the steps and walkways before reaching the top. It is just a bit unsettling to be able to hear a powerful waterfall and not see it. A little reminder that nature is powerful and can be unforgiving at times. Mitch and I continued on our way to Nevada Falls, climbing even more as the trail continued.
By the time we made it to the top of Nevada Falls, the sun was starting to come out and we decided to take a break and snack. It was pretty neat to be able to see how far we had come that morning! After relaxing a bit, we started the second leg of the hike through relatively flat Little Yosemite Valley, giving our legs a bit of a reprieve from the first round of climbing. We soaked in the coolness of the valley and the clear morning sky. A mini breather in this rigorous hike! Though it did not last long since the trail picked back up again, loaded with switchbacks.
This part of the hike to Sub Dome was pretty brutal. There had to have been at least two dozen switchbacks during this segment. It. Was. Rough. It was a relief to make it to Sub Dome after all the climbing only to be greeted with more granite steps and a mini scramble. The excitement was high though! We were within reach of the Half Dome cables to make the climb to the top! At the base of the cables, there was a pile of gloves that had been left behind and Mitch and I just found ones that fit. We were thankfully the only people on the cables on our climb up!
The cables are a lot more vertical than they look in pictures. It was scary and exciting to climb them and when we made it to the top, we were rewarded with awesome views. It was a clear sky and not super cloudy, what a win-win!
Mitch and I hung out at the top, snacking on Snickers bars and trying to take everything in. Thankfully, not a lot of people were at the top and it was pretty peaceful minus the bit of wind. We wandered around surveying the top of the dome. We eventually asked a stranger to take our favorite picture of the hike, where we looked tiny standing out on a ledge, peering down into Yosemite Valley.
How crazy is that ledge! It thankfully isn’t as scary getting out there as I imagined and the picture was totally worth it!
Now. The hike back was the next big task. We relaxed our legs a bit and started to come back down the cables which were busy now! The people climbing down clung to the cable on the left while people climbing up held on to the cable on the right. As we were heading down, a woman going up actually pulled a stake out of the holder and I had to grab it and push it back in for her. This was terrifying and it felt like life was moving in slow motion. But I am still here so everything is okay! (Note to future Half Dome hikers: please pull the cable back, not UP! Ha!)
Clouds were now coming out and our hike was shaded and colder than on the way up. Mitch and I took our time, trying to preserve our knees for eight miles downhill and did not rush. In the switchback area of the hike, we actually saw a bobcat which was pretty cool! Once we made it back to Little Yosemite Valley, we filled up our water bladders with the gravity filter and started to follow the John Muir Trail. We were pretty alone on the JMT even though it was the afternoon. I enjoyed hiking next to the Merced River, letting the calm flow through me since we had a lot of adrenaline pumping all morning. We eventually made it back to Nevada Falls and it was just beautiful.
The smoke had sadly come back since we were in the valley again but the falls were still beautiful. At this point in the hike, it seems like you are pretty close to the trailhead which is false! The JMT around Nevada Falls is steep paved switchbacks with barely any stairs. I would wager to say hiking downhill for eight miles is much worse than climbing that distance. Admittedly, I was getting quite annoyed with all of the switchbacks and going downhill that I ran the remaining mile to the trailhead and sat on a rock, and waited for Mitch. I was ready for it to be over!
Mitch and I walked back to our car, feeling pretty beat up. Our final stats for the day were 17.5 miles with over 5,000′ of climbing completed in 9 hours and 21 minutes. We were quite pleased with how we spent our last full day in Yosemite National Park. I hope you enjoyed our adventure as well!