Views from the Top: Half-Dome, Yosemite National Park

Views from the Top: Half-Dome, Yosemite National Park

Words and photos by Desiree Moore

This summer I've been on a terror to check some things off my bucket list. Despite my fear of heights, Half Dome has always been a destination I've wanted to see. I had been trying for the annual lottery since I first moved to California, and was never lucky enough to pull it off, but last week my friends inspired me to try for the daily lottery when they got selected on a whim. The permit system gives you a two day period where you apply online and it will tell you whether or not you were selected by midnight the following day. Aiming for that Saturday, I entered Thursday and at midnight was alerted that I did not get the permit. I was bummed but decided to try again Friday for the Sunday pass just in case. I didn't really think it would come through, so I continued about my day to day, hitting the gym and doing some surfing and rock climbing… and some drinking. It was Friday after all – why not?! At midnight, that "why not" was answered, as I received a notice that I got the permit! I was amazed! I fired off a text to my friend who had also given up on his chances and was out with friends. We both excitedly proceeded to plan our trip for the next morning to drive from LA to Yosemite (approx. 5 hrs).

Since it was already the weekend and our trip was being planned so last minute, we were unable to get a campsite in the park. We ended up staying 1.5 hours outside the park in Oakhurst. It was hard to sleep due to the excitement and anticipation of the journey ahead. I had hammered out Mt. Whitney (14,505ft) and Mt. Sneffles (14,158ft) in the last couple months, but I was still nervous about the Half Dome cables and my fear of heights getting the best of me.

After finally falling asleep, we woke up shortly after to my 3:30 am alarm. It was hard to fully wake up, but we quickly ate breakfast, pounded some coffee and headed out into the pitch black. The roads were dark, but with no traffic, we made it there early and started up the trail. Since it was still dark, we used our headlamps and G.P.S. to navigate through the park and up the trail. The first part of the trail was paved, so we climbed fairly fast, passing several cascading waterfalls and a few early risers here and there, but once we passed the paved portion we started to see fewer people and more trees.

As we cruised up the path, we saw several other backpackers who were on the tail end of their journey back into the valley, each offering a nod as they made their way down. The weather was cool at first but eventually became quite hot as the sun came further overhead; we stopped several times for costume changes, water and snacks, and eventually broke out our trekking poles. We were moving fairly fast at a pace of roughly 25 minutes per mile – the trail was well maintained and we were very anxious to make it to the top before crowds set in. About halfway up, we crossed through some beautiful Redwoods. In a couple of spots, we had to jump over fallen branches and logs that had come down from wind and old age. We finally popped out of the woods and came to the base of the dome (Sub Dome). I collapsed my poles and headed up the granite cliffs. The trail was sparse, but the granite was sticky enough to easily scramble up.

By easy, I mean easier than the leg ahead. We had gone almost 8 miles with an early start, so it was definitely getting harder as muscle fatigue set in. When we finally got to the cables, there were only a few people going up, and since we were early to the game we were able to jump right on. The cables required gloves, so I collapsed my poles and stashed them in my pack, put on my gloves, took a few deep breaths before starting to pull myself up.

As previously mentioned, I have a fear of heights, but I feel able-bodied and confident in my strength. That being said, I was wearing regular leather gloves… AKA the WRONG gloves. The combination of that poor decision mixed with slippery granite from a constant trail of people going up like ants made it trickier than expected. About five feet up, my fear of heights kicked in hard, which caused me to have a serious death grip on the cables as I tried to pull myself up instead of using my feet as the main propellant. I was white knuckling the whole way, and my forearms were burning... I was now regretting the combination of rock climbing/surfing/gym session I did a couple days before. Bad move! There may have been a few long "pauses" on the cables. Luckily, there was not a long line yet, but it was still very humbling and not the best performance on my behalf. It was only 400 feet of ascension, but at a 40-60 degree incline throughout the climb, 15 minutes felt more like ten hours as I pulled myself up the slope. Near the end, I ran the rest of the way up to get it over with; my forearms were tired and I was anxious to get off the cables.

When I made it to the top, it was a feeling of accomplishment and relief. Accomplished in that I had gotten a permit and completed the hike and relieved in that I had made it up the cables. I wouldn’t say I conquered my fear of heights, but I didn't let them stop me from doing the climb and checking Half Dome off my list! And if you're wondering, the way down on the cables was much easier than expected. I pretty much repelled down. The cables were crowded by then, so there was a lot of waiting. A lady behind me came barreling down and mentioned, "thousands of unprepared people do this hike every year..." I looked down at her shoes and saw she was wearing some crappy old tennis shoes. How humbling. A perfect example of why you should never judge a book by its cover! It was a great feeling to have experienced Half Dome, and I hope that if it's on your list, you get an opportunity to check it off in the near future! If you do get that permit.. here's my advice:

  1. Bring rubber bottom gloves
  2. Start early to get on the cables before a line builds
  3. Don't do an intense workout right before!
  4. Bring trekking poles that collapse... The trail goes from paved to dirt to rock to stairs; it was great to have poles and even better to be able to stow them when needed.


3K Carbon Fiber Quick Lock Trekking Poles



    Great story- inspiring. Pics are great, too, but I just wish they had captions giving details.


    Great story- inspiring. Pics are great, too, but I just wish they had captions giving details.

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