Half Dome, Yosemite National Park

This might be the hardest hike I have ever done to date. Summiting Half Dome in Yosemite National Park with a harness during the off-season is no joke and definitely tested my entire body (mentally & physically).

Our Half Dome Stats:

  • 20 Miles
  • About 5,200 Foot Elevation Gain
  • Took 12ish Hours
This was actually our second attempt to summit Half Dome. On our first attempt in 2015, we had won the permits through the lottery system the night before. Unfortunately, when we got to the cables it was starting to hale & then aggressively rain. We had no choice but to turn back for our own safety. The granite rocks were incredibly slippery & we had to crab walk down the slick surface. When hiking in the mountains you never know when the weather will roll in, so always be prepared!

When we started our hike for the second attempt to summit Half Dome it was just about dawn. The sun was coming up over the Yosemite Valley. It was absolutely breathtaking! You begin the trail at the Nature Center at Happy Isles. We struggled to find parking in the first trailhead parking lot so we had to park a little further down the road. We ended up having to park an extra mile away from the trailhead.

Here is the sign you will see at the beginning of the trailhead. This sign identifies that you are on the correct trail.

During this hike, you pass some beautiful waterfalls. These waterfalls are no joke to get to. You are essentially climbing up stone stairs until you reach Little Valley Yosemite campsite. It is truly incredible how unique this trail begins with these handmade stone steps carved into the granite. The first waterfall you will go past is called Vernal Falls. The spray from this waterfall is very intense. Prepare to get soaked during this part of the trail. If you do not want to be soaking wet after this section of the hike you might want to pack a trash bag poncho.

After passing Vernal Falls you keep climbing those stone stairs! This might be the most difficult section of the hike (at least it was for me). The next waterfall you will pass is Nevada Falls.

Once you have passed Nevada Falls you have about one more mile of stairs until you reach Little Yosemite Campground. This campground is the last place to use the restroom & fill up water until you reach the summit. This is only open during the summer season so when we passed it in early May it was not open.

Once you pass that campground you are now on the only “mellow” part of the trail where you are walking through gorgeous pine trees for about 4 miles until you reach the granite switchbacks that lead to the cables.

We hiked this before the cables were officially “in” which means it was before Memorial Day Weekend. Since it was early in May we still had quite a bit of snow once we got closer to the top. This made the climb more difficult to get to the cables because you could not follow the trail correctly.

After 10 miles of hiking, we finally did it! We made it to the home stretch, the cables. We put on our harnesses (all of us except for Garrett who free climbed it) and began our ascent on the last 400 feet of the hike on that 45º granite rock.

This part was absolutely CRAZY.

No, my cable did not snap. The pano photo just messed up!

Once we summited the top we relaxed, had some lunch, & took some photos! It was an amazing experience to accomplish with some of our closest friends. The one thing though about hiking peaks is once you reach the top you still have 1/2 way to go (LOL).

Overall, accomplishing this goal of summitting Half Dome was so satisfying. I am not sure if I would hike Half Dome ever again in a one-day span because of how strenuous it was on my body. If you plan on hiking Half Dome during peak season you will not need a harness but you will need to get permits through the park. Please be advised that this hike is not for the weak & is dangerous if you are not well equipped.

What to Pack:

  • Sturdy shoes
  • Lots of water (2 gallons each)
  • Hat
  • Warm layers at the top
  • Gloves with grip for the cables
  • Extra socks (I did this to help with blisters)
  • Flashlight (just in case of emergency)
  • Snacks/lunch
  • Pants (you will want to wear pants if you plan on summiting with a harness)

If you liked this post but are looking for an easier hike. Check out some of my other local hikes!

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