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The Half Dome Experience

About 6 months ago, my husband and I were deciding what we should do for my 30th birthday. I told him that it had better be something epic! At first, we thought of doing the Presidential Traverse in the White Mountains of New Hampshire. Then, Jay came up with a better idea and decided that we should go back to Yosemite and climb Half Dome, since we didn't get to do that on our last trip. Our 2nd wedding anniversary was also very close to that time, so we thought it would be the perfect time to go back. Our friend Pack had never been out west and we knew he would love it as much as we did, so we invited him to come with us. In March, we put in 21 entries in the Half Dome Cables Lottery via  First, I got my e-mail that said we were unsuccessful. Then, Jay got his unsuccessful e-mail as well. As soon as Pack got up, he checked his e-mail and his said we were all approved for June 19, my 30th birthday! Perfect!

On June 18th, we woke up in Mammoth Lakes and headed towards Yosemite. We stopped at June Lake, Mono Lake, and Tuolomne Meadows before heading to the Valley. We finally started our hike at the Curry Village around 3 P.M. Our plan was to hike four miles to Little Yosemite Valley via the Mist Trail and camp there, then wake up at 5 A.M. and hike the remaining four to the subdome and make it to the cables by 7 A.M. before all the rest of the hikers.  



Make sure you have a permit if you plan to hike to the top of Half Dome. The punishment if you illegally hike it is up to  $5000 fine and or 6 months jail time!


JMT Trailhead - 8.2 miles to the summit of Half Dome


Approaching 317' Vernal Fall







The Mist Trail


Top of Vernal Fall - 1.5 Miles down

 (Elevation 5044')


Pack approaching  594' Nevada Fall





Top of Nevada Fall- 3.4 miles down (Elevation 5907)





Mist Trail/JMT Junction


Little Yosemite Campground - 4.3 miles down



Steller's Jay



Mule Deer by the Merced River in Little Yosemite Valley

We locked our tents up with our gear inside and took as little as possible to the summit. We came back after and cooked some lunch and packed up.


The REI Half Dome...on the way to Half Dome


Two miles to Half Dome!!!! WOO HOO!!!!


There it is!


Jay and Pack approaching the subdome




I have no idea what this bird is called, so I have aptly named it "Half Dome Turkey."


Once again, I have made a wild animal angry with me for taking a picture of it!



Subdome switchbacks




Up, up, up the subdome we go!



Almost there!



FINALLY! Somehow, when we got to the top of the subdome, we looked at the cables and thought that it wasn't going to be as bad as we had anticipated. This was wrong, lol!



So excited!!!





Marmot at the base of the dome


Ever wonder exactly what 400' elevation gain looks like? Yikes! By the way, this is not an optical illusion.



Here I go! At this point I already understood how hard it was going to be. This is easily the most challenging thing I have ever physically done. It was a full body (and mind) workout. I had no idea how much I was going to have to use my upper body. A word of advice - to train for this, make sure you work out your upper body just as much as you do your lower body.

About 1/2 up, my arms and legs were both complete jello. So...8,400' suspended in the air, hanging on to cables and slick granite and I am exhausted with shaky arms and legs. I had two options: 1) go back down - that was NOT happening 2) find some sort of inner strength and continue to press on. I went with option #2 and found some adrenaline and kept on truckin' all the way to the top. We had to take some breaks to rest and stretch, but we made it up in about 25 minutes. We were very lucky because we did not have hardly any traffic going up the cables.

By the way, the poles come right out of the ground if you pull them and a lot of the boards were loose! Plus if someone else walked in your grid (in between boards) and pressed down on the cables, they wobbled! One word: Scary!

Here is a five minute sample that Pack shot on his GoPro:



Woo hoo!! We made it -8.2 miles and almost 5000' elevation gain!

The summit elevation is 8835'.



Here is a video that Pack shot of the summit:




Another marmot


Marmot posing in front of Glacier Point







This marmot was bad! I yelled and clapped at him and he did not care. He wanted snacks! I guess I can't blame him - he could listen to me and definitely not get any snacks or he could ignore me and possibly get some snacks. Smart guy! I guess he is pretty used to people.



Well, if he wasn't going to listen to me I figured I might as well get a picture with him!



Most epic way I can think of to spend my 30th birthday! This was such an awesome day!




The beautiful high country


Now we had to go back down. The part I was most afraid of. Some parts weren't too bad, but some parts were super scary. It was incredibly steep in some sections. The granite was also pretty slippery in places. My grips on my shoes were a little too worn for it and I was slipping all over the place. I went back down in between the boys. They both had to assist me a couple of times, but we made it. We encountered a lot more traffic going down! That was not fun!



