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 HikeHalfDome.com, or facebook.com/mrhalfdome. Send me an email with any questions to MrHalfDome@gmail.com
I've done this hike 40 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 Amazon.com. It is also available as an e-book.
See headcam YouTube video of cable ascent in HD at:
“Yosemite’s Half Dome Cables: All the Way Up in HD.”
-or copy / paste:
Carpe Diem! (Seize the day)
- Rick Deutsch, aka Mr Half Dome(tm)
2013 Carpe Diem Experience, LLC
RELOAD this app frequently (bottom of screen) for important news about Yosemite and the Half Dome hike.
THE HALF DOME CABLES went up May 2, 2015. Get permits through the 2-day mini-lottery through May 22. Then the normal permit process continues.
***See my GoPro going up the cables 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
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.
TIPS FOR USING THE CABLES:
* 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