Hiking Half is going to remain one of the most memorable experiences of my life. Half Dome is without a doubt a Yosemite icon. The route to the summit goes through some of the park’s most popular and spectacular points. It takes through its most famous waterfalls, Vernal and Nevada, winds through an amazing Sequoia Forest, the tiring steps of subdome and the cables on Half Dome. The most exhilarating part of the hike is pulling yourself up the cables to the summit of Half Dome is a challenge you won’t soon forget. Once you reach the top all your hard work is paid off with the amazing 360-degree view of Yosemite.
- Distance: 16.4 Miles roundtrip via Mist Trail
- Elevation Gain/Loss: Around 5500 feet
- Time: 11-14 hours
- Best Travel Time: June – October
- Difficulty: Very strenuous
- Permits: You must have a permit to climb the subdome and the Half Dome cables.
- When to go: It depends on whether condition, but lotteries are awarded from Memorial Day through Columbus Day.
First part of the accent:
The first part of the hike is reaching Nevada Falls via Mist Trail which starts at Happy Isles trailhead. The trail starts with a steep incline right from the start and after half a mile of the hike is the Vernal Falls footbridge with a water tap. This is your last chance for purified drinking water on the hike so drink up and fill your bottles. After another mile begins the stairs to reach Vernal Falls. By the time we reached Vernal Falls, we were already drenched and realised why the name Mist trail. The mist from the waterfall is so strong that it feels as if it’s raining and we got completely soaked. It’s not even possible to take a photo without wiping the lens.
Beyond Vernal Falls, the trail continues onward and upward for 2 miles to Nevada Falls. If you feel stairs of Vernal Falls were tiring stairs before Nevada falls is going to wear you down. At the top of Nevada Falls which is around 4.5 miles, the trail splits left one heading to Half Dome, right one goes to Nevada Falls overlook. If you are planning to come back via John Muir Trail, you will pass the same viewpoint. We took a halt at this point to refuel, changed our socks and start our hike towards Half Dome.
Second part of the accent:
The trail after Vernal Falls goes flat in Little Yosemite Valley for around a mile, this is the only part of the trail which is flat. Then the trail spans through the forest of Sequoia trees. We thought this part would be easy but the whole 3-mile section has a constant slope and after already hiking for 5 miles, this part soaks the energy out of you. As you start to exit the forest you will begin to see what all this work was for. At the end of the forest, you get a view of Subdome, Clouds Rest and half dome. Just looking at the sheer size of half dome we were thinking how are we going to reach the top of Half Dome, it’s still so far! Before the entry of subdome permits are checked. Reaching to the top of subdome is a lot of effort in itself. By the time we reached the top of subdome, we were already wearied. Looking at the cables from here we were thinking did we really sign up for this! After some food and long break, we started our climb to Half Dome at around 1:30.
The climb is demanding, and it takes around 20-30 mins to reach to the top of Half Dome. Once we caught up on our breath and looked around and it just feels you are on a different planet altogether. The view is just stunning. You get a 360-degree view of Yosemite Valley and the efforts are well rewarded. This will probably be the highest point from where I will ever see a valley. It was a sunny day and we could see the clear view of the valley from Half Dome.
Coming back to Happy Isles trailhead:
We started to head back at around 2:30. I found getting down the cables is more difficult as compared to going up. The steep nature of the cables is far more apparent when facing down, and this can be intimidating. On the way back we took the John Muir Trail from Nevada Falls. This trail will add another 1.5 miles to trip, but it is easier on the knees because it is a much slighter grade. Even though it helped our knees, the extra mile and a half were really difficult for me after already completing 13. John Muir Trail provides views of Nevada Falls and it is truly amazing to see the area from this trial, so it has its perks. We took a lot of breaks and it took us around 14.5 hours to complete the hike, but I think it’s doable in 12-13 hours.
Hiking Half Dome is an absolute bucket lister for most hikers and it’s well worth the effort. The view from the top looking down into the Yosemite Valley is like no other; the ultimate reward for all your hard work. But do not underestimate what it will take to climb Half Dome, hiking 17 miles with 5,500 ft of elevation gain is very demanding. This is a strenuous and full day adventure, so make sure you’re prepared for it. Train properly, pack the right gear, and know what you’re in for.