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Yosemite National Park, California, United States

Half Dome Hike

Yosemite National Park's iconic day hike, with stunning views over Yosemite Valley from the top of Half Dome.

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Difficulty: Difficult
Length: 15.7 miles / 25 km
Duration: Full day
Overview: Half Dome is the signature landmark of Yosemite National Park. “Average” people can accomplish the approximately 16-mile, 12-hour hike to the top of Yosemite’s signature landmark if they have three things: Education, Preparation and Motivation. This app will you with your education. I include advice on preparation – but you need to be in top condition to do this hike painlessly. You should be motivated to it for your own reasons – be it because it’s on your bucket list, to keep in shape or just because it’s there! The keys to success are: 1. Begin early, 2. Wear good boots, 3. Drink plenty of water, 4. Use hiking poles and 5. Use rubberized gloves for the cables.

I've included a lot of narration, stories, personal and archival photos relating to this great hike. Please refer to the app when you are resting or getting a drink. You do not need to be connected to the internet or a cell network – all the content is included in the download. Battery life is key. You do not need your GPS function activated. If it is, it will reduce your battery life. You may consider getting a supplemental power supply.

There are several very interesting videos in POI 19 for you to view at your leisure prior to the hike (this will maximize battery life on the actual hike.

1. Preparation – Water, Boots, Poles
2. Interview with Royal Robbins - first man up the face of Half Dome in 1957.
3. Inspirational messages by Half Dome veterans
4. Cable ascent - The full trip up using a head mounted camera.
5. Wedding Proposal on the top of Half Dome.
6. Interview with Ryan Ghelfi - Ran the Half Dome trail in 2 hours 30 minutes.

Finally, check back periodically for updates - Hit RELOAD. We will continue to improve this guide. Feel free to visit my website/daily blog at, or Send me an email with any questions to

I've done this hike 41 times and have written the only guide book on it: "One Best Hike: Yosemite’s Half Dome." The new expanded 2nd Edition (March 2012) is available in the park, at REI, booksellers, my website and It is also available as an e-book.

***See my GoPro going up the cables at:

Follow me on Facebook and my website.

Carpe Diem! (Seize the day)
- Rick Deutsch, aka Mr Half Dome(tm)

2015 Carpe Diem Experience, LLC

Tips: 1. NEWS

RELOAD this app frequently (bottom of screen) for important news about Yosemite and the Half Dome hike.

THE HALF DOME CABLES are DOWN for the 2016 summer season. The 2016 lottery was in March with winners announced in April. Get your accommodations NOW as they book up fast. You can stillget permits good for 2-days after you win - everyday at


To help you get ready for the hike, here’s information to walk you through the essentials of: water, boots, hiking poles, clothing, food, first aid, training and accommodations.

WATER – The number one guidance for this hike is to drink enough water. Because of two microscopic protozoa called Giardia and Cryptosporidium, you should not drink untreated water in the park. These are intestinal parasites that will give you diarrhea in about a week after leaving the park. E.Coli from feces of animals is the source. Bear, deer, mountain lions, coyotes and human waste all work their way into the water. You can become very ill and death can result if you drink untreated water. Be safe – treat it. If you carry your water, it will get hot from your body and the ambient air. You also may not bring enough. How much is enough? I’m 200 pounds and I drink 7 quarts all day. Women drink less. Water weighs two pounds per quart and if you carry it, you may get back pain. If you don’t have enough you will begin sipping it to conserve it. Not a good idea. Water is critical to preventing dehydration and heat stroke. Water is used to make energy at the cellular level so drink before you are thirsty.

If you use chemical treatment, most iodine-type pills take 30-minutes to work. In addition, iodine is not effective against Cryptosporidium. I suggest investing in a Water Filter pump. These devices cost about $70 but will last for over 200 gallons of filtering. A mechanical barrier keeps all but viruses out. Viruses are generally not a problem in the Sierra. Filters are compact and fit easily into your pack. I do the hike using only a fanny pack and fit everything I need into it. Many will use a backpack with a bladder inside for their water. The largest of these holds only three quarts, so you will have to replenish it on the trail. You should use stationary water – this allows sediment to settle and not be sucked into the filter. That will clog it and reduce the life of the mesh filter element. Consult the instruction book provided. At the end of your hike, fill a plastic gallon milk jug with water and a capful of bleach. Cut a three inch diameter hole in the top and place your filter inlet and outlet inside. Pump it for about five minutes. This recirculating chlorine will kill any hitchhiking critters. Open it up and air it out for a day. When you treat your water, you should add some powdered electrolytes. Those are the trace minerals that our body uses for energy production. Sodium, potassium and magnesium are all needed since your body will be depleted after a few hours. Drink before you are thirsty. You will know you are doing okay if your urine is clear. (Use the outhouses or go 100 feet from any trail or water.)

BOOTS - This is a big hike and you should have good hiking boots – not tennis shoes. I suggest ankle high to avoid sprains on the uneven trail. The shank should be firm and you should not be able to bend the toe back to the laces. It is critical that you have enough room in the toe box. Half of this hike is downhill and if your feet are banging the ends of the boots, your toenails may turn black and could even fall off. Cover any hot spots with a blister pad or moleskin before it turns into a blister. I use a skin lubricant and put on a thin liner sock followed by a mid-weight hiking sock.

HIKING POLES – Seven miles of downhill hiking take its toll on your knees. Most of the stopping force when descending goes right to them. Trekking (or hiking) poles provide a proven solution. With the poles extended and in front of you, your upper body will absorb much of the energy when descending. When ascending, keep the poles behind you and push into the ground when they are at your side.

CLOTHING - Wear no cotton. It absorbs your sweat and takes a long time to dry out. This could lead to wind chill if a breeze comes up later in the day. Synthetic fabrics are recommended. Lightweight shorts or pants with zip-off legs are best. If chafing is a problem, you may want to consider using a lubricating gel on your inner thighs. A long-sleeved polypropylene shirt will give you warmth in the morning and dries fast. You can keep the sleeves down in the early morning and fold them up as the day goes on or keep them down for sun protection. A collar will protect your neck from the intense sun later in the day. A front-button shirt can be opened for quick cooling. What you wear depends a lot on when you go. May and October trips can be very cold at 5:30 am. The problem is that you must carry everything with you. T-shirts are tempting, but they provide no warmth in the early morning and will be soaked with sweat within a few hours. The long-sleeved shirt also provides a pocket or two to hold your energy bar or small camera. Many days it is windy and brisk on Half Dome, so a long sleeve shirt is very handy for cutting the chill. A lightweight jacket stuffed into your pack is a good idea.

FOOD – I do the entire hike with seven energy bars, a baggie of trail mix, a baggie of beef jerky and a roll of hard candy. Your training hikes should help you decide how much you eat. A hearty breakfast of muffins, bananas. raisins, fruit, granola, and energy drink should suffice. There are no trash cans on the trail so bring a baggie and don’t toss fruit skins. They may be bio-degradable but it takes a long time. We practice Leave No Trace hiking at Yosemite.

Here’s a quick checklist of some of the major items to bring on the hike:
blister pack / moleskin
cell phone
first-aid kit
hand sanitizer
rain gear/gaiters
small knife
toilet paper

FIRST AID – Be sure to bring a basic first aid kit. Most issues are cuts and abrasions. Neosporin, some bandaids and gauze will be the minimum. Your cell phone is a good safety device. 9-1-1 works. Carry a whistle; in case of a fall you can still get help.

TRAINING - This is an extremely strenuous hike. Preparation should include extensive steep hill climbing and descending. Upper body strength will be needed to pull yourself up the cables. You will be traversing the length of 2 football fields as you head up the cables – at a 45-degree angle. We should all be exercising five days a week already. Are you? Get a physical if it’s been a while. You can do the hike if you have asthma or other concerns. Just get clearance from your doctor. Make sure your routine include aerobics, resistance and stretching.

ACCOMMODATIONS - Once you get your permit for your hike day, your next challenge will be to get a place to sleep. If you are a planner, you can book a hard-sided place in the park one year in advance. Camping sites can be reserved six months ahead. I book several dates well in advance and the park let’s you cancel with seven days notice. I prefer the Curry Village tent cabins or wooden cabins. They are the closest accommodations to the Happy Isles trailhead. Once called Camp Curry, it has been around over 110 years as a gathering place of fun lovers of the park. Curry Village has plenty of stores and eateries to satisfy hikers and shoppers alike. There is a nice amphitheater that hosts evening programs during the summer. In 2008, an early morning rockfall off of the Glacier Point area severely damaged over 200 tent and wooden cabins. The area has been cleared and minimal human time is allowed. Hint: Request a site in the 600 or 700 series to be far from the loud crowd and closer to the trailhead.

The various “Pines” campgrounds and Housekeeping are other alternatives close to Happy Isles. If you are staying at a park lodge or off-site, you will need to drive in and park either at Curry Village or further down the road at the Backpacker Lot. Gateway towns offer motels but they book up fast – Yosemite is that popular. The closest alternatives are in El Portal at the Yosemite View or Cedar Lodge. They are about 45 minutes from the trailhead. Mariposa is the county seat and has many tourist motels. Groveland has a smaller number of fine hotels. Hotel Charlotte is fun and is highly recommended. Another choice is in Midpines at the Yosemite Bug – a hostel and cabin oriented place that caters to many foreign visitors and young folk. Tent sites are also offered outside the park. A KOA campground is in Midpines. Spend some solid internet time and line up your accommodations early.

