Ten years ago, my wife and I took our daughters on a West Coast trip that included Yosemite. Although we did some strenuous hiking, we did not attempt the iconic Half Dome hike.  With our daughters now grown and flown, we decided to revisit Yosemite to celebrate the National Park Service’s centennial with an attempt of the 16+ mile, nearly 5000 foot elevation hike up Half Dome.  Although our initial attempt to acquire the necessary permit to hike the cables failed back in April, we were lucky to “win” the daily lottery two days before our climb.  

That morning, we arose at 4:30, entered the park by 5:15, and arrived at the trailhead sign before 6:00 a.m.  We had a long, challenging day ahead of us.

At the Trailhead

The first part of the trail was paved, but the Mist Trail we took leading to Vernal Falls was steep and a little treacherous with mist-covered steps that climb along a gorge.

Vernal Falls from the Mist Trail

On the Mist Trail by Vernal Falls

Next came the stunning Nevada Falls, seen here from the John Muir Trail, which we took on the way down to avoid the steepness of the Mist Trail.

Nevada Falls from the John Muir Trail

Above Nevada Falls, the trail finally leveled out for a time as it followed the clear Merced River. Even though a violent waterfall was less than a mile down river, this water was very inviting.

Merced River

As we worked high into the Sierras, we found ourselves surrounded by Redwoods.  This alone was worth the hike.

Lin hiking through the Sequoias

We finally reached a clearing on a plateau just below the sub-dome and Half Dome itself.  We enjoyed the spectacular views and a brief rest before climbing the last mile and 1000 feet in elevation.

View of Little Half Dome

After handing the ranger our permit, we were allowed to head up the very steep, winding steps of the sub-dome.  This might have been the most exhausting part of the hike.  Fortunately, the views of the High Sierras were awe-inspiring.

Up the Sub Dome Steps

Up the Sub Dome Steps

Reaching the flat stretch at the top of the sub-dome, many hikers take a long break before continuing up the cables to the top, and more than a few chose to turn back.  Here, the hikers on the straight-up climb look like ants.

Half Dome Photoessay

The 400+ feet of cable trekking seems never-ending and is more straight-up than most photos can show.  It was not that crowded, but some risk-takers still chose to go up and down on the outside of the cables.  One mistake and you are tumbling and bouncing to the valley floor, 4,000 feet below.  Just watching the occasional lost Nalgene bottle take the plunge was daunting enough.

Climbing the Cables

We worked our way to the edge after we fought to catch our breath from the climb up the cables. You don’t want to get too close to that 4,000+ foot straight-down drop without a full rest.

On the top of Half Dome

Half Dome Photoessay

Lin, like many, chose to go backwards down the cables while I worked it sideways.


backdown cables

The challenging cables were over, but a steep 8-mile hike back down lay ahead of us.  The High Sierras were stunning.

Walking down the steep Sub-Dome

Seeing Half Dome from the valley floor that evening made it seem impossible that we were actually up there. We were very tired after the 17-mile, almost 12-hour hike, but we were more grateful for the opportunity. Who knows when we’ll be able to visit this gem of a park again.

Half Dome from Valley Floor