That photo above… I know, I know, amazing right? We’ll get there in a moment, let me just set the scene.
We left LA with Drew’s parents in their awesome RV earlier that morning. We chatted, napped and snacked, hanging out as if we were in our very own portable living room… which we were! It was like being in a real Chevy Chase movie, I had never been on a family vacation quite like this before and it felt right :)
As we began to approach Yosemite, I tossed a pillow at Drew to wake him from his slumber and we all gathered towards the front window to watch as the trees grew taller and greener the further in we went. We opened the windows and felt the cool, gentle breeze touch our faces, encouraging us to take in a deep breath and truly be present. It wasn’t long before we saw a sign for Tunnel View, signifying that we had indeed arrived:
Ready to gasp for air as we held our breath and made a wish, what we saw next was greater than anything we could have ever imagined:
The scene began to change colors and became more and more beautiful as the golden sun began to set on the giant granite rocks:
It was as if we had been thrown right in the middle of a Thomas Kinkade painting!:
That night we went to bed early in anticipation of our extremely early wake up call the next morning. With Half Dome awaiting, we made sure to eat well (at Curry Village Pizza) and get a good night’s rest (at Curry Village).
Things to Note:
- Be sure to make reservations well in advance for Curry Village or any of the campgrounds located in the Yosemite Valley. You will want to stay there the night before and after your hike. Otherwise, you will have over an hour drive from the South entrance of the park in addition to the 5am recommended start time.
- You may not cook at Curry Village because of the prevalence of bears… more on that later… but you can bring prepared food as long as it is stored in a bear-safe container/locker.
- You can also split the hike up and make it a 2-day extravaganza by camping at Little Yosemite Valley, located about halfway along the trail to Half Dome (photo below). You can hike there one day, camp, leave your packs and summit, sans crowd, early the next morning! It’s always good to know your options.
So, how did we get permits to hike the famous Half Dome you ask?
Above is a photo of the Yosemite Ranger using his satellite iPad (!) to make sure we are on the permit list for Half Dome, luckily we were because we saw a few people have to turn back at this point. (Note: You don’t have to print your permit.)
Only 300 people are permitted to hike Half Dome per day, 225 of the permits are awarded during the Preseason Lottery in March, but we had no idea that we were going to Yosemite at that time. Luckily, from May 21st- October 12th, there is a last minute daily lottery that awards 50 hiking permits per day. You must apply for this between midnight and 1 p.m. PST 2 days before the day of your hike and you find out that night if you won or not. With that being said, we took a chance on the lottery and won!
This little dude was way too preoccupied with his french fry to be excited for us, but we know he was doing a little dance inside. Note: Don’t feed the squirrels ;) :Back to the hike! So we awoke at the unfamiliar hour of 5am, got our hiking poles ready, put our day packs on and had our Cliff Builder Bars in hand, ready to start the 21 mile trek. (Note: It was an additional mile to hike from Curry Village to the trailhead.)
Remember that bear I mentioned earlier? Well, we were only a few steps in when *squish*… Drew found himself standing in a giant pile of bear poo, eww:
Note: Bring a headlamp for the beginning of the hike (depending on what time you start) to avoid possible crappy situations ;)
Again, back to the hike:
With the blue glow of the moon lighting our way, the beginning of the trail was absolutely beautiful and the best part was, we practically had it all to ourselves. Here is a photo of Drew and I, half-asleep, at the Vernal Falls Bridge:
Things to note:
- Bring a CamelBak and a water filter for the hike. Keep your CamelBak empty until you get to the Vernal Falls Bridge (above), where there is a water fill station. Fill your CamelBak halfway (or about a half gallon full) to minimize the amount of water weight you are carrying as you hike up. At the top of Vernal Falls you can filter water and fill your CamelBak to capacity (at least 1 gallon/ person) for the rest of the hike up.
-We took the John Muir trail on our return trip down and refilled our CamelBaks at the top of Nevada Falls (the top of Nevada Falls does not intersect with the Mist Trail).