Yosemite Search and Rescue responds to approximately 250 incidents in the park each year; nearly one-third of those incidents happen on trails leading to Half Dome. The PSAR Group (Preventive SAR) has a display above the Vernal Fall footbridge to help hikers avoid issues. Here is some advice they offer for your Half Dome hike.

* Know your fitness level. The hike from the trailhead at Happy Isles to the summit of Half Dome gains 4,800 feet in elevation and is 15 to 18 miles, roundtrip, depending on which route you choose (the Mist Trail is 1 mile shorter, but much steeper, than the John Muir Trail). It takes an average of 10 to 12 hours to hike to the summit and back. Honestly assess the fitness level of each member of your group. High altitude and hot summer temperatures may exacerbate pre-existing medical conditions; be well-rested, well-hydrated, and eat plenty the day before the hike.

* Plan to start your hike before sunrise and have a non-negotiable turnaround time. For instance, if you haven’t reached the top of Half Dome by 3:00 pm, you will turn around. Check for sunrise and sunset times before you hike. Each person should carry a flashlight or headlamp with fresh batteries.

* Be prepared for cool temperatures and rain showers. The summit is typically 15°F to 20°F (8°C-11°C) cooler than Yosemite Valley and windy conditions are common.
Do not continue up Subdome or Half Dome if storm clouds are overhead, if you hear thunder, if it is precipitating, or if the ground is wet. If you are on the summit with a storm moving in, leave the area immediately (while still using caution when descending the cables and steps).

* Drink plenty of water. Suggested minimum amount is 1 gallon (4 liters) per person. The only treated water on the trail is available at a drinking fountain at the Vernal Fall Footbridge (less than a mile from the trailhead). Merced River water is available up to Little Yosemite Valley; we recommend you treat any water collected from a natural source before drinking it. Choose slow-flowing, non-slippery access sites when collecting water from the river; a good spot to get water from the river is just before reaching Little Yosemite Valley, where the trail closely parallels a relatively calm section of the river.

* Eat snacks regularly. Salty foods help replace the salt lost through sweat. Make sure everyone in your group has food and water with them in case you get separated.
Pay attention to how you’re feeling. If you’re huffing and puffing, you are working harder than you should. Take water and snack breaks in the shade.

* Designate meeting areas for your group. Identifying meeting areas can help reunite the group if members become separated while hiking.

* Stay on the trail. Do not take shortcuts off the trail or across switchbacks. Besides causing trail erosion and being illegal, cutting switchbacks is a major safety hazard. Bring a good topographic map and compass and know how to use them.

Most accidents and injuries happen to hikers on their way back to the trailhead. Pace yourself and continue to take breaks. Pay attention to the trail; hikers only lose the trail on their way back down, hardly ever on their way up.

* Wear sturdy footwear with good traction. The granite on the cable route has been worn down to a smooth, polished surface. It is more like marble than granite! Shoes with good rubber soles are recommended for the climb up the cables.

GLOVES - Nitrile coated (rubberized) gloves grip the best. The steel cables can be cold and difficult to grip; if you use the gloves discarded at the base of the cables, carry them back out with you. The park considers them trash. If you use them, you own them.

* TECHNIQUE - It's recommended to stay inside the cables, but it's not mandatory. The only "rules" are that you must have a permit and you cannot camp above 7,600 ft (the top). If someone needs to pass you, make room for them. It's a bi-directional system. Use only one cable instead of both as you ascend and descend. Although it may be tempting to grip both cables, one in each hand, using both cables makes it difficult for hikers coming from the other direction to get by. Additionally, gripping both cables, you will use primarily your pectoral (chest) muscles. Using the right cable alone in a rappel fashion will involve your strong back, core, lat, shoulder muscles.

* LEAVE NO TRACE - Pack it in, pack it out. Please keep the trail litter free! There are no trash receptacles anywhere along the trail.

* RESTROOM LOCATIONS - Because the trails leading to Half Dome are so popular, several composting toilets (aka outhouses) were built. They are at the top of Vernal Fall, at the junction of the Upper Mist Trail and in Little Yosemite Valley near the backbpacker camp. They are well stocked with toilet paper. Don't toss trash in. Be sure to use hand sanitizer.

(c) 2014 Carpe Diem Experience, LLC

Points of Interest


Happy Isles

Regardless of where you are staying, you will need to get to the Happy Isles trailhead of the John Muir Trail to begin your Half Dome hike. It's just east of Curry Village. Bus stop #16 is close to the trailhead, but buses do not operate until 7 am – way too late for a successful hike (a 5:30 am start is highly recommended). Near the bus stop is a nice restroom facility and is also a safe place to fill your water bottles. Continue down the bus road until you cross the Merced, then turn right and follow the signs (and the crowd) along the southern bank. In about 200 yards, you will see a US Geologic Survey river flow gage station. Measurements are taken here and telemetered via satellite to USGS offices in Virginia. The roots of this station go back to 1915. In 1925, a continuous recorder was installed. Upgrades over the years have brought it to its current functionality and provide park officials with discreet as well as continuous water quality data. The 1997 flood destroyed a bridge at this point; you can see remnants of the foundation.
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1 Happy Isles

Mileage Marker sign

Just past the gage station, turn left and head uphill. You will come to the large reddish mileage marker sign. This is the official start and end of your Half Dome hike. You will have to add all the walking you did from your bed to here for a complete mileage total. Turn on your GPS here. You are also at the beginning of the John Muir Trail, often just called the JMT. Although it was named for him after his death, Muir trekked along its path on his many journeys. The trail runs 211 miles on the crest of the Sierra Nevada Mountains. Many people begin in Yosemite Valley and hike south to the top of Mt. Whitney, taking about four weeks.

The John Muir Trail is a must-do journey for avid hikers. After you've done the Half Dome hike, you may consider tackling it someday. The JMT originated as an idea of a man named Theodore Solomons. Hailing from Fresno, he suggested a trail along the spine of the Sierra. Solomons hiked what would become today’s trail with John Muir, Joseph LeConte and other Sierra Club members. He proposed the idea to the Sierra Club who agreed and in 1914, they formed a committee to begin trail planning, together with the State of California. After Muir died, the trail took on his name as a way to honor him.

Elevation: 4,093 ft
Elapsed time: 0:00
Odometer: 0.0 miles
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2 MIleage sign

Vernal Fall Foot Bridge

As you walk up the paved path you will get some good ups and downs to warm up. To your left you will a see large 1970’s era rockfall that at one time was the site of a trail to Sierra Point. It has long been closed and is not recommended. Rattlesnakes abound here and it is pretty rough scrambling. Sierra Point was the one spot that a person could see 4 waterfalls from a single vantage point: Vernal Fall, Nevada Fall, Yosemite Falls, and Illilouette Fall. (Note the use of singular and plural. If a waterfall drops unimpeded it is a FALL. If it cascades, it is FALLS.) Grizzly Peak lies just above you and to the left. You can easily see and hear the roaring Merced River to your right. As you continue, the view to the right will open up and you may catch a glimpse of Illilouette Fall streaming down in the distance. All the falls at Yosemite are fed by snow melt and they are virtually gone by late August, depending on the previous year’s snowpack.

In well under an hour you will arrive at the Vernal Fall Footbridge. Cross the wooden bridge midway and you see the 317-foot high Vernal Fall to your left. A water fountain and restroom are located here, just beyond the bridge. This will be your last source of safe water and it will also be your last flushing toilet opportunity. (3 outhouses are further along the JMT). Please avoid climbing on the rocks near the river. Moss covered stones and wet boulders create slippery and dangerous conditions. Almost every year, Yosemite Search and Rescue (YOSAR) performs body recoveries from the Merced. It runs at about 43 degrees F. In May and June, flows approach class V rapids under the bridge. Stay safe and keep out of the Merced. If you see someone in need of assistance you can dial 9-1-1 to reach emergency support. YOSAR is the group that performs most of the rescues of visitors who run into problems. Most calls are for problems that arise from dehydration, sprains and broken bones but other times they are a matter of life and death. YOSAR performs about 250 rescues a year, sometimes using helicopters.

Elevation: 4464 ft
Elapsed Time: 30 mins
Odometer: 1.0 mile
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3 Vernal Bridge

Register Rock

As you leave the bridge and head up the JMT, after just a few minutes you will be faced with a decision. To continue straight and get wet from the mist off of Vernal Fall or stay dry and take the longer but dry JMT. The JMT turns right about 150 degrees and continues up to Clark Point and Nevada Fall. If you go straight and through a control gate you will head up the Mist Trail. The control gate is closed during the winter because water off of Vernal Fall freezes on the upper steps creating a dangerous condition. The trail from Happy Isles to the base of Vernal Fall was constructed by George Anderson on contract to the new state of California in the late 1800's. Anderson was a Scottish sailor who worked in the park as a blacksmith, trail builder and jack-of-all trades. Remember his name. Later we will talk about his singular accomplishment that allows us to get to the top of Half Dome. For now, marvel at the Mist Trail he constructed up to the cliff. Trail crews, the California Conservation Corps and volunteers continually maintain and upgrade the park's trails.

