Half Dome

On Amazon – Teri’s hilarious collection of short stories, THE THINGS I CANNOT DO, including her misfit trek up Mt. Whitney!

~Here’s How You Do It

There is no denying the fact that all of Yosemite is so incredibly stunning that you suspect it was actually the original Garden of Eden, and if that is the case then Half Dome would have fit right in.

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Every season in the park offers its own unique beauty, however, the climb up Half Dome is only conquerable when the famed cables are in place in May through September. Having made the Half Dome trek five times, this hiker is happy to share the wins/wisdom (respect the bears, rent a bear canister for $5) and fails (hydrate!) in the hope that future trips for fellow adventurers are the smoothest possible.

Any trail you decide on has its advantages and disadvantages; however, after two hikes (one with gear) straight up from the Valley floor, I would absolutely never do it again that way.  Several of my crew ended one of those treks in desperate need of some pain killers.

The routes that rocked this hiker’s soul and not her knees were Tuolumne, Cathedral, and Sunrise Trails, and I believe each of these winners deserves its own section. Please check the permit requirements on this trip, as I am fully aware that for anyone coming from out of state, coordinating time off, organizing either multiple cars and/or shuttle to the trailhead, pre-planning is key.

Stunning scenery

Stunning scenery

First in our lineup is the lovely Tuolumne trailhead. Our little group of five trekked this gem July 4th a few years back, and we found it to be peaceful and not crowded. The trail is pretty straightforward unless covered in snow, which it was for us–yes, snow in July. Luckily, two in our party have better navigation skills than moi and were able to shepherd us through the confusing spots with the aid of a map. The weather was pristine, allowing for hiking in shorts during the day. My only “do over” would be a warmer sleeping bag, as the first night of camping (at the higher altitude) was chilly and damp. A little side note: watch your step in the snow if you are an over-packer like yours truly, as a forward face plant with a top heavy backpack in a foot of snow is a great crowd pleaser, but pretty embarrassing.

Day two was friendlier to body temps as we hiked through a valley of lush purple lupine flowers and ended up at the Half Dome campsite. Heading up Half Dome at sunrise on the third day was lovely and despite it being July 4th, we had no crowd problems.

Lakeside on Cathedral Lakes trail
Lakeside on Cathedral Lakes trail

Now for Cathedral Lakes trailhead, and fellow trekkers, this is where the permit issue is key. We were shooting for Sunrise trailhead permits but the first come/first serves were taken, thereby requiring a backup choice. All’s well that ends well, and this trail turned out to be stunning, however, it was jarring to shift the plan. This time around (once again July) we did not have a snow challenge. We traveled through fields of wildflowers and stopped off at picturesque lakes and truly loved the experience. Our group of 6 took a leisurely pace and made Sunrise Lake, which is the third in a series of lakes, by about 4 or 5pm. There was a mosquito banquet that we evidently were the featured guests for, so we camped away from the water and Repelled up. Night, thankfully, was their curfew and sunrise did not bring them out, so there was a bit of relief.

Be sure if you have the good fortune of visiting Sunrise Lake to actually take it in at sunrise. One of our group snapped some sunset pics, hit the Honey Jack, and was not to be roused at sunrise. However, another of our group (the dedicated On A Dime creator and ever so talented, wanna-be Nat Geo photographer) went light on the Jack and was up with coffee in hand for some of the most insanely gorgeous reflections on a lake that have ever been witnessed. Sunrise Lake lived up to its name, and friends, if you don’t have a yen for either Half Dome or Clouds Rest, skip them and just do Sunrise as it is only a 3-mile hike in from the trailhead and doable, sans permit, as a day hike. Keep in mind it’s a hearty ascent. We continued on to Clouds Rest (more major uphill), crossed over the knife’s edge (yes, it can be pretty hairy for anyone with height issues) and continued on to the Half Dome campsite.

