Half Dome Day Hike - June 8, 2006

We left Palo Alto at 5 am, reached the Yosemite Big Oak Flat entrance station (Hwy 120) at 8 am, and arrived to the trail parking lot at 8:45. It took us almost nine hours and some seventeen miles to get to Half Dome and back to the car (one hour stay at the top included). We left Yosemite Valley at 6 pm, had a brief dinner stop along the way, and came back to Palo Alto at 10:30 pm. Total driving distance, round trip: 380 miles.

Park your car at the well marked "Trailhead Parking", just southeast of Curry Village. Proceed on foot path parallel to the road to Happy Isles bridge over Merced River. Cross the bridge and follow a dirt road to your right to the trailhead.


Beginning in 2011, all people using the Half Dome Trail above the Stairway Dome (subdome) must have a permit in possession. The policy is enforced seven days per week when the cables are up.

(If you would like to learn more about first climbs to the top of Half Dome, more than a century ago, check Chronicles of Early Ascents of Half Dome).

 

Half Dome and the Little Yosemite Valley

Theater of operation:
Half Dome and Little Yosemite Valley. The trail starts at the Yosemite Valley floor, 4035 ft (1230 m), follows the Merced River, passes by the Vernal Fall (lower middle of the picture), Nevada Fall (right), and Liberty Cap (a dome to the left of the Nevada Fall), reaches the Little Yosemite campground, then winds through the forest in the upper center of the picture to the back side of Half Dome. From there, a cable route takes you to the top of the Dome, 8836 ft (2693 m). (Jon Vermilye's photo from www.lakeshoreimages.com. Posted with author's permission).

 
Half Dome from Glacier Point

Half Dome as seen from Glacier Point, almost three miles away. (Jon Vermilye's photo from www.lakeshoreimages.com. Posted with author's permission).

 
Merced River

9:30 am
Merced River from a bridge below Vernal Fall.

 
On a bridge

Mirna on the bridge, Vernal Fall behind.

 
Mist Trail

Mist Trail from the top of Vernal Fall.

 
Vernal Fall

Vernal Fall.

 
Vernal Fall

Vernal Fall.

 
Rain gear

Old rain gear worked perfectly on the Mist Trail (and so did my blue garbage bag). In May and June, Vernal Fall deposits enormous quantities of water on the Mist Trail, which should be more properly called "Tropical Storm Trail" in those two months.

 
Mirna and Dom

Mirna and Dom

 
Liberty Cap and Nevada Fall

Liberty Cap and Nevada Fall.

 
From a trail bridge

Wild Merced River from a trail bridge below Nevada Fall.

(See how much less water there was in Merced River one year later, in early June 2007. While the winter of 2005/06 brought heavy snow to the Sierra, the winter of 2006/07 produced a near record low snow cover).

 
Nevada Fall

Explosion of water on Nevada Fall.

 
Nevada Fall

Nevada Fall.

 
Nevada Fall

Nevada Fall.

 
Nevada Fall

Nevada Fall.

 
Nevada Fall

10:45 am
Nevada Fall.

 
Half Dome

Half Dome from the trail along Merced River, in the Little Yosemite Valley. The small dome to the right of Half Dome probably does not have a name, but I'll refer to it as "Stairway Dome". It is a major hurtle on the trail to Half Dome.

 
Trail crossing

12:00 pm
Important trail crossing: Two miles to Half Dome!

 
Trail crossing

John Muir trail continues from here to Clouds Rest and beyond.

 
Trail crossing

If you decide to turn back, there is 6.2 miles to the Valley floor via John Muir trail from here. But you wouldn't do that, would you?

 
Half Dome from the Clouds Rest trail

The back side of Half Dome in the distance, from the Clouds Rest trail. (Ryan's photo from July 2003).

 
The back side of Half Dome

The back side of Half Dome from the Half Dome trail.

 
Upper Merced River valley

Upper Merced River valley and Clark Range. Still plenty of snow above 10,000 feet.

 
Mount Starr King

Mount Starr King across Little Yosemite Valley.

 
Stairway Dome

Approaching "Stairway Dome". The top of Half Dome peeks behind. The "Stairway Dome" section of the trail underwent a major renovation in the summer of 2005, and it is much safer now. Still, it is very steep, and requires a lot of effort. You climb winding stairs cut in rock to the top.

 
Half Dome

1:00 pm
Half Dome from "Stairway Dome".

 
Half Dome cable route

Half Dome cable route, photographed from the top of "Stairway Dome". (Check also a more detailed version, or a really big picture).

 
The foot of the cable section

At the foot of the cable section. Just 20 more minutes to the top!

 
Climbing Half Dome, circa 1920.

A Bit of History:
Climbing Half Dome in about 1920.

From Yosemite and Its High Sierra, by John Harvey Williams, San Francisco, 1921.

"This feat, long deemed impossible, was first achieved in 1875 by George C. Anderson, who, with cable and eye-bolts, built a trail to the top. But avalanches swept this away. In 1919, under the auspices of the Sierra Club and with funds given by a member, the new trail, shown here was constructed with iron posts, steel cables, footholds, and, at the steepest point, a 50-foot ladder. The final ascent, 800 ft., over an incline sometimes exceeding 45 degrees, is thus made safe and comparatively easy".

Photo credit: Camp Cury Studio

(CCC replaced those cables in 1934, but the route remained the same. The 50-foot ladder section was removed. The cables were upgraded at least once since 1934. More history of early ascents).

 
Top of Half Dome

1:30 pm
Overhanging rock at the top of Half Dome.

Compare this photo with one taken in 1877, by S. C. Walker

 
Yosemite Valley

Yosemite Valley 4800 feet below, from the top of Half Dome.

 
People at the top of Half Dome

People at the top of Half Dome. (Photo taken with powerful lenses from 2.7-miles distant Glacier Point. Jon Vermilye, www.lakeshoreimages.com. Posted with author's permission).

 
Rest along the trail

Well deserved rest.

 
Tenaya Creek Canyon

Tenaya Creek Canyon.

 
Clouds Rest from Half Dome

Clouds Rest (9926 ft) from Half Dome (8836 ft).

 
Half Dome from Clouds Rest

Half Dome from 3-miles distant Clouds Rest. (Ryan's photo from July 2003).

 
Snow Creek Falls and Mount Hoffmann

Snow Creek Falls and Mount Hoffmann.

 
Clark Range

Family photo at the top of Half Dome, with the Clark Range behind.

 
Going down the cables

Going down is such a fun. Steep but fun. Steep.

 
Half Dome cables

Better hold those cables. (Can you see people at the bottom of the cable section? Check a larger photo, or a really big one).

 
Nevada Fall in the afternoon light

4:30 pm
Nevada Fall in the afternoon light.

(See how much less water there was in Merced River one year later, in early June 2007).

 
Happy Isles trail head

5:45 pm
Back at the Happy Isles trail head. On my wish list: Trans Sierra Trail (with portions of John Muir Trail), from Sequoia National Park to Mt. Whitney!

 

WHAT TO BRING WITH YOU

Here is a random list of items that you might consider taking with you if this is going to be a day hike:

Be sure to check the Yosemite weather forecast before your trip!