I suggest you take the Mist Trail up during your morning hike. It will converge with the JMT at the Nevada Fall area. You will get wet from the spray in May and June but it will be shorter than taking the JMT. The Mist Trail route to Nevada Fall is 2.6 miles vs 3.7 miles via the JMT. If you want to stay dry, then the JMT is the way to go; but you will miss seeing some interesting sights. Later in the day we will return to Happy Isles on the longer JMT to save our knees from the downhill pounding.

A couple hundred yards up the Mist Trail you will arrive at a control gate. It is closed during the winter when the steps ahead might be covered in ice. A junction is here allowing you to continue on the Mist Trail or go right onto the John Muir Trail. Regardless of which way you proceed at the control gate, look to your hard right and just a few yards up the JMT you will see a large granite rock to the left of the John Muir Trail. It is called “Register Rock.” In the early day before the Government organized things, people built tails in the rough terrain and charged tolls to use them. At Register Rock people would write their name on the wall and continue on their hike. In the James Hutchings book “In the Heart of the Sierras,” he wrote that he saw this writing on Register Rock: “Camped here August 21, 1863, A. Bierstadt.” Bierstadt was an early artist who captured scenic images. If you look closely, you can visualize the many now faded entries on the sloping side of the rock. One 30 feet up appears to read: “GERTRUDE SMITH 1881 F.K.C.” The accompanying photo shows you what the area looked like in the late 1800’s.

The lower Mist Trail was carved out by Scottish immigrant George Anderson. Prior to his efforts, hikers had to go the longer trail – later called the John Muir Trail. He constructed that route on contract to the State. Anderson was a Scottish sailor and blacksmith who imagined visitors wanting to get up close to the many vistas around Vernal Fall. Modern hikers owe a debt of gratitude to George Anderson as one of the pioneers who helped shape Yosemite. As you head up the nearly 700 steps, pay homage to Anderson who constructed this difficult trail up to the cliff. Stephen Cunningham later built ladders up the Vernal Fall cliff allowing access above the fall. If you think today’s steps cut into the side of top of the wall are scary, imagine going up a ladder system. Those ladders were then updated to a wooden staircase which, in turn, was replaced by the granite steps and railing you see today. In early season months, the spray off of the fall covers the trail and you will be soaked for about 20 minutes. It is suggested to use a cheap poncho to protect you from the spray. You may even see a circular rainbow in the spray on a sunny day.

Near the top you will be out of the spray and can continue up the remaining steps. Off to your right you will see the Fern Grotto. This overhang is a quiet place to relax if you can negotiate the short climb up and have plenty of time. It is not natural. The use of dynamite carved out the huge gap.
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4 Register Rock

Top of Vernal Fall

317 foot Vernal Fall was named by the first whites when they arrived in the valley in 1851. It is a wide symmetric fall that is postcard perfect. Stay behind the rail and do not go near the water. In July 2005, a man climbed over the rail and stood in the water a mere 20 feet from the edge and went over to his death. In 2011, we had 200% snowpack and the melt was long and strong. That July, ten people climbed over the rail and 3 were swept over. Follow the trail signs and stay to the right of the river. You will soon see a composting outhouse to your right. Through the trees to your left, you can see the Emerald Pool. It is a large bulge in the river with an inviting, but deadly area that may seem like a fun place to swim. This is prohibited due to the cold water, the current and the proximity to the fall just around the corner. DO NOT go into the Emerald Pool. As you transition from a dirt trail and begin to hike up granite slabs, you will reach a trail junction that can be confusing. There are two metal signs that both say “Nevada Fall.” Go left; in fact, on the hike to Half Dome, when you arrive at a fork – always go left. Here, if you go to the right, you will get to Nevada Fall, but via Clark Point and the longer John Muir Trail. After passing the Emerald Pool, very shortly you will cross the wooden Silver Apron Bridge.
Elevation: 5062 ft
Elapsed Time: 1 hour
Odometer: 1.6 miles
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5 Top of Vernal

Silver Apron Bridge

Under this wooden bridge, the Merced flows down a long smooth narrow chute and into the Emerald Pool. It is reminiscent of a water slide. The bridge provides a view of the water rushing down the chute. Despite graphic warning signs, people sometimes unwisely go for a swim which results in calls to Yosemite Search and Rescue. The water is very cold and hypothermia can result quickly. Be safe and please stay out of the water. You will continue your hike towards Nevada Fall through a quiet forested area. As you bend to your right, keep your eyes open for a wide open rocky space that is on pretty level ground on your right.

This place has a fascinating history. In 1870 Albert Snow and his wife Emily operated a hotel here that was originally called the Alpine House but later went by the name of “La Casa Nevada” – a play on their name (in English it means The Snow’s House). To allow access from the valley, Albert constructed a trail that switch-backed from Register Rock up to Clark Point and on to this flat area between Vernal and Nevada falls. Their view of Nevada Fall was recorded on photographs and drew many visitors. Their guest register book is in the collection of the Yosemite Museum. Some travelers stayed overnight before or after hiking to Glacier Point. Emily baked pies, doughnuts, bread and baked beans. The structure expanded and later included the 12-room original building, a 10-bedroom chalet, a woodshed, an icehouse, a log cabin and a stable.

By 1889, the Snows were old and feeble and soon died. It operated under another owner until a fire destroyed it (like most other Yosemite Hotels) in 1900. It was soon deemed a hazard and all remnants were cleared out. Almost no shard of wood or glass can be found today. Their once clear view of Nevada Fall is obscured by tall trees.

Elevation: 5,360 feet
Elapsed Time: 1 hour 30 minutes
Odometer: 1.9 miles
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6 Silver apron Bridge

Junction of Mist Trail and John Muir Trail

The upper Mist Trail continues the theme of man-carved granite steps. If the lower Mist Trail didn’t spread your group out, these steps will. Hiking poles come in handy to help propel you up the steep incline. The early years saw the trail cut into “zig-zags” to accommodate horses, but today it is frequented only by humans. Pack animals now go up the JMT, bringing supplies and tourists. You travel far enough away from Nevada Fall to stay dry but you get a pretty good up-close look at the 594 foot gusher. The name in Spanish means “snowy” and the white foam reminded the early explorers of a cascade of snow. John Conway built the upper Mist Trail route. After a long haul up, the trail comes to a “T” with the John Muir Trail. Nearby is a 2-unit outhouse and to the west is Nevada Fall. Although it’s only a 10-minute walk over to Nevada Fall, don’t waste time since we suggest you take the JMT back home and enjoy the fall later at the end of the day. It will be a longer walk back than the going down the Mist Trail, but easier on your knees. Take a short rest here; you are now approaching the halfway point of your hike to the top.

Elevation: 6,095 feet
Elapsed Time: 2 hours 00 minutes
Odometer: 4.8 miles
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7 Mist and JMT junction

Little Yosemite Valley

Little Yosemite Valley (LYV) was once a thriving summer village for the Indians in the area. Named by the first whites to see it (the Mariposa Battalion), this valley extends towards Merced Lake. The 2,000-foot-high walls sculpted by glaciers resemble the majesty of the main Yosemite Valley. You will be on the level trail for only about a mile so enjoy a brief rest after the steep climb up the Mist Trail. To the right of the trail, the Merced slowly meanders through. It is a good, safe place to filter water. The fall is far downstream so the water is calm. You could go for a swim if you were not on a mission to Half Dome. A quick look up and to the left reveals the backside of Half Dome. You can clearly see the main hump and sub dome. The cables are hidden from this vantage point. At the eastern end of the valley is a campsite for backpackers with wilderness permits. Little Yosemite Valley is the most-visited location in the backcountry. Some hikers elect to stay here and do the Half Dome summit in 2 days. While this would afford an early trip to the top, permits are limited and competitive. Additionally, campers need to carry their gear up the 2,000 feet from the valley. Lastly, this area is known for its bear activity. Don’t worry; no one has ever been killed by a bear at Yosemite – be it grizzly (through the 1920’s) or black bears. A large (and the last) 4-unit composting outhouse is located to the right. Further down is a Ranger Station that supports this area of the park. On another day you may want to continue up the river towards Merced Lake and the High Sierra Camp there. A lottery is held each year for overnight slots at the five High Sierra Camps. Spaced about eight miles apart, they are a rewarding day hike and welcome you with tent cabins and hearty meals. You will soon depart LYV and head up the forested switchbacks towards Half Dome.

Elevation: 6,100 feet
Elapsed Time: 2 hours
Odometer: 4.2 miles
Coordinates N 37.43.58 W119.31.13
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Junction of John Muir & Half Dome trails

As you head up the switchbacks, keep your eyes open for a metal trail sign pointing the way to Half Dome in 2 miles. The main trail splits to the right and continues as the JMT. To the left is the Half Dome trail. Should you go right, you will head towards Cloud’s Rest.