The knife's edge on Clouds Rest
The knife’s edge on Clouds Rest

At this time, proper emphasis should be placed on fuel. Fuel, as in water and food. My sunset Half Dome trek ponied up the photo I use as an opening for this site but what was not shared was the photo  two hours later of much shaking and hysteria because of lack of food and H2O. Do as I say…

Sunrise
Sunrise Lake at about 7am

The final choice of trailheads was undertaken during a September trip that started at the Sunrise entrance. This is a good example of making the choice to go with the flow, as a foot of unexpected snow dump and a road closure can sure make for fun times. This is where your budget and personal preferences come front and center. After 5 hours stuck on the shuttle to our trailhead and quaking in fear at the idea of setting up camp after dark in a snow and sleet storm, we were saved by two options, as the roadblocks went up and the bus reversed course and headed back to Yosemite Valley. We could sleep for free on the lobby floor of the sold out hotel in the valley or pay (a nicely discounted) $140 to sleep in a bed at the Yosemite View Lodge right outside the park. My guy, given that this was his birthday trip and he is not the creator of On A Dime Adventure, decided to hand over his Visa while yours truly sat furtively thankful that this was not one of the trips taken with the motley crew. The motley crew and this hiker have budgets that require floor stays, and yes, we’ve been known to sneak courtesy hot chocolate at the high-end resorts we frequent, when borrowing their bathrooms. Unfortunately, On A Dime cannot share the exact locations of freebie hot chocolate, but we can encourage you to “explore” a bit.

Our trip resumed the following day with the removal of Code Red or Defcon 10, or whatever it is Yosemite enacts to keep naïve, Hyundai driving visitors such as yours truly out of ditches. The road opening occurred at 5pm, which then gave us the fantastic experience of night hiking straight up in the snow. Yes, you are sensing sarcasm, and most likely are wondering at this point, “and why would I want to follow in your footsteps?” Because, trekkers, there were a gazillion stars and the camping turned out to be flat out heavenly. The tent went up fairly easily in the snow, our sleeping bags were the bomb, and my guy, almost cheerfully, stumbled out of the tent when his early bird girlfriend catapulted herself onto the trail at 6am, chirping with the energy of a four year old on Christmas morning. Crisp, clean air, and all was uphill from there, literally and figuratively. Sunrise Lake at sunrise was once again crazy pretty, and then the trip to Clouds Rest, though grueling, delivered scenery straight out of Robin’s Sherwood Forest. And a Mountain House omelet and strong English breakfast tea for brunch on the top of Clouds Rest with its 360 degree view that includes Half Dome in the distance… well, we’re talking five star all around.

Half Dome, as always, wound up being the icing on the Yosemite cake even though a 10am climb up the cables did require sharing the space and using manners. Heading back down around 11am once again proved that the cables are best before 10am and after 4pm.

Cables at sunset
Cables at sunset

Half Dome would not be complete without truly taking the time to enjoy the trip back down to the valley. The trees, the forest, the magnificent waterfalls, and so much more beckon you to not rush this final part of the backcountry. As you approach Nevada Falls, take the time to dip your feet and have a snack or lunch. On this last leg of the tour, offer a farewell to some of the Zen as it gets a bit more crowded or a lot more crowded depending on time of year and choice in trail. Yes, this trekker has taken both Mist and John Muir, and the winner is John Muir. Muir adds about a mile but Mist is overrun with tourists, many of whom are in heels (we kid you not) and seem to have no qualms about blocking the entire trail when hikers stagger toward them, resembling hollow-eyed zombies that smell like the walking dead (the other members of my group). Muir is less crowded and you get to claim your rock star moment every so often when day-trippers ask how far you’ve come. Of course the pleasure is fleeting, as there is always some Grizzly Adams right near who has hiked in from Alaska and is on his way to Costa Rica.

John Muir
John Muir

Finally, the valley floor! Woot woot! Now, fellow adventurers, we are here to tell you that the pizza place in Curry village, next to the bar offering schooners of beer with orange slices, is an absolute must. No beer and no pizza will ever equal this in taste again. Drink up, talk loudly about the “backcountry”, and make the under 21s in your group drive when you head out for the after party at the Yosemite Bug Hostel.

One final note, go ahead and get the bumper sticker and t-shirt, you earned it!

*Permits – Always check in advance (and we mean now) to get the latest info on permits. The requirements for Half Dome permits for day hikers as well as backpackers have changed a few times in the past couple of years, so get the current year’s information. Book ahead if possible, but if your trip is flexible and/or you live in the area, inquire about first come/first serve permits.

*Guided Trips – We highly recommend Lasting Adventures, a non-profit guide company in operation since the late 90s and one of the On A Dime college kids guided for them summer of 2014 and said it is a stellar experience.

 

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