I recently went camping in Yosemite National Park with a couple of friends. Originally, we were supposed to go climb, but then the weather gods decided to rain us out so our plans went out the window. For most of our group, this trip was their first time to Yosemite and they wanted to see everything. One of the days ended up being beautiful and sunny, so what better way to experience the park than to hike the iconic Half Dome? We’re pretty athletic people and generally do not consider ourselves out of shape so this was a no-brainer.
Let me tell you, this was the most strenuous hike I’ve ever done IN MY LIFE. I was not prepared, and afterwards found out that people actually TRAIN to hike Half Dome.
The cables were down for the season, which made it easier for us since we didn’t have to apply for any permits. We actually read that we could just use a climbing harness and prusik to get up the cables so it seemed easy enough.
We got up at 4am that Saturday to eat, get ready, and left camp before the sun even came up. I highly recommend you arrive at the trail head by 7am at the latest, because this hike took us 15 hours to complete, including climbing the cables.
The hike starts off at the Mist Trail which is at the Happy Isles shuttle stop (#16). We came across a couple of other hiking groups that started at the same time as us, but for the most part the trail was fairly empty.
The elevation gain is pretty steep, especially from the trail head to the top of Nevada Falls. Keep in mind that this distance alone is a 2,000 ft elevation gain in under 3 miles. But the scenery is amazing and totally worth it. Vernal Falls and Nevada Falls are beautiful and many people will hike this trail for the waterfalls alone.
After you get to the top of Nevada Falls, the trail will flatten out quite a bit and you will kiss the ground for that. Here, you’ll pass through Little Yosemite Valley where smart people camp so they don’t have to do the entire Half Dome hike in one day (you’ll need a Wilderness Permit for that, though). This is essentially the halfway point.
The trail will eventually steepen again, so enjoy the easy stroll while it lasts. By this point, we had rested multiple times and my knees and ankles were starting to hurt. The hike felt never-ending since we’d been hiking for about 5 hours already and there was no end in sight.
Eventually, we broke through the trees and got a spectacular view of Yosemite Valley below us. It’s pretty cool because you can see the top of Yosemite Falls and it looks like a speck wayyy below you. Then you get to the base of the sub-dome, where normally, a Yosemite worker will be checking for your permits, but there was no one there since we went during off-season (aka cables down).
At this point, you are either waiting for your friends to catch up or you are the one doing the catching up. You think, ‘Hallelujah, we’re almost there!’ but alas, climbing the sub-dome is where the real tribulation begins, aka the Stairs of Hell. You might want to bring a knee brace just for this part. Or a sleeping bag in case you don’t make it.
Don’t get me wrong, the view while climbing up the Stairs of Hell is absolutely stunning, but you’ll also want to cut off your legs while doing it because you’ve already hiked for 7 miles up almost 5,000 ft.
It was all worth it, though, when we got to the top and looked up at the people climbing the cables of Half Dome. Finally!! There was no wait for us since there weren’t that many people climbing the cables during off-season. Almost everyone there had climbing harnesses and were prepared for the ascent, except for one guy who didn’t initially plan on climbing the cables and had to borrow a harness from another stranger. Don’t be that guy, please.
Climbing the cables with a harness and prusik was actually pretty easy and I highly recommend it over the permit process; much easier and safer than waiting on the cables with 100 other people!
The feeling at the top is indescribable… and our whole group made it! But bring layers because it was super windy at the top, especially since it was around 3pm by this time.
By the time we started heading back down, it was getting dark. We did this trip in late October and the sun was starting to set around 6pm. We ended up hiking in the pitch dark for about 4 hours and between rests and getting lost in the dark, it took us a total of 6 hours to get back to camp. All of us were dying and everyone had trouble walking the next day.
Was it worth it? Absolutely.
Would I do things differently? Most definitely.
Check out my list of pro tips for hiking Half Dome here.