When you are ascending this forested area, you may be lucky enough to see Mule deer. They like the heavy brush and tree cover. They are easily recognized by the shape of their ears, which actually do resemble mules' ears. The main valley meadows are frequented by these deer and are a common sight. Although they look like Bambi, these are wild animals and should be given space. Despite all the potentially dangerous fauna at the park including bear, mountain lions, rattlesnakes, coyotes and scorpions, only 1 person has been killed by wildlife at Yosemite. That was a 7-year old boy who was gored by a deer. More injuries have been inflicted on park visitors by mule deer than by black bears. A fully-grown buck can weigh up to 400 pounds. Don’t feed them! Since there are so many deer in this stretch, you can rest assured that mountain lions are on the lookout for a meal. To give you calm, no one has been killed by a mountain lion in the entire state of California since 2004. It’s estimated that only 5,000 of these animals are left in the state. They are also called pumas, cougars or panthers and can range upwards of 250 pounds. It is extremely rare to see one, so if you do, cherish the moment. Hunting of anything in a National Park is prohibited.

Rattlesnakes are also common here. If you stay on the main trail you will be fine. Be cautious if you take a potty break (100 feet minimum from a trail or water). There are 14 types of snakes in the park but only the western rattler is venomous. They have a flat triangular head and are colored cream to black with splotches. Bites are also very rare. If you hear the rattle – move!
Elevation: 7,000 feet
Elapsed Time: 2 hour 50 minutes
Odometer: 5.1 miles
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9 JMT HD junction

The Little Spring

The switchbacks will seem to go on forever, so rest and drink before you are thirsty. Nibble as you go. Pay close attention to this POI. I will show you a little known water source. Some guidebooks refer to a spring that lies off to the right a couple hundred yards. Don’t bother trying to find it. You will soon walk within a mere feet of a reliable spring. It doesn’t have an official name, so I call it “The Little Spring.” It is always flowing, albeit only a few inches deep and not bigger than a table top. But since it is not snowmelt, it can be counted on to be “running.” You need to be alert and locate the Little Spring on your left. After you make a hard left switchback turn, watch for a downed tree that lies with its roots facing the trail. In the winter of 2012 a huge tree fell and landed on the spring. The trail crew has cut away to tree to allow access. Study the photos of this area. This is the last water between here and the top – and back! See Pg 143-146 of the 2nd edition of "one Best Hike, Yosemite's Half Dome."

Usually spring water that runs through soil and sand can be safe to drink, we still recommend you use a water purification system before drinking from this spring. Remember the deer mentioned earlier? Giardia and cryptosporidium are linked to e-coli in feces. These are two protozoa that will give you diarrhea in about a week. These intestinal parasites must be treated or you will get very sick and could even die. The spring is very shallow so do not stir up sediment. Hold the filter inlet just below the surface to avoid getting sediment into your filter and clogging it. Filling up here should allow you to get to the top of Half Dome and back to this spring before you need to refill. Hydrate here and add electrolytes – don’t underestimate the difficulty that lies ahead. I've listed the GPS coordinates in case you can't see the spring.

Elevation: 7,227 feet
Elapsed Time: 3 hour 10 minutes
Odometer: 5.9 miles
Coordinates N37-44.883 W119-30.879
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10 LIttle spring

Base of Sub Dome

About a half of a mile beyond the Little Spring, you will get a glimpse of Sub Dome with the backside of Half Dome looming above it. The trees get thinner and the views open up. You will know you are near the base of Sub Dome when a large flat area appears and several downed trees provide a nice resting place. Many people kick back and rest in the shade. Since there are no more outhouses, you should make a final stop in the woods before proceeding. Again, at least 100 feet from the trail. Dig a 6 inch deep cat hole if needed and pack out your toilet paper. Note: There are no toilets or places to go up top.

As you proceed up towards the base of Sub Dome, a Ranger may be present to check your permit. If everyone has one, you may proceed up the long grind of Sub Dome. Although this formation is not specifically named on maps, the Rangers call it Sub Dome. Incorrect names include: “Quarter Dome” (a formation near Cloud’s Rest), “The Granite Staircase,” “The Switchbacks” or even “The Shoulder”. The most understated part of the whole hike is the 400-foot rise up Sub Dome. Many say it is harder than the cables. It is composed of a 2-way man-carved switchback granite staircase. It was built in 1919 when the cables were erected. It lies above the tree line and is very strenuous. It can take you 45-60 minutes to get to the top of Sub Dome. Hiking poles help with the push up and provide stability on these tricky steps. You need to move as others going the other way descend. The steps die out about ¾ of the way up and you have to watch for people descending to ensure you don’t lose your way. A slow and steady pace is best. Pause often to enjoy the view.

Elevation: 7,900 feet
Elapsed Time: 3 hours 45 minutes
Odometer: 6.9 miles
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11base of Subdome

The Base of the Cables

When you finally arrive at the top of Sub Dome, you come face-to-face with the infamous cables. Photos do little to convey the task that lies ahead. You should have a total trip estimated time and turn around if you are beyond your half-way time. From here it can take you a long time to get up and back down the cables, depending on the crowd. You do not want to risk night hiking.

First, a word of caution. If there is any storm activity nearby or you get the “smell of rain” – Do NOT go up. Lighting can travel up to 10 miles from its cloud source and those steel cables conduct electricity. In 1985, two men died after a lighting strike up top. Besides lightening, rain makes the granite very slippery and when combined with the wind can numb your hands, creating deadly consequences when attempting to descend.

Assuming you are doing well, sit back, rest, drink and secure your poles, bottles and camera. The depression just before the cables is called the saddle. Here you get an appreciation of the steep areas to the left and right (I call them Infinity and Oblivion).

In 1870, Josiah Whitney, the Chief Geologist for California, looked up at Half Dome and said: “Half Dome is perfectly inaccessible, being probably the only one of all the prominent points of Yosemite which has never been, and never will be, trodden upon.” Just 5 years later, George Anderson, a Scottish sailor summited it. Anderson was a valley blacksmith, trail builder and jack of all trades. He knew he could charge a toll for people wanting to go up Half Dome and perhaps even build a hotel near the base of what was then often called “South Dome.” He mused of building a wooden staircase to the top. He set up his work area in a small cabin he built nearby. Using a method called “single jacking” he held a steel bar and hit it with a hammer to drill shallow holes into the granite. They were about ½ inch wide and about five inches deep. He forged dozens of 7-inch iron eye-bolts that slid into the holes he drilled into the rock. They were held securely in place by small wooden pegs. He did this with bare feet coated with pine tar for a better grip. He had to stand on one spike to hand drill the hole for the next spike above. Up and up he went, building a crude ladder with about 50 of these eyebolts. Anderson carried a ½ inch hay-bale rope up to the top using the spike ladder. He had modified a 900-foot length of rope by knotting five strands together with a sixth strand and a sailor's knot a foot apart. This was a convenient space for him to grasp as he made the ascent. He then affixed the rope to the eyelets on the way down. At 3 pm on October 12, 1875 he stood on top! The way to the summit was now in place.

In the days following, he escorted several English tourists up. Sally Dutcher was the first women on top and John Muir is believed to have been the 9th person on Half Dome. The Anderson rope didn’t last long in the harsh winters and was unusable in a few years. He died of pneumonia in 1883 and is buried under a granite rock in the park cemetery. Two adventuresome men, A. Phimeas Procter and Alden Sampson, took it upon themselves to replace the rope by dangerously lassoing the few remaining spikes.

Other replacements were successful to varying degrees due to the winter snows until Hall McAllister, a San Franciscan and a member of the Sierra Club, offered to pay for the erection of the cable system to the summit of Half Dome. It was completed in 1919 and given to the park. It was suggested that it be called “McAllister's Cable Route,” but that didn’t catch on.

In honor of the accomplishment, a small wooden arch was erected at the bottom of Sub Dome. You can still see the stone block remnants of the base of the arch. It is right where the rangers check for permits. Being made of wood, the arch didn’t last long in the rough winters of the Sierra. To remember Anderson, the work crew erected the following plaque at the arch. It’s also gone.


Don't leave your pack here; marmots and squirrels will gnaw their way in and ruin your pack.

Elevation: 8,402 feet
Elapsed Time: 4 hour 30 minutes
Odometer: 7.1 miles
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12 Base of Cables

Climbing the Cables

This is where you will find out if you trained hard enough. Although there is often a pile of old discarded gloves near the start of the cables, they are junk. Good thing you brought your own. Focus on the immediate 10-feet in front of you. Stay to the right side; the route is over 90-years old and is worn smooth. It’s a 2-way system with people coming down on your left. Just lean to your right to let them pass. Crouch and keep your feet flat to maximize friction. It will be hard to use your legs at the 45-degree angle so pull yourself up using your back, shoulder and core muscles. If you use both cables, your small pectorals will have to do most of the work, so I recommend the single cable rappel method. Go from board to board and rest. Pin your foot against the pole to brace yourself until the next board is available. Try not to get stuck between boards as this will make for a harder climb. Don't gaze out if you are afraid of heights. There are 68 poles pairs to the top. They are merely resting in holes - they will come out if you pull up. The 2 x 4 boards are loosely strapped and can unnerve you. The cables are not one continuous run and will be loose near attachment points. You will need to step over some discontinuities in the rock surface. If the crowd is thin, you should be able to get to the top in about a half hour. If you arrive late, you probably have to wait in line; it could take nearly an hour to reach the top. There is no one in charge and no rules. Be polite but keep moving. People may suffer anxiety attacks. It’s OK to politely pass them.

