Yosemite National Park boasts some of the most magnificent views, varied wildlife species, and grueling physical challenges of any outdoor destination in the country. Thrill-seekers and nature-enthusiasts alike migrate here by the thousands every year, eager to experience for themselves even a small part of this famous landmark.
Half Dome is one of Yosemite’s most demanding hikes and also one of the most popular. With an elevation of over 8,800 feet and an average hiking time of 14 hours round trip, it’s not a trip for the novice hiker. The trail itself is virtually impassable unless the “cables” are up, meaning the cabled-handrail system that allows hikers to scale the nearly-vertical sections of the rock face.
Although Half Dome is a challenging hike, it’s also one of the most beautiful, filled with awe-inspiring sights from the trailhead to the peak. Along the way, plan to see the Silver Apron waterfalls, which are at their strongest during the early months of the year, as well as a plethora of protected wildlife including white-headed woodpeckers, bobcats, ground squirrels, and alligator lizards.
Other than bringing your camera to document the breathtaking vistas, there are a few other things you should consider necessities for your Half Dome adventure. A tent, water, food, sun block, hiking boots, climbing shoes, and a harness will get you started on the right foot. If you plan to complete the entire trek in a day, you’ll also need a headlamp, as you’ll need to either start before sunrise or end after dark. And of course, remember to bring your fully charged Fugoo Tough to provide tunes for the excursion. (No need to bring the charger, though – Fugoo’s outdoor portable speaker will not only stay strong and play strong for the entire 14 hour hike, but for the next 26 hours too. Talk about a weekend warrior.)
Fully stocked backpack in tow, drive to the Happy Isles trailhead and start your ascent to Half Dome from there. However, after 4 miles or so you might consider pausing at Little Yosemite Valley, setting up camp and spending the night. This is the closest mid-trail starting point to Half Dome, so when you wake up the next morning you’ll already be a few hours ahead of the crowds who are still just setting out from the trailhead. Besides, it doesn’t get much better than kicking off your boots at a quiet campsite, enjoying a fire-roasted dinner, and listening to Wilco’s California Stars on the best camping speaker under the brilliant sky.
The next morning, get an early start – before sunrise if possible. From the campground, you’ll have a few more hours of hiking before reaching the last 400 vertical feet of Half Dome, but make sure to save the bulk of your energy for the ascent from here. Although the cable system was installed to assist you, it takes serious focus and a very cautious step to ascend safely. Here are a few tips to help along the way: First, transfer anything from the outer pockets of your pack to the inside zippered compartment. This includes water bottles, trail maps, watches, etc. (Don’t worry about storing your Fugoo Tough – it was designed to withstand the most grueling outdoor escapades, and the multi-mount will keep it securely in place.) Also, utilize the cables as much as possible by clipping your harness to them as you go – trust us, there will be moments that you’ll be glad you did!
Eventually, you’ll arrive at the top of Half Dome, in which case you can unfasten from the cables and give yourself a good old fashioned pat on the back – with a 5 out of 5 difficulty level, this is a feat not to be taken lightly. Which is why, after taking in the view and descending back down the cliff, we recommend that you reward yourself with a frosty beverage at the Ahwahnee Hotel bar back in Yosemite Valley, where you can swap stories with the other exhausted, but happy, hikers.
We’d love to hear from you in the comments below: What’s your favorite Yosemite hike?