Half Dome (8839')

Half Dome Backpacking

Duration: 2 days

Distance: ~17 miles

Difficulty: Easy - Moderate (Strenuous if doing it in one day & going up cables mid day)

Date: 7-8 June 2014

Trail: Happy Isles Trailhead -> Mist Trail (Vernal falls, Nevada falls) -> John Muir Trail (JMT) -> Little Yosemite valley campground -> JMT -> Half Dome summit trail -> Half Dome.

On the way back, it was JMT all the way down.

Info: Various websites provide information. Check nps Yosemite Hikes Everytrail PhotoGuide Cables of Half Dome (Permit)

a. Sunrise atop Half Dome (El Capitan first light) b. Tunnel view - Yosemite

Photos: here

After two failed attempts to obtain permit for the cables at Half Dome last year, Ang was lucky to get a backpacking permit that also allows the use of cables on Half Dome. This permit is relatively more difficult to win compared to the standard one day passage permit to the Half Dome cables. I was happy to be going with Ang on this trip – sunrise on half dome is something that is quite special. First light on El Capitan is a magnificent sight to witness. A small group made logistics easier. It was only Ang (our supreme leader), Angela and I. Since this trip was planned well in advance (~3months) and having done the 4 day backpacking trip of Rim2Rim in the Grand Canyon, we did not have to do much to “prepare” for this one.

Day 0:

I’ve always wanted to go up to the summit of the Half Dome and one reason being the fact that any hiker you meet in the bay area asks you if you’ve been up the Half Dome and used the cables to do so. It’s a big deal around here in terms of defining the difficulty of the hike. I always felt it was over exaggerated and I found that to be true (not completely but definitely not a very tough one given that you are physically very fit and can manage elevation gains of 6-8k in 6-8miles). So after a very quick stop at Sports Basement for dry packed food and Home Depot to grab gloves (Greasy Monkey – Monster grip) for the cables, I was packed and ready to leave. Angela came over to Sunnyvale caltrain station at about 5:40pm and we drove to pick Ang up at Google. To our dismal luck, there was traffic on shoreline blvd due to “One Republic” concert. We head out towards our campground – Summerdale campground for the night which is quite close to Wawona. We left the bay area at 8pm. After a brief stop for gas, we reached the campsite at midnight. It was pretty cool outside but I did not require my down jacket. We pitched our tents and went to bed. Day 1:

By 8am we were up, finished our breakfast and were ready to drive to the park. We decided to visit Mariposa Grove of the Giants before heading to the wilderness station at Wawona for collecting the backpacking & half dome permit. The giant trees reminded me of Sequoia National Park and the walk we took to see the General Sherman. It was a very pleasant and invigorating walk through the grandeur of age and the spirit of Mother Nature. After this, we stopped at tunnel view to take in the most famous view of Yosemite Valley with prominent sights of El Capitan, Half Dome, Centennial Peaks and other mountains. Collecting the permits was quick but it was when we drove to towards Happy Isles in Yosemite Valley that I realized how many people were present in the valley. We did not find any parking at the trailhead so I had to park the car all way back in Curry village and take the shuttle to the trailhead. Before boarding the shuttle, we just walked across to the village and grabbed a quick lunch.

Vernal Falls

At 11:50am, we took the shuttle to the trailhead. Our epic hike on the Mist Trail started half an hour after noon. It was hot but the trail was shaded with trees. The river flowing right next to the trail gave all the hikers the needed enthusiasm to keep walking up to Vernal falls. The trail was quite steep. Vernal falls came into view at the footbridge. There were just too many people on the trail. It felt like walking to a rock concert with the exception that the setting was a pretty trail in the wilderness and the concert stage being the falls itself. From the footbridge the trail leads up stairs (~600) to the top of the falls. The mist created from the sheer power of water crushing the rock at the bottom transitioned me into a whole different world. The waterfall spray is all over the slippery steps and on us. I describe it as a stairway to heaven. The rainbow created by this mist & sunlight so close to you is something that I’d go there for over and over again. I just wondered just how beautiful it would have been without so many people hiking up and down the trail (I wouldn’t be able to see it either though but it would definitely present the true spirit of Nature).