As you ascend the cables, keep your eyes open for holes in the granite. The cables were replaced in 1934 and 1984. Today there is interest in locating the actual holes that Anderson drilled with the intent of possibly nominating the Half Dome cables to the National Register of Historic Places.

The use of a homemade harness with clips is not recommended. If you fall you may slide down while hitting your head and garroting your body. If you intend to use a harness, get a real mountain climbing one that goes around your waist and thighs. You also need two shock corded straps with 2 caribiners. The rig is called a "via ferrata." You will need to release and re-clip 68 times going up and coming down. It will take a very long time. If you feel you cannot get up the cables, consider not doing it.

Watch the video in POI 19 - I went up using a head-mounted GoPro HERO camera.
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13 Climbing the cables

Top of Half Dome - a long entry

Over the years, Half Dome has been called Tissiack, South Dome, Cleft Rock and the Rock of Ages. Half Dome covers about 17 football fields in acreage, so find a quiet spot away from the crowds and imagine what it was like for George Anderson or John Muir. When you are ready to explore, the curved western dome reveals wildflowers and rock formations. Camping ended in 1992 because of human impact. There are no toilets up top and the rare Mt. Lyell salamander lives under the rocks. Campers would move the rocks to build wind breaks and impact the animal.

On the north-eastern side, be careful near the face as there may be wall climbers coming up, so please don’t toss anything over the side. Near the apex is the "Visor," a popular photo spot. This is erroneously often called the “Diving Board.” Although there are a few rocks that jut out, the true Diving Board is on the lower north-western side of Half Dome and is where Ansel Adams took his famous black and white photos of the rock.

If you look closely at the Visor, you will see a rock jumble cave. In 1985, five young men took refuge there during a night storm. Lightning struck twice inside the cave. One died immediately from the shock and one went into convulsions and exited the cave but fell over the edge. Two suffered major injury due to the electricity passing thru their bodies. Get down if there is even a slight hint of a storm. Remember, the cables are steel and conduct electricity.

You’ll see many interesting things up top. On one trip I was able to film a man proposing to his fiancé on the Visor. (See the video at POI 19.) Marmots and squirrels can actually climb up Half Dome! The yellow–bellied marmot can grow up to five pounds. Please do not feed these cute critters. Once we leave they will not be prepared to forage for food.

Let’s take a visual look at the great view from nearly a mile above the Valley.

1. The Valley – Yosemite Valley spans 7 miles from the entrance near Bridalveil Fall. From this vantage it is easy to see how the three major glacier periods created the shapes we see today. It was from near Bridalveil Fall (hidden around to the left) that the Mariposa Battalion first laid eyes on Yosemite in 1851. As you look to the west you can make out the haze of the great San Joaquin Valley, breadbasket to much of the world. The first whites tried to keep many of the Indian names for the majestic sights but they were just too hard for the Anglos to master, so the names we have today stuck. The rock you are standing on now was called "Tissiack" by the Indians. Legend tells us that an Indian woman named Tissiack was walking in the valley near Mirror Lake when she and her husband began fighting. The spirits were displeased and turned him into North Dome and her into Half Dome. You can see a cameo of a woman on the face of the rock. The name “Yosemite” comes from what the whites thought was the name of Indians who lived in the valley. A loose interpretation was “killers of grizzlies” and the Mariposa Battalion used that name.

2. El Capitan – It is fittingly named to represent the power of the rock itself. Known to the Indians as "To-tock-ah-noo-lah," their legend has it that one day two bear cubs were playing in the area and a huge rock began to rise up to the sky. Soon the bears were alone at the top of the 3,500 foot wall. The other animals could not get up to them until an inch worm slowly made its way to the top. He was too late and the bears starved but he brought back a rib bone to prove he made it. Today El Capitan is a mecca for big wall climbers who scale the face taking several days. In 1958 it was first scaled by Warren Harding, Wayne Merry and George Whitmore in 47 days. On November 6, 2010, Dean Potter and Sean Leary set the current record at 2 hours, 36 minutes and 45 seconds. On June 24, 2010, Alex Honnold climbed Half Dome - then El Cap in 8 hours!

3. Glacier Point – Rising 3,000 feet above the valley, Glacier Point is accessible on foot via the Four-mile trail, the Panorama trail or by car or bus off of Hwy 41. It has the best all-encompassing views of Yosemite Valley, Tenaya Canyon, Half Dome, Vernal and Nevada Falls. It was the site of the famous "Firefall," a spectacle that was held from 1872 to 1968. Burning embers were pushed over the edge to the cheers of visitors during the season at 9 pm. The only exception was when John Kennedy was staying at the Ahwahnee and was not ready then. In January 1968, George Hertzog, Director of the National Park Service, ordered that the Firefall be discontinued. The Firefall was a man-made event, which detracted from National Park Service policy of encouraging appreciation of natural wonders. He said that if people wanted to see something like that, they could go to Disneyland. Also, auto traffic increased each night as a stream of cars crowded the campgrounds and meadow areas where people jockeyed to get the best views. Crime soared when empty tents were raided. The Glacier Point Hotel and McCauley’s Mountain House both provided spectacular views from the top until they burned in 1969.

4. The Ahwahnee – The Ahwahnee Hotel is at the east end of the valley and is a 5-star lodge. It was named in honor of the true name of the Indians that the Mariposa Battalion first met. They were the Awhaneechee. It loosely means “those who lived in the place of the gaping mouth” (the Valley). The hotel was the brainchild of the first NPS Director, Steven Mather. He knew that for the park to succeed financially it would need a luxury hotel in keeping with the grandeur of Yosemite. The hotel was opened to the public in 1927 at a cost of $1.5M.

5. Curry Village - In 1899, David Curry opened a tented camp at the east end of the valley so that visitors could enjoy the beauty of Yosemite for a modest price. David was an outspoken man who greeted guests as they arrived and wished them a bellowing “Farewell” as they left. Camp Curry offered "a good bed and clean napkin with every meal" for just $2 a day. He orchestrated a ritual at the Firefall as he yelled: “Let the Fire Fall!”

6. Tenaya Canyon – At your feet is the rugged Tenaya Canyon. Running to the northeast, it is a hazardous place with smooth granite walls carved by glacial action. Hiking it is dangerous and not advised. Far to the north is Tenaya Lake, named in honor of the old chief of the Ahwaneechee.

7. Cloud’s Rest – The sharp peak to the right of Tenaya Canyon is Cloud's Rest. The hike to the top takes about seven hours round trip if you start at the Tenaya Lake trailhead. There are plenty of water sources enroute. The hike up the spine is harrowing since it is only several feet wide. Upon arriving at the top of the nearly 10,000 foot peak, one can gaze down at the cable route of Half Dome.

8. Mt Dana – Far out to the horizon lies Mt Dana, the second highest peak in Yosemite at over 13,000 feet. (Mt Lyell is higher.) Mt. Dana is named after James Dana, a 19th century geologist who made important contributions to the geologic understanding of the Sierra Nevada. It is also known for having a small receding glacier at its summit as does Mt Lyell.

9. Merced Canyon – Looking back towards the cables you can see the vast Merced Canyon. The Merced River is fed from rain and melting snows in the higher elevations the flow to Merced Lake and feeder streams to the south. A High Sierra Camp is located next to the lake.

10. Other interesting information about Half Dome:

* Royal Robbins, Mike Sherrick, and Jerry Gallwas were the first to climb the nose of Half Dome in 1957. Robbin's wife, Liz, was the first woman in 1967. View a video interview with Royal in POI 19. His autobiography is coming out in 6 volumes and can be found at

*Alex Honnold free soloed Half Dome in 2008 - in uner 3 hours.

* Ryan Ghelfi and Ricky Gates have run the entire Half Dome hike, each in 2 1/2 hours. View an interview with Ryan in POI 19.

* Close to 50,000 people a year hike to the summit. Hundreds more come up the face.

* Since 1919 only 2 hikers have fallen to their death when the cables are in their summer season position. One was weather related and in the other fatigue and dehydration played a roll. 2 women died when rapelling the cables during the off season when the rock was wet.

* In 1877 Selah Walker took the first known photograph on the top of Half Dome. It was a fuzzy shot of George Anderson.

* In 1915, Albert C. Pillsbury led a group of 17 Stanford students up the backside of Half Dome. He took photos and motion pictures. The students also carried wood up and at midnight lit a huge bonfire and shoved embers over the face, resembling the then-famous Glacier-Camp Curry “firefall.”

11. Descending the Cables: After about 45 minutes you will be ready to hike back. Stretch and pack up. Many people face downhill. I do not recommend this as you will have to look at the scary rock below you and your body’s center-of-gravity will be rocking you forward. Also, all your body weight will be on your wrists. A good way to go down the cables is to face slightly uphill and go down in a repelling fashion; just as you went up. The people coming up will gladly lean over so you can get by. They are pretty tired. Let the cable slide on your gloves. If you have to descend on your butt, do it! Next comes the Sub Dome. Be careful of your footing and use your hiking poles and descend like a mountain goat. 4 points of contact. Don’t be tempted to run or cross-cut trails. The gravel surface of the trail can cause you to slip if you aren’t careful.