One last shot of the cables


We were so happy to be back to the subdome! We made really good time going down. We opted to take the JMT all the way down, instead of going back down the wet and crowded stairs on the Mist Trail. Once we were finished, we stopped in the Village Store for some souviners and then headed to the Chukchansi Hotel in Coarsegold to celebrate our big accomplishment and by birthday.

No doubt about it, this is the best hike I have ever been on.

That was an AWESOME video of the ascent. I've never been out in that part of the country, but hope to some day. Thanks for sharing the report!

Cool pics and video. I'm determined to get out to Yosemite someday.

Looks like a good day.

Are those staircases going up?

Great pics and video. You are right you have no idea how tough it is going up those cables. Like you I had problems wanting to slide down that granite. 

Did you see anyone walk on the outside of the cables? We saw two people do it when we were there. No way would I do that. 

Half Dome is an epic hike that eveyone needs to do at least once.

I see that you did not try out the King's Seat.  It is located immediately under the slab that hangs over the edge on the end of the nose.  You have to crawl under the slab to get to the King's Seat, where you sit in the opening (that is dark in your pictures) and dangle your legs over the edge.

Few people appreciate the fact that the cable route has seen so many thousands of feet with fine grit on the soles of the boots and shoes, and it is worn quite smooth.  The last time I went up Half Dome was before the permit system was started, and it was a solid line of people on the cables.  You could only hold onto one side of the cables because as you were ascending there was a steady stream of people descending.  I had to stop many times to wait for a group in front of me that included a girl who was absolutely terrified of heights and literally had to be coached where to place her feet on each and every step all the way up.  So as I was standing and waiting, it was a struggle to keep from sliding down on the boot-smoothed granodiorite.

Glad to see that you correctly identified the Steller's Jay.  Most people just call it a blue jay, which is an eastern bird.  Like their eastern cousins, Steller's jays are noisy and obnoxious, and will gladly steal unattended food.  The other bird that you show is a Blue Grouse.  They are quite noisy in SEKI, I hear the Whoo! Whoo! Whoo! all the time.

The marmots are the biggest thieves in the Sierras.  Leave your pack for just ten seconds and a marmot will be working on it.  Even if you take all your food out you are still not safe, they will chew on the hip belt to get the salt from your sweat.  I learned that lesson the hard way.

Great pics and it looks like you had great weather for it.  Your plan for avoiding traffic was really smart.  Once the cables get backed up it makes things much harder.

Count me among the jealous I wasn't there too!

Outstanding Ashleigh! Thanks for taking us along!

excellent review. Sold me. Suppose I'll have to add ole Half Dome to the list when making the trip through cali later this year.

It is a great hike and makes me think of John Muir. Last went up there in 1974 and there were 5 people on top.


Thanks! I am glad you enjoyed it!


Thanks! You definitely should. It is unbelievable. I will be glad to offer any insight if you ever do get out there.


It was an excellent day! There are stairs/switchbacks going up the subdome, but no stairs going up Half Dome, just cables and polished granite.


Thank you!No, we did not see anyone walking on the outside of the cables. I squatted down directly underneath them to let a train of people coming up when we were on the way down. That was scary enough for me :)


No, I did not try out the King's Seat, I felt daring enough dangling off the ledges that I was on. Pack did try one more,  I don't know it it has a name or not:


 As annoying as it was to have to put in all the entries for the permit, I am glad that they are doing that. I would not like to go up and have to wait that long in between stops. I read that when the cables are full that it can take 1.5 hours to get to the top. That is crazy! It is so slick in some places, so that has to be dangerous!

Yes, the Steller's Jays are very loud and very much scavengers. They sure are beautiful though. Thank you for your identification of the Blue Grouse. He is also beautiful! I have never seen any bird like that before. I have heard that about the marmots. I had an encounter with one before, but he was afraid of people and ran away. The one up at the top of Half Dome was not phased by people whatsoever. When he was trying to get into Pack's pack, I thought I was going to have to hit him with my poles to get him to go away. He didn't respond to yelling or clapping or me running towards him. This obviously wasn't his first rodeo.



Thanks! Yes, the weather was phenomenal. In fact, I didn't even break a sweat until we got back to Nevada Falls.


Thanks! I am glad you enjoyed it.


Thank you! Make sure you research the permit system a few months in advance before you go. It is awesome. The whole area actually is amazing. I'll be glad to help if you need any advice.


I bet it was nice to essentially have it to yourself! John Muir sure was a lucky guy. He saw it all!




Just saw Half Dome featured on a Travel Network program not too long ago, and couldn't help but think how much I'd like to make the climb myself. Man! Every bit as steep and slick as it seemed, and then some - the video really puts it into perspective. Did they suggest the gloves or was that a choice y'all made for yourselves? After seeing how necessary a constant grip on those cables is to give yourself a solid footing, I can't imagine making the climb without wearing gloves.