After the bridge, we continued on to the Mist Trail, which lead us right up to Vernal Falls, the incline had us all feeling a little more alive already!:
Vernal Falls was just a trickle this time of year, with the drought prevailing there wasn’t much left to fuel the falls:
The hike to the top of Vernal consists of extremely steep rock steps and during the wet season it can be quite dangerous to go up as there is mist blowing all around making it extremely slippery, hence the Mist Trail. Because we were there in August, the falls were pretty dry and tame so we didn’t have too much difficulty. (Note: Wear hearty hiking shoes for the Mist Trail/Half Dome.) Can you spot us hiking in the photo below?:
Shortly after, we made it to the top of Vernal Falls where we enjoyed the view over the edge and hung out with chipmunks and blue birds before continuing on to Nevada Falls. This guy was too smart to fall for the piece of mulch I was trying to persuade him with:
Ya they’re cute and friendly, but we know they only wanted our trail mix:
Look at this pretty little guy:
The trail to Nevada Falls was short, gradual and shaded, before we knew it she was falling right before our eyes!:
A little further and we veered left at the next fork in the trail towards Half Dome:
Little Yosemite Valley was very flat, a much needed treat:
And we saw a family of deer along the way!
“Excuse me while I itch my chin.”:
Check out the green “Incredible Hulk”moss!:
“Only” 2 more miles to Half Dome! Though these would be 2 extremely steep miles, taking our crew about 2 hours (and 1 shared Red Bull) to complete this summit bound section:
Located on this part of the trail was Sub-Dome, Half Dome’s shorter siamese twin. The hike up Sub-Dome was steep and tiring, but also extremely encouraging because we knew that soon enough our next step would lead us right in front of our destination…
Drew’s “Let’s do this!” face:
The view from Sub Dome was also amazing, in fact, many people decided to stop here, which is not a bad place to stop by any means. You also get to stare at the incredible shape and size of Half Dome, what a stud:
You see those little tiny ant-sized people in the photo above? The thing that stops many climbers from reaching Half Dome’s 8,836 foot crown is this. We had to climb the last 700 vertical feet to the summit by holding onto 2 steel cables as we shimmied our way up Half Dome’s slick, moon-like face:
And boy was it steep! With a random 2 x 4 every 20 feet or so, we had to rely on the soles of our shoes to keep us on that rock. In fact, the soles of one of our new friend’s shoes came right off while she was climbing up the cables! Needless to say, it was not a pretty site. Luckily someone had duct tape, but she did not end up summiting Half Dome that day.
Things to note:
- Do not wear old shoes with soles that may or may not fall off!
- You must have gloves! I used my fingerless mountain biking gloves and was wishing I had full coverage gloves.
- There is a pile of old, used gloves at the bottom of Half Dome which people have left for others who did not bring any, don’t count on these being there though as the park service clears them out periodically because they have found rat nests in them in the past, gross.
- Sturdy gloves with some sort of rubber on the palm of the hand work best.
Half Dome wasn’t named one of America’s 10 most dangerous hikes for no reason, but for us, that only added to the excitement:
We stayed at the top for quite a while, took off our shoes, ate our lunch, took some more photos and did some yoga. We had worked so hard to get to the top and we were going to stay and enjoy the view :)
The hike back down the cables was almost trickier, we both found it was easier to lean back and rappel ourselves down, see photo below. Note: If you want to enjoy the return hike and make it back before dark, don’t leave the top of Half Dome later than 3pm.
It was a long hike back to camp. We took the John Muir Trail, instead of the Mist Trail, in order to avoid the delay and discomfort of the steep steps along Vernal Falls. Though 2 miles longer, the John Muir was definitely faster and we were able to enjoy a new view along the ridge and at the top of Nevada Falls (where we were also able to filter more water, as noted earlier).
I was nearly 8pm when we finally made it back to camp. With the unavoidable traffic along the cables, the single track trails and “stop you in your tracks” vistas, it can take even the most seasoned of hikers an entire day to complete. Our 5am wake up call doesn’t sound so crazy now does it?
For the rest of the trip we were mesmerized by every glimpse of Half Dome we were able to catch. We had formed a deep connection with that incredible rock… and all of Yosemite for that matter. It is definitely something that we will not soon forget.
Things to note recap:
- Bring hiking poles, grippy (new-ish) shoes, full-cover sturdy gloves, a CamelBak (water bladder), water filter (we love Katadyn), sunscreen, sun glasses, hat, CAMERA/GoPRo, headlamp, duct tape (just in case) and lots of snacks (Cliff Bars, apples, trail mix, dried mangoes, triple decker PBJ’s and Drew always likes a Snicker’s bar).
- Here are some additional safety tips.
- Make reservations for accommodations and apply for your hiking permits EARLY! Or apply for the permit lottery, you never know, it might be your lucky day! You just don’t want to be caught like this guy, a deer in the headlights, without a permit (I just couldn’t help myself lol).
Be sure to check back soon for our post on hiking Glacier Point!