Once atop the falls, the trail again climbed vertically to Nevada Falls. This was more mightier and beautiful that the Vernal falls. The crowd also thinned was very pretty. We went off trail to catch some waterfall spray before continuing up the trail towards the top of this falls. At 3:45pm we reached the top of Nevada Falls. After roaming around for a while we found a spot with some shade from the scorching sun and took a nice long nap. It must have been about 2 hours before we decided to leave, atleast I felt it that long. We got on our way to the campsite at 5:00pm. Upon reached the Little Yosemite vally campsite at 5:50-6:00pm or so, we set up our tents and went to the river to get water. The ever-bothering mosquitos greeted us throughout our stay at the campsite. It was so annoying that we just made dinner at our earliest possible speed and went to sleep. We had to be up and out by 2:30am to easily make our way up the 3.5 miles to Half Dome before sunrise.

Nevada Falls

Day 2:

I slept very well that night. The temperature was quite high. I didn’t have to get into the sleeping bag. Promptly at 2am, the three of us were up. Ang treated himself to a hot breakfast. Angela and I just quickly ate a granola bar and were ready to take on the hike to the summit of Half Dome. We started hiking with headlamps at 2:50am. Stopped for another couple of minutes for photos of the sky. The Milky Way galaxy was visible too. At 3:30am we passed the first of the two permit required boards (2miles from Half Dome). By 4:20am we were just below the sub dome with the actual half dome visible as an outline. After a “lot” of pictures, we started our ascent of the sub dome which was again pretty much climbing stairs. At 5:05am we were at the cables of Half dome.

The sky was turning bright yellow/orange slowly and we could see the brightness increasing from behind us. The cables itself was a fun challenge. It wasn’t too bad going up for me. I was up at the top in little less than 15mins. At 5:35am we were all at the top waiting for the sun to show it’s face from behind the mountains. The view from the top is mystic and totally amazing. I was quite amazed to see the huge area present at the top of half dome. It doesn’t seem that way from the bottom. I wonder how it would be to climb half dome using the climber’s route, even El Capitan for that matter. I think if I do Half Dome again, I’d want to do it that way. Atop Half Dome - Cables to Half dome - Atop Half Dome

The light slowly illuminated the valley and mountains. The famous overlook very inviting. I just couldn’t resist taking a peak from the very edge of land into what is a very long drop (> thousands of feet). Mighty El Capitan saw it’s first dose of sunlight after a while. This spectacle is indeed just amazing! The beauty of everything – whatever I could see is captured into my mind for life. It’s something that needs to be experienced. No words can make any justice to the beauty of that sight. Slowly the sun caught up to the valley and the Half Dome shadow on other mountains was simply splendid. I was very hunger by now and ate the cliff bar I had carried with me. At 6:40am we started our descent from the peak. The climb down was more difficult to me compared to going up. My shoe – that I am retiring – which has seen various mountains including Mt. Whitney – which is going to the shelves – slipped like skates on ice. I was totally on my upper body and hands (with gloves) on the way down the cables. It was quite a workout for the hands.

Panorama of Nevada Falls from JMT

We hiked down to our campsite, packed the tents and finished breakfast all very slowly & in a very relaxed pace. We started the descent with our backpacks from little Yosemite campground at ~10:50am. Taking the JMT allowed us to get a glimpse of the Nevada & Vernal falls in a totally different setting. We were down at the trailhead by 12:45pm finishing the epic two-day backpacking JMT & Half Dome. A hot shower, some food, a movie “The spirit of Yosemite” at the visitor center and then drive back home completed the day.

Photos: here

a. Sunrise atop Half dome b. Little Yosemite Campground river (water source)


  • Half Dome in one day – moderate. Doable without issues – I wouldn’t want to drive back to the bay area after the hike though.

  • Catching sunrise atop half dome is a completely different experience.

  • The best way to spend time here if you haven’t seen the falls before would be to backpack. (Although backpacking permits are terribly hard to obtain).

Little Yosemite Valley Campground