The park that started it all
The hike up to Half Dome has been on my To-Do list for a while now.
It’s a popular trail, and the park regulates the number of people who summit per day by issuing permits. An application for a permit must be submitted two days in advance, and they are distributed through a lottery drawing if there are too many applications for a given day. I wanted to hike Half Dome the next day, and I didn’t want to leave my chance for a permit up to luck.
Fortunately, there was a fancy little workaround for my problem. If are backpacking through Yosemite and the trail spur up to Half Dome happens to be on your route then you are allowed to rope it in without having to apply for the lottery (you still have to pay $5 for the permit). I built my route around this loophole and planned a two night trip from Yosemite Valley up to Tenaya Lake.
I started my hike in the late afternoon, beginning from the northern terminus of the John Muir Trail (JM Trail runs from Yosemite to Mt. Whitney). The well-worn dirt path jogs up Little Yosemite Valley following the valley’s southern wall. The climb affords an impressive view of Nevada Falls before flattening out.
After six miles I made camp in the shadow of Half Dome.
The hike up Half Dome wasn’t too bad. I’m sure splitting the 8 mile (one way) ascent over two days made it much easier for me.
The final section up to the summit is called “the cables”. It’s a walkway of vertical steel pipes anchored into the rock and connected by braided steel cables. Each set of pipes has a worn out 2″ x 4″ piece of wood clamped to their base which gives hikers a steady place to stand while waiting for people to move. The only sketchy part of the cables section is negotiating with hikers traveling in the opposite direction. No one dare take both hands off of the steel cables so people got well acquainted when reaching around each other.
Some people insisted on descending the cables facing downhill despite it being much easier to have your hips squared uphill while backpedaling downward. (If there’s one lesson I am constantly trying to remind myself of, it’s the absolute value of proper technique) It was tough to watch them. Here were these people who were already on the bubble as far as if they should be attempting this hike in the first place – they were shaken up from vertigo and fatigued from the hike – and now they were squatting on their heels sliding down the polished granite before awkwardly catching themselves on the next wood step..
From Half Dome I continued on the John Muir Trail before splitting off of Forsyth Trail. Yosemite had a large fire in 2013 known as The Rim Fire (wiki). My hike took me through 4 miles of scorched earth resulting from that fire.
It was spooky – Forests aren’t meant to be that quiet.
I spent Night 2 a few miles south of Tenaya Lake. It had rained off-and-on since I descended Half Dome, and it continued to rain that night and the next morning. Staying positive while hiking and setting up camp in poor weather is tough. I have a serious respect for backpackers who can bear it for weeks or months at a time.
As a side note: The Tioga Pass is a cool drive. The mountains and valleys are quite scenic, but I can’t promise you it will be as epic as it was for me.