Really great post, and appreciate the pictures, Ashleigh - those million dollar views had to make the climb worth it. Thanks for sharing!


I have also seen that program. I watched it before my last trip to Yosemite. It definitely inspired me to do the hike. I remeber thinking that there was no way that The Mist Trail was real or as beautiful as it looked on the show. Thankfully, it is even more beautiful than it was on the show!

All of the research that I did on the Half Dome Cables indicated that you should wear gloves if possible. I brought my own gloves, but the grips weren't near sticky enough. I noticed as soon as I got on the cables, so I got back off and went to the pile of random gloves at the base of the cables and grabbed two more that appeared to have better grips - too bad they were both LEFT handed! I didn't realize it until I started up again. It worked out, but I still did not have the grip that I needed. My husband used football Wide Receiver gloves. I think those are perfect, because they are extra sticky. You are right though, they are absolutely necessary for solid footing. 

Thank you again for your comments and for reading my report. 

Happy Birthday, Ashleigh! What a great way to celebrate your 30th. Congratulations on your ascent of Half Dome!

Fun pics and video. Nice waterfall shots, too.

I haven't tried to use the permit system for Half Dome. I really don't care for the hassle, but it, or something like it, was long overdue to address the crowding on the cables route. 

Echoing what Lambertina wrote, the rock underfoot on the cables route is very, very polished, and slick. I am amazed that there are not more accidents and fatalities than there are, given how slick and steep the rock is under the cables.

For anyone thinking of going, marmots and rodents will chew through packs and the ravens will unzip zippers to get at food in packs that are left unattended. The critters can be devious, persistent, damaging and quick in their attacks. They will get after food left in packs at the base of the cables and even on the summit while you're scrambling about taking in the wonderful views or sitting there with your back turned to your pack.

My favorite way to the top of Half Dome is to climb it with rock climbing shoes and gear via Snake Dike for which NO permits are required. In rock climbing terms it is only moderately difficult, but seriously run-out. No leader falls. NOT a hiking route.

Ashleigh great post. Thanks for sharing your birthday and wonderful pics with us!

Ashleigh - are you planning to go back in another decade? or two or three? Could be fun. We celebrated a friend's 60th birthday last year by climbing Half Dome via Snake Dike in a day. A truly nice way to experience the hiking with a not too heavy pack (no camping gear!), views, rock climbing, summit, descent via the cables, comradery, and no permit. Combined ages for our trio was 174. Hoping to go back with the same partners to celebrate youngster in trio's 60th the same way. Report searchable over at the super topo climbers site.

Really enjoyed your trip report with those fun pics!       :-)

Excellent trip report Ashleigh, the pics and video were fantastic! Definately a trip you'll never forget.


Thank you for the birthday wish and the congratulations! I am glad you enjoyed the report. That is awesome that you and your friends climbed Half Dome for your friend's 60th birthday! I am sure that was a wonderful experience. I am not a climber, but that route sounds great. I do plan to go back to Yosemite as many times in the future as I can. I am not sure if I will ever climb the Half Dome cables again. Who knows though! If you would have told me 5 years ago that I was going to do what I did, I would have called you crazy.

Ashleigh - Now that you are an old hat at such routes, the next on your list should be Angel's Landing in Zion.  The main canyon in Zion is essentially a red rock version of Yosemite Valley, and Angel's Landing has some exposure like Half Dome and offers a similar view.


Thank you! You are right, I will ALWAYS remember this trip! Honestly, other than my wedding @ Glacier Point, it is the most awesome thing I have ever done. 


Angel's Landing does look amazing. I would love to do it someday! However, I just can't stay out of California. Mt. Whitney is next on the list. We are planning to go in September of next year (permits pending, obviously). We decided we wanted to do a 14er, so why not the biggest one in the lower 48? I know it will be longer and will have more elevation gain than Half Dome, but now that we've done Half Dome, I think we can do it. Have you ever hiked Whitney? I have a feeling that you probably have.

I've been on top of Whitney five times.  I have done it five different ways:

1. Dayhike from Portal

2. Overnight from Portal

3. Trans-Sierra from the Marvin Pass trailhead in Kings Canyon, eight day trip

4. Horseshoe Meadows to Whitney, approaching from the west (five day trip with scouts)

5. Onion Valley to Whitney, also approaching Whitney from the west (six day trip with scouts)

As a dayhike, it is significantly more strenuous than Half Dome.  6800' total vertical (including the 200' that you drop and regain each direction between Trail Crest and the JMT/Whitney Portal main trail junction) and it is much higher.  The trailhead is at 8360', almost as high as the summit of Half Dome.  The elevation will get you.  The summit of Whitney has 60% of sea level air pressure, and the last 1000' are slow going.