From here the hike is as you saw it going up, so we will next meet at Nevada Fall. Get water at the Little Spring and use your hiking poles to ease knee stress. You will not make much better time going down due to the loose gravel and unsteady rock trail. When you arrive at the JMT/Mist Trail junction, continue over to Nevada Fall and return via the JMT unless darkness is approaching.
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14 Top of Half .Dome

Nevada Fall

On your way home, if you are running out of time to get back to the valley safely, then use the Mist Trail. It is a bit over a mile shorter. The Mist Trail will be a challenge for your knees but it will save you a lot of time. It may be wet so use caution. I assume you want to see something new, so continue along the JMT to the Nevada Fall headwaters. The fall is almost 600 feet high. The river can be very dangerous with smooth rocks, so keep out! A good cool foot soak is fine. For a nice sidetrip, go down below the bridge where the fall starts to drop and look up at it. There is a protective railing, so it is safe. You can see the water as it jets out before heading down. Next, cross the bridge and continue on the JMT. You will pass an intersection with the Panorama Trail to your left that leads past Illilouette Fall and on to Glacier Point – a long way. Another day.
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15 Nevada Fall

The Ice Wall or Rock Cut

The cliff area with water seeping out of it is has been called both the Ice Wall and the Rock Cut. When the trail was built, dynamite was used to blast the path out of the rock. In decades past, people could use ice axes and climb the ice flow during winter. This is no longer permitted. Hike along the cliff and look back at Nevada Fall for a superb view. To the left of Nevada Fall is Liberty Cap. It got its name from its resemblance to the knitted caps worn as far back as the Romans. They were worn by commoners and stood for Liberty. During the French revolution against the monarchy, the people wore Caps of Liberty to show solidarity. Gov Leland Stanford gave it the name "The Cap of Liberty" when he saw the resemblence to Miss Liberty on a silver dollar. Between the fall and Liberty Cap is the Upper Mist Trail – that rubble field is what you went up in the morning! It was originally a horse zig-zag trail that suffered constant rockfalls and was almost abandoned. Behind Liberty Cap is a small valley containing Lost Lake – a large marshy area. This is the way to the Diving Board and a wall climb called Snake Dike. This is only for experts. The region between Lost Lake and the Diving Board becomes very rugged with talus, cliffs, gullies and dense forests of Manzanita. AnselAdams took his famous black & white photos of Half Dome here.

Look to the left further and you will see Mt. Broderick then the backside of Half Dome. You can make out Sub Dome and the saddle. The cables are just out of view. Grizzly Peak is the last formation as you pan towards the valley. Continue down the switchbacks – 29 of them to the bottom.
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16 Ice Wall

Clark Point

Not too long after leaving the Ice Wall you will rapidly descend and soon approach a trail split at Clark Point. The trail to the right loops back to the area of La Casa Nevada between Vernal and Nevada Fall. This route would make for a real long day.

Clark Point was named for Galen Clark. When he was 39 he caught tuberculosis and moved to the Sierra forest to live with his ailment – but he recovered. He discovered the Mariposa Grove of Big Trees and served for 24 years as the “guardian” of the park in the years before the formal National Park Service was formed. He later wrote a few books about the park. He was instrumental in work that led to the Yosemite Grant that was signed into law by President Abraham Lincoln in 1864. This gave the federal lands of the Yosemite Valley and the Mariposa Grove of Giant Sequoias to the state of California for "public use, resort, and recreation ... to be left inalienable for all time.” The first such set-aside of land for public use.

This overlook affords a good view of Nevada Fall and the canyon across the river. From here continue down the never-ending switchbacks. Your knees will be thankful that you did not have to go down the Mist Trail. After reading the signage at Clark Point, go to the left and continue down an uneventful trail that is occasionally traveled by sure-footed pack animals. Give them the right-of-way. These are very intelligent mules and horses that can find their way back home by leaving little trail markers behind them. Watch your step. Soon you will hear the rushing Merced. You will eventually reach a metal sign that instructs foot traffic to take a right fork. Left is for pack animals and that way would add a lot of distance before you got back to Happy Isles. Next you will pass Register Rock and rejoin the lower Mist Trail. The footbridge will be crowded and you are very close to the end of your trip.
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17 Clark Point

Mileage Marker Sign

Congratulations! You have officially completed the Half Dome hike in one day. It normally takes hikers 10 to 12 hours to do. You have covered about 15 1/2 miles. Had you gone the JMT both ways, it would be closer to 17. You can now head back to your tent or hotel room. I suggest you do some slow stretching of your quads, calves and hamstrings. Then get to the shower and directly to dinner. You will sleep well and possibly suffer leg cramping, depending on how much preparation you did. Sore muscles are caused by lactic acid and will go away. Gentle walking helps move it around. The next day you can get your “I made it to the top” T-Shirt. Now plan your next adventure.

Carpe Diem!
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18 Mileage marker


Hi! Mr Half Dome here. A guy who has a passion for this hunk of granite. I have put together some nice videos to add to your experience. They will only be viewable when you are connected to the internet and they come to you via YouTube, so you need a smart phone or wifi access. Cell coverage is poor in the south shadow of Half Dome and wifi is spotty in the park. When you are actually doing the Half Dome hike, your battery life will be key, so I suggest you view them at home or carry a supplemental battery pack. Here is what you will see:

1. Preparation: Treating water, Wearing good boots and using hiking poles are critical on this hike. These short primers will give you the basics. Practice!

2. Royal Robbins gives us a hiking perspective of Half Dome. Good tips from the Babe Ruth of big wall climbing. His autobiography can be found at

3. It is inspiring to hear from others who have done the hike. Several veterans share what going up Half Dome meant to them.

4. What you are seeing is a full ascent of the Yosemite signature landmark. I am using a head mounted wide-angle GoPRo HERO camera provided by

5. On a June day in 2007, a young couple got engaged on the Visor of Half Dome. This was a random capture.

6. Ryan Ghelfi of Redding, CA ran up the hiking route and back in two and a half hours. He tells us about it.

Director comment:

Video #4 is unlike other videos you may have seen, I filmed going all the way up. You are going to see every inch of the 425-foot vertical ascent. The cables are at a 45-degree angle and you actually travel over 600 feet. There are 2 rules regarding Half Dome and the cables: 1. You cannot camp on top. They ended that in 1992 due to human impact and the encroachment on the habitat of the rare Mt. Lyell Salamander. The 2nd rule is that you need a permit to be on Sub Dome and the cables. 24/7.

I have done the hike 40 times and this video will give you a good perspective of the climb. You can see my rubber coated gloves. A good grip is mandatory. I also wear hiking boots with good tread for maximum grip. Tennis shoes or other smooth soled shoes will slip on the smooth granite. This route has been here over 90 years with now with nearly 40,000 people going up annually.

The cable route is 2-way. People going up have to lean over to allow folks to come down. The cables are held up by 3-foot pipes that merely rest in about 5-inch deep holes that were drilled in 1919. They will come out if you pull up on them. There are 68 poles sets from bottom to top. They are 10-feet apart. At the base of the poles are 2 x 4 inch wood boards that are strapped to the pipes. They allow you to stand vertical for a brief time.

The cables lie on the rock year round, but the pipes and boards are only installed from about May 27 to October 10, depending on the snowpack and weather. Avalanches would bend the pipes if they were left up. You can go up anytime as long as you have a permit. This is in the Wilderness. Big Wall climbers do not need a permit to descend after their summit. Ascent during the winter using the cable to rappel is not advised. A woman died doing this in November 2006 and another woman died in April 2007.

The best way to go up is to go from board to board. If you arrive early you can go at your pace. If you arrive late, you may be forced to wait between boards. Use your legs as much as you can but you will need your upper body to pull up. If you are afraid of heights,resist looking down. Do the climb by focusing on the 10-foot segments.

Make sure your water bottles and camera are secured. There are many lost items at the bottom. The cables are not a continuous run. They are anchored occasionally to the rock and a fresh one continues. Don’t be alarmed when you reach this. There are a few steps in the rock that you will need to go over. Since the cable route is bi-directional, you will need to lean over to allow others to pass. Be careful of people with large packs.

Half Dome was not climbed until 1875. George Anderson was the first one to reach the top by successfully stringing a rope up. Sally Dutcher was the first woman to go up. John Muir was the 9th. The Anderson rope stayed until it wore out. In 1884, A. Phimister Proctor and Alden Sampson affixed a replacement rope. When that roped frayed, others were attached, but ascents became uncommon. The original cables were erected in 1919 and were replaced in 1934 and 1984. Royal Robbins was the first person to go up the face in 1957. His wife, Liz, was the first woman in 1967.

This video is also on YouTube; search Half Dome Cables ALL THE WAY UP.
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19 Videos
Pictures in this guide taken by: MrHalfDome, Rick Deutsch, Yosemite Museum, National Park Service, CarltonWatkins

(c) 2011 Carpe Diem Experience, LLC All rights reserved
I have once visit Yosemite National Park

The best think is government can keep the park very good and of course with the help of the local people

The most i like is the waterfall and the lake especially when summer.

the sensation when we hear bird's sound at the morning is unforgettable

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Check out my blog for more photos and details from my hike!

