Night Hike – Wise??

Half Dome – Yosemite Musing
Get or Give Half Dome permits<HERE>
Check regularly; there are folks offering up extras.

The cables at 4 am

    I have been getting calls and emails asking for my opinion of doing a FIRST hike of Half Dome at night. The logic is to avoid the crowds. My answer is NO WAY, Jose!  The HD hike is a monster. It takes a few trips to feel comfortable on the trail in daylight! I have done it and even I, the Supreme Pooba, Grand Kahuna of Half Dome got lost! The route is very hard to follow at night. Headlamps provide a circle of light about 10 feet across. You cannot see the trail and I fell and got some nice blood flowing. The switchbacks in the forest are hard to see where to turn….during the day it’s easy.  Above Vernal Fall past the restroom is a bugger to stay on the trail in the dark. You end up going thru bramble bush. Then at the JMT/Half Dome trail split you cannot see the sign far enough in advance. Then it gets pretty cold about 2:00 am. You start to get chilled but you still need to drink water. It is a pain trying to filter pump in the dark. Now the worst thing: the cables. Can you imagine your FIRST time up and not seeing where you are going? Don’t do it. Wait until you are a bit more experienced. Or send your nomination to the Darwin Award Committee, Grand Central Station, New York, NY 10257
    The SLOPE fire at Yosemite is now over 1,000 acres but will be allowed to burn until the rains come. No impact to Half Dome other than possible haze.
    This is a bad time to check out Glacier Point. Road work is causing long delays  –  up to 2.5 hours to drive to Glacier Point from Yosemite Valley, normally a 1 hour drive.  The Hetch Hetchy Entrance station is being worked on … some delays getting in.

Unrelated thought worth quoting: “I saw a werewolf with a Chinese menu in his hand, walking through the streets of Soho in the rain. He was looking for a place called Lee Ho Fook’s; going to get himself a big dish of beef chow mein. Werewolves of London,” – Warren Zevon
Half Dome – Rick Deutsch –

9 Responses to “Night Hike – Wise??”

  1. Stuart Says:

    Not sure I agree with you at all there Rick. We had no problems navigating the Mist Trail/HD trail at night, possibly because we used a GPS device (and a smartphone would work out just as well).

    We set off around 11.30pm-midnight and managed a bit of a snooze below sub dome, so we could hike subdome and the cables with the advantage of dawn light and were at the summit with enough time to watch the sun peek over the horizon.

    Advantages to a night hike
    – Carry much less water because of reduced exposure to sun & high temps.
    – Reduced crowds on the route & on the cables (less of a problem now on permitted days)
    – Sunrise on top of HD! And a great HD shadow cast over Yosemite valley!
    – Avoid having to stay overnight for 2 nights near Yosemite Valley (a real enabler, especially when availability and/or cash is an issue).
    – Hike by moonlight by timing your hike close to a full moon (weather permitting of course).

    Here’s a Flickr photoset of our night hike last year ..

    Climbing the Chains

    The only disadvantage I can see is that your views on the way up are minimal. But the trade off is that you get to focus on plugging your way up the mountain, and get to enjoy the scenery on your leisurely return journey (and it can be leisurely because you’re not trying rush back before nightfall).

    Sorry to disagree with you Rick, but I hope you’ll welcome this constructive discussion.

    • mrhalfdome Says:


      I absolutely applaud and welcome your comments. That’s what a dialog is all about. I agree with you on your perspective – BUT NOT for first time hikers. I was called by a woman whose 17-yr old daughter proposed doing her first hike with other teens who had never been. I stand by my advice, but folks can do what they want. The only rules about Half Dome are 1. You can’t camp up top. 2) You need a permit when required.

      A value I hope to give is to present the risks involved and let people deal with that risk. That’s Wilderness!!

      Keep commenting!! Anyone else want to weigh in??

  2. Dean Says:

    I think the anticipation of seeing your goal, as you go, is a great feeling, particularly when your goal is Half Dome. It hides away for a long time, only presenting itself half way along LYV…like a giant’s tooth.

    On my last hike, I loved looking back to see the morning sun hitting North Dome. Then there are the falls, and looking across to sun drenched Glacier Point. Clouds rest, cascade cliffs, high country…then Half Dome.

    Of course you’ll see all these things on the way down but seeing them with a sense of anticipation is better in my book.

    Though I’ll admit Stuart paints a fine picture with sunrise and HD shadows…sounds fantastic too.

  3. john Says:

    I have to disagree strongly with the assessment on the usefulness of lighting. There are long-lasting headlamps that throw a radius of brightness far greater than 10 feet. Many are also adjustable from wide angle to spotlight with the flip of a finger on a lens. I had my petzl lamp on all the way from little yosemite valley to the happy isles trailhead. Even on spotlight, it lit the whole trail side to side. These lights are like 100 lumens on max. We took jmt down to avoid the steep rock steps of mist trail. I found all the junction signs easy to spot. How could you miss huge signs and gate at the john like trail junction?!? The guys I was hiking with did think the stock trail junction on jmt was the way back. I said just read the sign that says stock only. It helped that I had done the trails before in daylight. I like hiking in the dark, but would agree it would be best for first time hikers to get oriented in daytime first. With enough preparation, and excellent physical and mental fitness, I think most people could handle the hike in the dark. The worst part of cable experience is the crowds for many. Also, if you hike at night, none will ask you to present a permit. I would say it would be even more important to not hike alone at night. There are mountain lions out there somewhere. Bears give me the creeps when I am alone at night too!

    • mrhalfdome Says:

      Slow down and take a breath. If you re-read my posting, the point was for FIRST TIMERS not to do the Hal f Dome trail at night. Mostly first timers have no idea where they are going and do not have 100 ziggawatt headlamps. They are lucky to be carrying a combo fingernail clipper/LED light combo. Since you have done the trail, you KNOW that the path from the Vernal Fall outhouse to the Silver Apron Bridge is hard to follow in daylight. At night it is a bitch. Witness your comment on the Stock Trail fork at the end of the JMT. I know 3 Adult Dome veterans who have gone down that left fork in daylight and added a good mile to their day. I know you would advise the mother of a 17-yr old girl that a HD hike at night with all first timers was not wise. (I hope you would.)

      • john Says:

        You are right Mr Hd. If you read my post carefully, it advises caution and preparation. Just giving you a little crap over the 10 foot radius headlamps statement. I am amazed by the cheap lights even most of the little yosemite campers carry, though. The 2 guys I hiked with borrowed one from a friend in the backpacker camp, and it was nothing like the petzl. Yes, I was so glad I had done part of that stock trail in daylight and knew right where to point out the sign to other hikers!

  4. john Says:

    I love tuolumne meadows and upper tioga road in the dark, so bright and beautiful are the stars.It gets down close to freezing at night, even during the late summer heatwaves. The trails in the high country are eerily silent in the dark. The road work all the way from near tunnel view down toward wawona is a nightmare in the dark when they are really plugging away. They go 24/7.

  5. AL Says:

    You hike at night and still sleep a night the valley? Here’s the hardcore way that we did last year.

    after work, round up the gear
    drive down 3-1/2 hours
    hike at midnight
    watch the sunrise
    hike down
    eat lunch
    drive home for 3-1/2 hours

    First timers in HD? No problem if you have previous experience hiking or mountaineering in the dark. Most people get lost after Vernal on the Nevada Falls trail and few at the 2 mile junction.

  6. mrhalfdome Says:


    Are you a robot?? No way I’d drive for 3+ hours after doing the HD hike…a quick shower, grub and to the crib. Nice pix – and I do agree on the meteor shower being a yawn.

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