If there is any way you can manage it, doing it at least as an overnight is a much better proposition.  You still deal with large crowds anywhere near Whitney, especially on the Portal side of the crest.

Even better is if you can plan a weeklong trip.  The Onion Valley to Whitney route is very scenic and makes for a very pleasant six day trip, or a little more challenging if you compress it to four or five days.  You just need to work out shuttling between Portal and Onion Valley.  I have heard that it is not terribly difficult to hitchhike if you have a pack, they see a lot of that on the east side of the Sierras.  Drop all people and gear at Onion Valley, then one person can drive the car to Portal and hitch a ride to Onion Valley.  I think there are some shuttle services in that area that might be able to make the drive, but I don't know how much they charge.

The ultimate would be a trans-sierra route.  The most popular is the High Sierra Trail from Crescent Meadow, it is 71 miles total and a very good route for a 7-8 day trip.  It crosses a lot of spectacular scenery.  Other options would be a route from Mineral King, Roads End, or Marvin Pass.  Any would make an outstanding trip.  

A lot of those options are on popular routes, so you would need to submit the permit request on the earliest date possible (for trailheads that start on the west side in SEKI, you can't submit requests until March 1, I don't know the deadlines for trailheads on the east side in Inyo NF).  Another thing to know is that for any entry permits on the east side from trailheads other than Portal, you also have to get a Trail Crest exit permit for the day you plan to cross Trail Crest to exit at Portal.  This means that you need your wilderness permit issued for the entry trailhead, and an exit permit for Trail Crest.  Both will have quotas, and it would be a bummer to get an entry permit for the date you want, but not an exit permit.  Exit permits are not required if you enter on the west side in SEKI.  The Onion Valley and Horseshoe Meadow routes are popular and you will see a lot of people.  The same is true of the High Sierra Trail.  The Marvin Pass route takes you through some areas that are not as heavily traveled and you have some sense of solitude until you get close to Whitney.  I can send you pictures or links to photobucket albums for any of those routes.

A big benefit of the longer trips is that you can get acclimated to elevation so the summit is not as hard.  Don't underestimate the value of this.  The first time I attempted Whitney I had to turn back well below the summit because I was hit by a bad case of altitude sickness, and it is common for people on Whitney to get it.  I hardly feel elevation below 7000', but at 14,000' it is an entirely different story.

Want to really see a view? Hike to the top of Clouds Rest! From its top Half Dome is 2000 feet below to the west. There is barely 5 square feet of space on top of Clouds Rest compared to the 8 acres of the top of Half Dome.


Half Dome from Clouds Rest 9,930 feet

Yosemite Valley from Clouds Rest

I camped on its crest in May 1980.

Video below shows views from Clouds Rest on Youtube

Gary - I had always heard that Clouds Rest has the best views in Yosemite, and when I finally did it I decided that I couldn't dispute that claim.


Thank you for the info. We are tenatively planning on going to Mammoth Lakes (8000' +) and staying for a night and going to either Thousand Island Lake or The Little Lakes Valley in Rock Creek (10,000' +) for another night to adjust to the altitude, then tackling Mt. Whitney as an overnight hike. 


I have also heard that the Clouds Rest view is spectacular. I hear it is also quite an adventure to the top. Thank you for sharing the video. 

Ashleigh - after countless visits to Yosemite over many years, I finally did the hike to the top of Clouds Rest from Tenaya Lake. Much shorter and easier than doing a one-day hike of Half Dome via the cables route. Beautiful views from the top. It would make a nice acclimatization hike for you if you are in the area and can fit it into you Whitney planning.


I agree that it would definitely benefit me in Whitney acclimatization, but we are planning to approach Whitney from the southeast (flying into LA), so we will most likely not be going into Yosemite this time. 

Hi Ashleigh - agreed   :-)   Clouds Rest would be far out of your way given your LA start. Maybe on a future trip - no permit to day hike it, shorter round trip than Half Dome and less elevation gain.

Another peak to consider while you are in the Whitney area is Mt. Langley. It's 14,032', one of the easiest fourteeners in in CA, and a few miles south of Mt. Whitney. Easier as a day hike than Whitney because one starts higher (the Horseshoe Meadow trailhead is ~10,000'), but still an effort and would require some (pre-)acclimatization. There are some nice places to camp if one wanted to break it into 2 days. Hiked it last September with no mosquitoes or snow to speak of. Great views, too.

Have fun!

January 28, 2022
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