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Visited on Mar 01, 2015

by mandowen on Dec 31, 2015
I bought our trying to find a ideal gifts for my mom. Your headphone emerged within a perfect purple tied up container. This was a looking present underneath the actual christmas tree!! All headphone even looked pretty, conversely the mama was larger boned as well as the headphone was some tight, although it is a great gift! I like it.
Visited on Mar 02, 2015

by mandowen on Dec 31, 2015
Well! I've only done this as a 3 or 4 day trip with the camp setup in Little Yosemite. Great fun, and a guaranteed bear visit or three if you stay there!
Visited on Feb 08, 2015

by proweb365 on Sep 02, 2015
I was there with my family. Great time and awesome views.
Visited on Jun 08, 2009

by sylwek9990 on Aug 05, 2015
Great trip for me, my family was delighted too.
Visited on Mar 13, 2015

by blurayfilmy on Jul 30, 2015
Awesome! I was great trip!
Visited on Mar 14, 1997

by tklongabc on Jun 03, 2015
Awesome. Love this place.
Visited on Mar 17, 2015

by tripmap on Mar 19, 2015
This place looks amazing. Shame it's another continent. Meanwhile I need to looking other beautifull places for my trip - much closer from my home.

by tlumacz_chorwacki on Jan 30, 2015
I was great trip, very beautiful views.
Visited on Mar 04, 2014

by maciekpolski on Dec 02, 2014
Visited on Nov 19, 2014

by huynhhip on Nov 20, 2014

Thanks for sharing this! Do check out my site for my personal experience on this hike.

This is one of the iconic hikes at Yosemite and you will completely enjoy the experience right from the start to the finish. We were quite unprepared and amateur hikers when we attempted to do this hike.

Even so, we did one right thing on the hike; we planned our checkpoint and break times. We were determined to reach the top all the way up the ropes.

Visited on Jul 04, 2011

by techhiker5 on Nov 09, 2014
This is one of the iconic hikes at Yosemite and you will completely enjoy the experience right from the start to the finish. We were quite unprepared and amateur hikers when we attempted to do this hike.

Even so, we did one right thing on the hike; we planned our checkpoint and break times. We were determined to reach the top all the way up the ropes.

Visited on Jul 04, 2011

by techhiker5 on Nov 09, 2014
Quite possibly one of the best hikes we have ever done. Get your permit EARLY or apply for the daily lottery, we got lucky and won the lottery the day before our trip!! And be sure to bring full-coverage gloves!

Read our post for all the necessary tips and some incredible photos of the view and trek up the cables! Enjoy :)

Visited on Sep 01, 2014

by brittybr on Sep 10, 2014
THaxxx for the great information

by inqueba on Jul 17, 2014
it was a lifetime experience
Visited on Jan 08, 2006

by hairtransplant on Jul 17, 2014
What can I say, I was reallu beautyful
Visited on May 05, 2013

by centrums on May 13, 2014
Great, I was there two years ago.
Visited on Jun 08, 2012

by metamorfoza on Apr 24, 2014
Great, I was there two years ago, and it was really a splendid experience.
Visited on May 06, 2012

by searchub on Mar 24, 2014
Does anyone know if there are group sites for camping near upper and lower pines campground? I'm having a hard time finding anything. Thanks.
Visited on Jun 01, 1992

by tabyaj on Jan 25, 2014
What a stunning and breathtaking place! A photographer's paradise.

by gawinalun on Jan 05, 2014
This is a must. I need to make it out to the area again.
Visited on Mar 03, 2012

by laughdon4 on Dec 29, 2013
One of best place in universe!
Visited on Jul 09, 2012

by meentosek on Dec 02, 2013
I love that place. Looking forward to there in this summer.
Visited on Jun 05, 2011

by Marikarolak on Nov 25, 2013
Wow that was a cool trip
Visited on Mar 04, 2013

by lwvtutor on Nov 19, 2013
John Muir got it right..Nature's temple! MAGNIFICENT!

Do not underestimate the heat! Water bottle every 2 miles and food every hour. We ran into a number of people struggling with cramps. 8.8 miles from Trailhead parking lot to the top. We left at 9:20am and returned at 7pm. Time is an issue.

There is a split on trail left goes up through Vernal Falls on Mist Trail and right goes up John Muir Trail through Clark's Point to Nevada Falls where the two rejoin. It is not clear that both trails take you to Half Dome!

New 48 hour lottery - there is no actual permit. You just need your ID, and application number is helpful (but not necessary). Your name is on a list at the base of the sub-dome at the last quarter mile of the hike. We scurried around much of the morning trying to find where we get our "permit."

Visited on Jul 20, 2013

by shardy on Jul 22, 2013
Amazing hike. Amazing views all along the mist trail - Vernal Falls, Nevada Falls, views of Half Dome from afar, Redwood Trees, gorgeous views of other mountains as you ascend elevation to sub dome.

As you pass the falls, there are some very steep steps to climb (and it will be tough!). The first 6 miles of the hike flies by as you're admiring some of the beautiful landmarks and stop by for photos.

Get to Happy Isles by 4:30am and you'll make it to the cables by 10/10:30am when it isn't crowded at all. This way, you don't have to worry about congestion and not being able to rest on the wooden planks. It feels like forever to get to the top (two football fields). I bought Atlas Nitrite (thin) gloves and they were perfect. Completely form fitting and tight like a glove should be.

Making it to the top is the most rewarding feeling ever. Stay up there and enjoy it for a while, unless the clouds come rolling in and a thunderstorm is approaching. Descending the cables is easy even though you're going backwards. There are some tricky parts where it's steep and you have to step down (or step up if you're going up). By the time we were leaving the mountain was the peak time for those coming in during lunch hour. It was nuts seeing people rest between the wooden planks and seeing people pass each other on the outside. That would have given me anxiety.

I would say the hardest part is mustering enough energy to make it the 9 miles back -- and especially the home stretch. That was tough... your body wears on you and gives up when you need it the most! I was the slowest in my group and it took 12 hours total with about 45 minutes on top hanging out/eating/taking photos. Also, on a hot summer day, you'll kill through 3 liters a little more than halfway of the journey. Bring a flashlight on the way there before 5:30am, and a hat for the way back as the sun kills on your skin. The entire ascent to Half Dome was in the shade since we started early.

I loved that I did it and crossed it off my bucket list, but it would take me a lot to do it again. :) Do a 14+ mile hike for practice before you go!

Visited on Jul 04, 2013

by hiker_jc on Jul 05, 2013
nice information, i'll be try it now

Visited on Jan 31, 2013

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Visited on Jan 02, 2007

by simeonjunker11 on Sep 21, 2012
great information and helpful fo rme!
Visited on Jan 02, 2009

by simeonjunker11 on Sep 21, 2012
Most awesome hike I've ever done!!! I would highly recommend doing it if you have any desire what so ever!!! Third attempt for me! 2010 I make it to the sub dome and ran out of time. Left Curry Village too late and had to hike back with my flashlight but fun just the same. I was determined I would do it in 2011 but the day I had my permit it rained! I was so bummed out that I said I would give it one last try. Third time was a charm for me. I started out early around 4am to allow myself plenty of time to finish this adventure. I wore my shirt that says "Slow is the New Fast"! The mist trail wasn't wet at all. Vernal and Nevada falls had water but not enough to make mist. Yosemite falls were only walls on this trip. With that said, make sure you have plenty of water. The last place you will be able to filter is in little Yosemite Valley. I had 100oz but ran out on the subdome switchbacks. Fortunately my friend had extra water. I filtered water when I got back down to LYV. Remember the slower you are the more water you will drink due to the length of time you are hiking. It was a very hot day and wear lots of sunscreen too. There was a ranger at the bottom who checked to make sure we had a permit on her trusty iPad. By the end of August the crowds have slacked off and the hint of the hantavirus might have made a different too. The cable wasn't congested at all. One gal had a panic attack about 2/3 the way up and just froze. One guy had a harness and she was able to wear it down. Bless her heart took her over an hour to get off those cables. I was tired when I hit the cables but I was going to succeed this time no matter what I wasn't going to allow someones panic attack get into my head! I met a guy on the subdome switchbacks who had hike HD 75 times over the past 18 years. Said he does it for exercise! He gave me the best advice of all. He said you're on the sub dome and you're going to make it this time. Take your time rest when you need it, the stairs will end and then you will have to scramble to the top, go straight up and you will then be at the top of the saddle. Rest for a bit eat and drink before hitting the cables. Take it slow and rest on the 2x4's don't get caught in between if possible. I did exactly what he said and it was a piece of cake. I figured someone how's hiked it 75 times knows what they are doing. One word of advice, I had a harness with me but I was unable to use it due to my clamp on being too small. The cable is about the same diameter as a quarter. So make sure you have a clamp large enough to connect. I had never read or heard how large the cable was. When you are on top enjoy the view drink it up!!! It was worth every ounce of effort and I'd do it again in a heart beat.
Visited on Aug 30, 2012

