Area: Yosemite
Distance: 15½ miles
Type: Out-and-back
Difficulty: Hard
Elevation gain: 4,900ft (from 4,000 - 8,836ft)

Permits required to hike Half Dome

It's difficult to approach Yosemite's Half Dome without a sense of trepidation. Perhaps it's the scale of the 15½ mile hike and 4,800ft elevation gain. Perhaps it's a fear of heights and worry over the final ascent of the cables, almost a mile above the valley floor. Alternatively, maybe it's just the dread of the Yosemite crowds compounded by the draw of Half Dome itself.

An early start is essential to mounting an attempt on Yosemite's crowning glory and sunrise is a good time to start. Remember to pack a flashlight as there's a good chance that you'll still be on the trail when darkness falls, and the return trail can't be tackled safely in the dark without one.

This hike begins at the parking lot opposite Upper Pines Campground and follows the Merced River up into the hills behind Half Dome. Climbing a combination of steps and switchbacks lead you up the side of Vernal Falls and then Nevada Falls - even in fall months you'll struggle to find these waterfalls dry. From here the trail weaves upward through pine forest until it opens up toward the final part of the hike with awesome views of the valley.

The final ascent of Half Dome looks crazy, almost vertical, and should be treated with the utmost respect and caution. This steep section of trail up smooth granite approaches angles of 45 degrees and is only made possible by the cable and post system erected by the park. What's more, the final climb to the summit has claimed lives, even those of experienced hikers, and even in perfect weather.

You can join the 50,000 hikers a year who make it to the top of the cables safely, simply by taking a reasonable amount of precaution. Research this hike fully, understand the dangers and wear the right footwear (grip is essential). The most risk averse may want to consider a carabiner/tether arrangement to secure themselves to the cable, which we saw some folks using.

One final note on the crowds. Whilst we prefer our trails to be tranquil and well away from the throngs of the masses, that's never likely to be the case on Half Dome. Unused to sharing the route with such a large of traffic we were surprised to find that we begin to enjoy the company - sharing expressions, comments and even the occasional joke. And perhaps that's because we're mixing with people like us - people who'd get up at 5am to hike over fifteen miles up a mountain and back!

- Trailspotting Images: Half Dome on Flickr
- Trailspotting Images: Half Dome Moonlike Hike on Flickr
- National Park Service: Half Dome Day Hike
- National Park Service: Half Dome Hike Video (Highly Recommended)

One Best Hike: Yosemite's Half Dome by Rick Deutch
Hiking Yosemite National Park by Suzanne Swedo
Garmin eTrex Venture HC GPS Receiver