Half Dome

Half Dome appears on many of the “must hike before perishing” lists, and when my sister invited Puja and me to hike, we did a bit of research and decided not to go. Then we did a bit of hiking, a bit more research, and decided that we should go, so we did.

We arrived in Yosemite at 11:00 PM, and geared up for the hike. We’d decided to hike at night to avoid the crowds and to beat the heat.

30 lbs of gear. What was I thinking?

I was planning on running down the hill, and Puja and I also thought that having her nice camera at the top would be a bonus. So, between my running shoes, the camera, the water, the 10 essentials – my “day” pack was almost 30 pounds!

The first part of the hike was steep and on concrete – nothing at all like what we’d expected. But it was cool, the company was good (in addition to my sister, we were joined by her husband and son, and by my brother Matt and his son), and we were moderately fresh, despite flying down that afternoon and the long drive.

We opted for the short steep walk up, just along Nevada Falls. Even though it was dark, it was pretty – and the sound of the falls and the reflection of our headlamps on the granite were beautiful.

Patrick hiking half dome at night

There are close to 800 steps along that part of the trail, and while Puja and I had trained well – we hadn’t climbed 800 steps by way of practice! It’s a different sort of hiking, and harder at night. Good thing we had trekking poles with us!

Near 2.00 in the morning we hit the valley – a 3 mile gradual climb along parts of the Merced river. The break from the steep climbing was nice, but the trail was mostly sand and not a lot of fun for walking. But the moon was a day from being full, and there were moments when we were able to turn off all of our lights and walk by the light of the moon.

We exited the valley, climbed past another water fall, and headed up. The last pair of miles prior to nearing the peak were full of long, winding switchbacks – and by now it was nearing 5:00 in the morning. In addition to being fatigued from the climb – the lack of sleep was apparent – it was easy for me to start thinking that climbing Half Dome at night was a poor idea!

That thought was reinforced near 5:15 when we exited the woods and spotted the sub dome – a rounded mound of granite which we had to walk up in the dark. Unlike much of the rest of the hike – there weren’t clear steps up the face of the sub dome, and in the light, and on the exposed granite – it seemed like any mis-step would be quite dangerous. Worse – the prospect of coming DOWN this step grade was terrifying.

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Nevertheless, it was nearing sunrise, and we wanted to be on top for that. We climbed (slowly and carefully!) to the top of the sub dome, and then down into the saddle – where we spotted a pile of gloves and the cables that rise to the summit.

Most people just grasp a cable in each hand and pull themselves up, much like using both hands to pull yourself up a stairway. Puja and I had brought some climbing gear, which was a huge relief, especially after the uncomfortable scramble and around the sub dome.

We clipped in and started to pull ourselves to the top!

This is even steeper than it looks.

It was still dark, but the sun was on the rise, and we summitted in time to watch the sun creep over the valley. It was cold and windy atop, which kept us from exploring, but the view was gorgeous!

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After resting and re-fueling on the top, we decided to head back down.

DSC_1162 DSC_1149 Patrick and Puja shelter from the wind

Going DOWN the cables was harder – gravity was working against us, and I was again very glad to have a climbing harness and to be clipped in!

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The scramble up and over the sub dome was MUCH better in the daylight, and we were pretty cheery for the first few miles back down. Along the way, we saw the hordes of people making their way back up and were especially glad that we hadn’t made the climb in the morning.

We walked back the way we’d came, and through the valley, where we stopped to rest our feet in the Merced river.

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We opted for the longer (but less steep) trail home, and while that provided some terrific views of Half Dome – all of us had tired feet with 2 miles to go!

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The last two miles weren’t much fun – lots of rocky, uneven and seemingly endless switchbacks. Save for the occasional groan – we didn’t talk much (or take many pictures!) those last two miles, and were completely chagrinned when we got to the bottom and realized that our car was another 1.5 miles away!

After a cold beer though (my sister planned ahead) and an entire dish of home made brownies, we headed to the hotel for a good night’s rest.

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