Gripping the Half Dome cables

Half Dome – Yosemite Musing

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      The cables running up the backside are a bit over 600 feet long. There are 68 pole sets from bottom to top. The poles are set in about 5 inch deep holes and have 2 x 4” boards spanning the width at 10 foot intervals. The cable is multi-stranded steel alloy – just like the kind they build bridges with. It is about 3/8 inch in diameter. They have been replaced in 1934 and 1984. The cables are not one continuous run; they are set in thirds, with strong anchor points along the rock. For over 2 football fields, you will be pulling yourself up up up. The common guess is that the rock is at 45 degrees. As you ascend you see a definite steeper grade. The original 1917 Engineering drawing by the contractor (Gutleben of San Francisco) who put them up reads: “about 50 degrees.”  I have measured the incline and got readings of up to about 56 degrees. You will also encounter 4 “steps” in the rock where it is exfoliating. This means they expansion outwards as it relieves its stress causes it to layer like an onion.

    The cable can be pretty warm in the summer heat and very cold when weather turns below 50 degrees. It will pull the heat right out of your hands. There are no burrs on the cable – they are nice and smooth.

    My recommendation – use Atlas model 370 nitrile coated gloves. About $5 at ACE hardware. 

  These gloves at the base of the cables are considered trash – because they look like it.The rangers ask that you take some down with you. They are not reliable.

Unrelated thought worth quoting: “Gort, Klaatu Barada Nikto.” – The day the earth stood still, (Micheal Renie) 

*MrHalfDome – Rick Deutsch –

5 Responses to “Gripping the Half Dome cables”

  1. Maureen L Says:

    from a recent Half Dome adventurer:

    as you look at Mr. Half Dome’s book and archived pictures of how to use the cables, I suggest the following, especially going up:

    keep your whole forearm parallel to and close to the cable.
    this will help you engage your big back muscles.

    almost everyone going up on the inside of the cables (where you should be, unless a rock climber or a real HD veteran) rests on each board and waits for the board ahead of them to be cleared.

    (three or four of the boards were missing on Aug 16, but that’s all.)

    don’t continually lead with your dominant hand and then catch up with the other — alternate the hand that leads so that you get an even workout and get less tired!

    definitely bring your own gloves. the ones Mr. HD illustrates can get a bit sweaty. another alternative, although more costly, comes from the folks using rappelling gloves, with open fingers (last digit) and a leather patch on the palm just where you need it. (ditto for sailing gloves, if you have them already.)

    • mrhalfdome Says:

      Sweaty? ?? You only wear them going up the cables….they are breathable on the back..ATLAS Model 370 gloves….Sweeeeeet.

      • Maureen L Says:

        you may only use gloves going up; I use them both ways!

        and, empirical evidence = moisture in the finger tips of my gloves when I got to the top!

      • mrhalfdome Says:

        I put my bike gloves on going down. I recommend others who do not want to “rappel” down use the rubber coated ones. Best to try stuff then pick what works for you.


  2. Norman S Says:

    Since most right-handed people pulling themselves up on one cable are leading with their left hand, they are leading with the non-dominant side. So if they don’t alternate the lead, it’s not just an uneven workout, they’re pulling more heavily on their weaker side.

    Thanks for sharing the experience from your hike on the 16th. I went up Saturday. Apart from a light mist, there was no need for the poncho which I kept it in reserve. Since there is still an amazing amount of water coming off Vernal I was surprised there why there was so much less water on that section.

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