Half Dome – Yosemite Musing

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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 at the trailhead 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 14 to 16 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 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 3:30 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. Shoes with sticky rubber soles are recommended for the climb up the cables.

* Bring gloves. Some hikers prefer to use gloves. The steel cables can be cold and difficult to grip; if you use gloves, carry them back out with you.

* Stay inside the cables. If someone needs to pass you, make room for them without going to the outside of the cables. 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 can sap your energy more quickly than using both hands on one cable.


* 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 restroom direction to get by.

Unrelated thought worth quoting: Time has come today. Young hearts can go their way. Can’t put it off another day. I don’t care what others say. They say we don’t listen anyway. Time has come today.” – The Chambers Brothers


*MrHalfDome – Rick Deutsch –


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