I just recently hiked Half Dome in Yosemite National Park for the first time. It’s a strenuous 16 mile hike with 6,800 ft gain, that even includes a 400 ft ascent up narrow cable lines. Although terrifying, it was a completely exhilarating and rewarding experience! The 360 degree view was nothing short of incredible. It felt like an adventure—way more than your average day hike.
To Pack List:
Permit: To climb Half Dome you will need a permit. There was a ranger actively checking permits at the bottom of Sub Dome, turning away those that did not have one. I applied for mine way back in March and was awarded a day hike via the cables on September 22.
Gloves: You will need gloves to protect your hands from blistering while ascending and descending the cables. The metal cables can also get very hot during the summer so the gloves will protect your hands from the heat. I picked mine up at the local hardware store a day before my trip. A cheap pair of rubber gloves will do just fine as long as they fit snuggly on your hands.
Layers: It snowed the night before my trip, dropping the temperature down to 30 degrees! It eventually warmed up to mid 60s, but I kept my jacket on for the entire hike! I’d advise bringing a base-layer, wind breaker, long pants/ leggings, and a down vest or jacket.
Boots: It’s a long hike so you definitely don’t want to break in new boots, but wear boots that have good tread. Even with a tight grip on the cables, my feet were sliding on the slick granite face. I wore my Salomon Quest GTX boots and they performed well on the dome ascent and the Mist Trail.
Camera: You’ll definitely want a camera to capture snapshots at the top as well as the sights along the trail. A DSLR camera can be a bit too cumbersome and heavy for the long hike. I brought my GoPro camera and strapped it to the shoulder strap of my pack. With the video running it freed up my hands so I could keep a constant grip on the cables.
Day Pack: Even though you are packing a lot for this hike, try to keep your backpack as light as possible. When you ascend the cables, strap it as close to your body as possible. It will help you have a better balance as you ascend the cables.
Food & Water: Pack plenty of snacks and water, it’s a long hike! I packed 5 liters between myself and my husband. It was plenty for us, but account for the weather. If you hike Half Dome during the summer it could be quite hot and you’ll need extra water.
Flashlight/Headlamp: Depending on what time you start, it’s likely to be pitch black outside. You will need a flashlight or headlamp to guide your way along the trail.
Trekking Poles: Although you will not need them for the cables, you will be glad to have them hiking along the Mist Trail. It’s a steady, continuous, uphill trek for most of the trail. Trekking poles helped me establish a rhythm on the climb up and also relieved my knees on the descent back down.
We started our hike at 6am in Half Dome Village, formally known as Curry Village. I’d advise starting earlier if you can, even 4:30am or 5am. An early start time will put you in the front of the line for the cables and help to avoid traffic congestion. The trailhead begins at Happy Isles, about a .75 mile walk from Half Dome Village. Expect a full day of hiking, approximately 10-12 hours. We hiked the via Mist Trail, a gorgeous 16 mile hike, passing Vernal Falls, Nevada Falls, and Liberty Cap on the way up. It had snowed the night before so the trees lining the trail were covered in a light dusting, glittering in the sunlight.
We arrived at the base of Half Dome at about 11:30am. There was a ranger checking permits, so have yours ready! The trail up to Half Dome is defined by switchback steps carved directly in the granite that will eventually lead you to the base of the cables. This is a good place to take a quick break, catch your breath, and put your gloves on. Do not attempt the ascent if thunder clouds are present or if it’s raining. Rain will only make the granite slick and incredibly dangerous to summit. Although not necessary, I did see others with a climbing harness and carabiniere clipped to the cable. If you are easily frightened by heights it may give you extra assurance to climb with one. My husband and I chose not to climb with one and did just fine.
It takes a lot of upper body strength to hoist yourself up the cables! Wooden boards are bolted about every three yards along the cable line. It’s a good place to rest your weight on the board and wait until the person in front of you has advanced. Be patient with slower hikers and allow faster hikers to pass if it’s safe to do so. Expect to send 30 minutes to an hour on the cables, depending on foot traffic.
When you reach the summit, the 360 degree view is nothing short of incredible! Surprisingly enough you get full reception at the top so feel free to call your friends and family and share in your accomplishment! Enjoy your time at the top, although remember to save your energy for the climb back down. I found the climb down to be much more frightening than the climb up! It’s easier to descend backwards, but I kept having to turn around and watch for those making their way up. When I reached the base of the cables, my arms were fatigued and I was more than happy to finally walk on flat ground. I suggest taking the John Muir trail on the descent. It’s less steep than the Mist Trail and offers an alternative view of Nevada Falls.
Half Dome is an icon in Yosemite—a must hike for the bucket list!