by donnabama on Sep 09, 2012
Oooowweeee!!! PREPARE...PREPARE...PREPARE! I've been trying to do this hike for about 5 yrs and finally got the chance to do it. I love Yosemite and it's my go to place every time I want to get away. When I did it, there was no permits required and it made it very crowded once you reached the summit. Start super early. We started at about 4:30am leaving our campsite and actually hit the trail at about 5-5.30am. Our goal was to make it to the top of Half Dome by 11am. I myself made it up to the top around noon. I have to admit the elevation kicked my but and I'm a slow hiker going up. Once you past both Vernal and Nevada Falls the crowds tend to die down and when you reach Little Yosemite Valley you will see someone every now and then. But prepare yourself with lots of sunscreen and water once you start hiking past the tree line. Nothing to protect you anymore. The views throughout the hike are breathtaking and a must do to take pictures here and there to capture the moment. Before you get the top of the sub dome, hope you rest up a bit, because its all granite steps of approx. 700 of them and steep! After this is only 900 feet to the top of Half Dome. Let me tell you the longest 900 feet ever! It took me about 2 hrs to get to the top because of the crowd. There are like 2x4's every 10ft or so but you are holding on for dear life on that cable until you reach the top. I have weak wrist and hands so I was loosing grip about 3/4 of the way up. Thank goodness everyone behind me and my brother in law coach me to continue and push myself up. But I DID IT and it was very rewarding! So If you in Yosemite and you have the it! oh and make sure your in shape and prepared with lots of water, the right shoes, food, etc. Well happy trails everyone and enjoy this hike!!
Visited on Jun 27, 2010

by Fugi03 on Sep 08, 2012
I slept on the top of half dome after climbing it on my birthday in 1978. It was fantastic. Hiked from Tuolumne Meadows by myself over a week long period. Fellow hiker baked me a cake from his dry camp supplies. There were four of us that spent the night up there. It is not allowed anymore.
Visited on Oct 17, 1990

by 650b2 on May 17, 2012
The Half Dome 2012 permit policy is out. Permit is still required every day in the season and the same daily quota of 400 hikers still applies. Here is the change: it now uses the lottery system to distribute the permits and will charge $4.50 (online) for each applicant and another $5.00 for the winner. You will pay at least $9.50 to climb Half Dome in 2012.

Visited on Aug 15, 2010

by jasonchiu on Jan 27, 2012
Definitely one of the most beautiful and rewarding hikes I've done and one of the most beautiful views I've ever seen. I could literally spend hours at the top and I would definitely love to do the hike again!

You can read my full review and experience at half dome (including some sweet photos of arm balances at the top!) on my blog:

But here are a few quick recommendations for hiking half dome in the summer:
- Camp the night before, and if you can arrive at the campsite early so you can get a good night sleep. It is possible to leave the valley right after the hike, but I would recommend camping a second night.
- If you are hiking early in the summer and intending on taking the mist trail, pack a poncho. You will get SOAKED.
- Wool socks over cotton socks. Pack extra socks if you are the type to get blisters. It's a lot of walking especially if you want to make additional stops to check out the cool waterfalls and such
- You will be gross after the hike. If you are camping and would like to shower afterwards, you can do so in Curry Village. So pack a towel and shower stuff and leave it in the car.
- Leave a pair of flip flops in the car for after the hike (You will be so happy to see them!)
- You don't need to pack a ton of clothing. It is hot at the top and throughout the hike!
- Permits! Rangers were checking for permits BEFORE the hike to sub dome. They were also checking permits for those coming down. So if you hiked at night without a permit, stay at the top until at least noon before heading down. Come down when other people are coming down.
- Bring sunscreen and mosquito repellent, and a hat. it is hot up there!
- Bring cheap rubber gloves for the cables.
- If you are camping, bringing a sleeping pad is a really good idea
- The buffet at curry village is expensive and NASTY (even after the hike when you feel like you could eat anything and feel like it tasted good)

Visited on Jun 25, 2011

by jesliao on Jul 13, 2011
I can put aside the crowd factor for this one! I love this hike. It is also a great side trip on any backpacking journey out of Yosemite Valley. My only gripe is how unprepared some people come. Like in flip flops, out of shape, etc. If it only affected them I would have no problem with it, but when the entire line on the cables stops for 5-10 minutes at a time, it makes it harder for everyone else. The cables were really frustrating, I ended up navigating my way around everyone on the outside for my sanity. Well worth the amazing view on top though! Would do it again in a heart beat.
Visited on Oct 10, 2009

by Gonnadiehiking on Jun 07, 2011
It was beautiful. Great atmosphere. Must go again.
Visited on May 08, 2009

by marykimx on Jan 13, 2011
After seeing so many hikers trying to hike Half Dome in the weekdays of the 2010 season because of the permit restriction on weekends, I'm not suprised to see that the premit is required for every day in the 2011 season.

by jasonchiu on Jan 03, 2011
I just wanted to update those with my research...

Currently: Cables are down.
New for 2011: Half Dome Cable access permits are now required for every day - 7 days per week. Limit of 400 permits per day - of which 300 are reserved for day hikers. Have fun.

Information source:

by flatfootvic on Dec 31, 2010
wow amazing place . Cant wait to visit. just amazing :-)

by Marselakuci on Dec 20, 2010
Thanks for a useful guide. A couple of tips I'd like to add:
1. You can fill water bottles at the Vernal Falls footbridge. This means you can go the first (almost) mile without that extra weight.
2. Very fast hikers can make it from the carpark to the foot of the cables in about three hours. When I was there in 2009, two university students, both marathon runners, made it to the cables in 2:30. So if you're the super-fit type and want to push yourself there's no need to leave at daybreak. I've always started between 8 and 10 a.m. It does get hot during the day, though, so plan on carrying/ingesting 18-22oz water per hour. Some people seem to carry little or no water. I don't know how they can survive this. It must take them several days to re-hydrate.

by skillzy on Sep 15, 2010
I just made my 1st trip up half dome on 8/16/10 and your guide is very accurate. I will be back & next time will get to the top earlier to avid the crowds. Most rewording hike I've ever done. To anyone that can, do it & you will be glad you did. See my experience by searching my username on you tube

by itsbigrob on Aug 30, 2010
I came down early Thursday from top and there was a continuas flow of people heading up. When I came down the cables @6:15am I was the only one on them :)

by psalm19 on Aug 17, 2010
I think Thursday did become the busiest day to hike Half Dome in the week. I hiked on 7/29 and saw more hikers than the weekend last year.

by jasonchiu on Aug 09, 2010
@Whofan Thanks for the feedback! I have updated the guide regarding little yosemite valley.

by chris on Aug 09, 2010
Well done write up! I did it a month ago on a Monday and it took 65 min. to get to the top of the cables. Next summer I'll try one of the permit days to see if it is less people.

Just one thing, there is no fresh water at little Yosemite campground. You will need a filter there. I didn't have one but I brought a 100 oz hydration pack, two 32 oz bottles and one 24 oz and almost ran out!

by Whofan on Aug 09, 2010
I wouldn't be suprised if they start issuing permits on weekdays. I was just there on a Thursday and waited 45 minutes just to get on the cables. The weekend permit system seems to be pushing the traffic into weekdays.

by tbone123 on Jul 25, 2010
The newly released video from the park provides great and detailed information on hiking Half Dome.

by jasonchiu on Jun 23, 2010
Two rangers from the park are posted at the base of subdome to check permits for Half Dome hikers during weekends and holidays.

by jasonchiu on Jun 22, 2010
The cables are now up for Half Dome. Remember if you plan to hike on Friday, Saturday, or Sunday, you will need to get a permit:

by chris on Jun 16, 2010
Nice write up. I think the elevation gain is about 5300 ft

by Ze on Apr 16, 2010
I took this hike a few years ago, a wonderful experience on a gorgeous August day.
I was surprised to see crowds - including crying children - up the cables with scant equipment. Too many seemed unprepared and improvised enthusiasts. Some were even wearing slippery beach sandals. I'm an experienced mountaineer and helped a couple of panicking kids. Like I did, I suggest to bring a simple piece of rope and a carabiner to secure yourself to the cable. Two-way traffic in the cables area can be dangerous.
Make sure you bring along plenty of water, say two quarts per person to say the least.

by ant1606 on Mar 27, 2010
from the park:
Beginning in 2010, all people using the Half Dome Trail above the subdome must have a permit in possession on Fridays, Saturdays, Sundays, and federal holidays when the cables are up.

by jasonchiu on Mar 07, 2010
Thanks for your write up. I've been up Half Dome 5-6 times but the last was more than 10 years ago. Reading your description brought it all back. Thanks! I think it's time for another trip!

I've only done this as a 3 or 4 day trip with the camp setup in Little Yosemite. Great fun, and a guaranteed bear visit or three if you stay there!

by francoispepin on Dec 03, 2009
As someone who has been there I can say, "Great Post"!

by alison4evr2 on Nov 12, 2009
This is a great hike and I recommend it to anyone who has the time (and energy) to attempt it. The first time I did it was a few years ago with my younger brother and Dad on his 50th birthday (I guess he had to prove he was still young). The second time I went with 2 friends and we tried to get to the top for sunrise. We missed it by about 45 minutes because we got a late start leaving from San Francisco, but it was still worth it. The hike back wasn't very pleasant as one of my friends got sick from the altitude and we had to go very slowly back. The final time we got in a car crash on the way to Yosemite, but that didn't keep us from getting to the top. We had to hurry back because I had finals the next day. If you go early in the season (early June), the waterfalls are very full--just beautiful. Hopefully your trips go a little more smoothly than mine.

by chris on Jul 31, 2009

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