Yosemite National Park (NP #37), California

The park that started it all


If you’ve never heard about Yosemite National Park (map / wiki) or you’ve never been. You should do a little research and go. It’s as popular as national parks come and for good reason.

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.


Liberty Cap and Nevada Falls from the John Muir Trail. There was still significant ash in the air.


IMG_0905 (1)
This is the backside of Half Dome from Little Yosemite. The skies were much clearer on the morning of Day 2.


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..



There is a pile of loner gloves at the base of the cables section. I was completely oblivious to needing them for the cables so this was a happy little miracle.


Half Dome Summit in Yosemite National Park (Yahoo Context!). By mid-day the ash blew back into the valley. Air quality warnings were in effect.


Down the cables.


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.


Fireweed earning its name.


There was a helicopter combing the area around me. I later learned was looking for a missing hiker Timothy Nolan. His body has since been found. He became the third person to die in Yosemite in September.


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.


I imagined these four trees as a barber shop quartet.



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.


The road runs along the north side of the valley (to the left).

2 Comments on “Yosemite National Park (NP #37), California

  1. If you ever go back i recommend the upper Yosemite falls trail. Me and a few friends did a weekend road trip to Yosemite and that was the only hike we had time for. It made the drive worth it. At the top of the Falls all that really separates you from the valley below and an insurmountable amount of water going off the side is a little metal handrail. I’d remembered my dad talking about this handrail when he did the hike in his younger years. Since the top of the falls was the only place i could get a cellphone signal i gave him a call and we talked about the view. Fun weekend.

    1. Hah Yeah it’s funny the places that cell phone service comes through. No signal in the valley, but half way up to half-dome a text came through.

      Thanks for the recommendation. Yosemite Falls is super high up on my list for what to do next time. I’ve hiked up Nevada Falls twice but I haven’t hiked either Yosemite Falls or up to Glacier Point. I agree it’s a surreal feeling to lean out over those railings (Nevada Falls has them too). Vertigo inducing to say the least.

      Cheers to you and your pops.

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