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Your Essential Guide on Hiking to Half Dome Yosemite National Park

Hiking to Half Dome has been on my bucket list, but after my last failed attempt in 2009 (when there were no permits or lotteries), chances were looking slim. It’s tough to get a permit nowadays, and the only harder hike to get into that we know of is the Wave. But our friends from Atlanta who happened to win the permit lottery graciously invited us to go with them. This time, with a little more preparation, we made it all the way to the top and back!

Going up to half dome, we pushed hard and made decent time. We started at the trailhead at 5:30 and made it to sub dome by 10:15 AM. We took much longer than the average hiker after factoring in an hour of hesitation at sub dome and feeling sick at the top of half dome (don’t psych yourself out like me by researching all the people who died on the trail). Going back down was also a struggle for our knees after all the stairs we climbed (anyone know knee strengthening exercises?).

More: How to Get Half Dome Permits

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The journey began when we woke up at 4, got our packs ready, and hiked toward the trailhead.

More: 11 Hardest Hiking Permits to Get in the US

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Jacob was a good husband and carried a tripod the entire hike just so I could get a couple slow shutter waterfall shots at Vernal Falls.

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The squirrels were so used to being fed by humans that they kept begging for food. No fear. Get away from my snack, squirrel!

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The uneven stairs getting up to sub dome were brutal, but the views were totally worth it

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We stared upon the daunting cables to get to the top of Half Dome. A lot of people were turning back after getting a good look at it. I was paralyzed with fear, and it took almost an hour to muster up the courage to do it. Somehow Jacob and our friends were able to talk me into it after saying, “you’ve come up all this way.. you’re too stubborn not to go all the way up to half dome.”

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The cables were the most challenging part for me. It’s supposed to take on average 20 minutes to climb the cables. It probably took us 30 minutes. Because I was so scared, I had a death grip on the cables going both directions, and it took a good amount of arm strength to pull myself up. My feet kept slipping on the granite, and the poles felt like they were coming out of the rock. Seriously, WTF!! I’m just glad I wasn’t the only one about to have a nervous breakdown and that all the people around us were so patient and supportive.

On the flip side, it didn’t help that a lady two people in front of us was having her own nervous breakdown = more time spent on the ropes. FUN TIMES.

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You know the saying “that scared the sh*t outta me.” This might be TMI for you, but that saying was true for me. I pretty much had to go immediately after. Here’s me with a terrible stomach ache. ✌️

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They all took these while I was sick. :( Let’s just pretend it’s Jacob and I in the photo to the left. :) It’s actually our friends but who can tell when they’re dots!

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Now for the descent on the cables, which was equally terrifying. I went down backwards while Jacob went down forwards. He claims that he’s afraid of heights, and I claim to be the fearless one, but he did so much better than I did. Either way, we all made it! Hooray!

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We hiked down the John Muir trail and stopped at the top of Vernal Falls where we got to dip our feet into the stream. It was a nice break before we made our way back to the Valley. We stayed on the edge of the water, but we did see others swimming. It’s frowned upon to go swimming here since a few people have fallen over the waterfall and died. Hoping we don’t see them on the news!

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Here’s Vernal Fall from a distance. So much prettier with Liberty Cap!

More: The Most Scenic Hikes in Yosemite National Park CA

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  • Word on the street trail is that since most people get four permits and they don’t always use all four, you can wait at a permit checkpoint to see if you can join a group. We can’t speak from experience here since we had permits and didn’t witness anyone on the trail doing this. It’s a long hike to the checkpoint, so this one is a gamble (but the hike itself is beautiful too).
  • Don’t forget your bug spray! Yosemite is supposedly the worst park for bugs if you visit in the summer. I wasn’t bit once since I was constantly spraying myself down with 100% DEET, but Jacob got eaten alive (Probably not the healthiest though, so nowadays I use this roll on kind).
  • Bring a lot of water! We both brought 3L in our Platypus Big Zips and finished all of it. Vernal Falls Bridge is the last stop for filtered water.
  • Start early! Most people start at 5 AM before the sun rises to make it back before sunset.
  • If you want to stay as close as possible to the trailhead, Stay at Curry Village. It’s only a 3/4 mile walk. If you do camp there, be sure to bring your own lock for the bear locker!
  • Portions of the hike can get slippery (especially the stairs on Mist Trail), so be sure you have good hiking boots with good grip. We’ve been using these Vasque shoes (his + hers).
  • Gloves are highly recommended for the cables. You may be on them for a while depending on how crowded it gets. These work gloves work great for them. I tried using fingerless gloves recommended by a guy at REI since it’s hot in the summer, but my fingers got torn up by the cables. Lesson learned. Don’t get fingerless gloves! You can use cheap gardening gloves as well. Sometimes people leave gloves at the bottom of the cables, but it’s never guaranteed.
  • Half Dome is extremely dangerous in lightning and rain. The granite dome itself is a lighting rod and the rock can get really slippery. Keep a close eye on the forecast and don’t summit if you see storm clouds coming in. We had some friends who were stuck at the top of Half Dome when a storm quickly came in. As everyone frantically tried to get down, they said they could feel the static electricity in their hair. Fortunately, everyone made it safe and sound, but people have died on Half Dome due to lightning.
  • Bring a light layer. The summit is typically 15-20*F cooler than the valley and is often windy.
  • You can bring an extra pair of socks and shirt to change into at the top. It’ll feel so much nicer on the way down (especially a fresh pair of socks)!
  • You can sleep with compression socks at night after hiking to help reduce soreness.
  • There is no trash service on the trail so be prepared to pack out anything you pack in.
  • If you’re unable to get a permit, Yosemite National Park still offers many other epic hikes and attractions.

Overall, the views were amaaaaazing! Maybe it’s because this is the first national park I’ve visited as an adult, but there’s something truly special about Yosemite. It was also nice meeting all the friendly people on the trail. Everyone was supportive and cheering each other on. I loved that about hiking at Yosemite.

If you want to learn more about the hike, you can also read How to Get Half Dome Permits + Tips for Your Hike.

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