Hiking Yosemite’s Half Dome

California is home to natural beauties in all corners of the state. Yosemite National park is no exception to this rule. Located in central California, Yosemite boasts an expanse of nearly 750,000 with a wide array of environments from waterfalls, peaks and valleys to vast forests.

I’ve had prior experiences in Yosemite as a kid during a family vacation, exploring Yosemite Village and its surroundings. Looking back I can remember the massive crowds of families just like mine and viewing the surroundings wanting to get out there. Driving on the road we were visited by a black bear cub crossing the street, a sight I’ve never seen. I vowed to come back and explore what Yosemite had to offer.

Fourteen years later, I came back to Yosemite to partake in hiking Yosemite’s Half Dome. My group of friends and I only had 2 days so we had to make this count. The drive from San Diego to Yosemite took longer than expected, but once you start seeing the roads overlooking the valley of trees beside you it brings a feeling of amazement that this place could possibly exist.

Where should you stay in Yosemite?
We stayed at Yosemite Bug, which is about an hour’s drive from the park itself. It comes highly recommended on Yelp and we weren’t disappointed. The tent/lodge accommodated for 3 beds and for $50 a night. The first thing we did was sit atop our ride and gaze at the night sky. Seeing all the stars that we’ve never been able to see signaled that we definitely weren’t in the city anymore. It felt like the movies…but we weren’t complaining. The lodging itself felt like a summer camp you go to as a kid. There was a surprising amount of people from out of the country.

Preparing for the big hike
We had hoped to get up earlier…but you know how that goes. We finally started driving at around 5:45 a.m. and got to the park at 6:30 a.m. I recommend starting any of the longer hikes before sunrise that way you can beat the crowds and finish the hike before dark. Once the light started shining through, you can gaze in amazement at the sheer granite cliffs that now surround you.

We made our way to the trailhead, which was near curry village. I had been dressed in layers, a light jacket over top a shirt, and pants over some shorts, but once you start climbing those ascending steps, you will want to take most of it off. My recommendation is to keep your pack light, this is a long journey you’ll want to conserve as much energy as possible. I would only carry 5-6 bottles of water, food (trail mix, peanut butter and jelly sandwich), a camera, and some sunglasses and hiking poles if needed.

A fork on the trail, the right path for you
On the way up you have two routes you can take, the Mist Trail of the John Muir trail, we opted for the slightly longer John Muir trail because it wasn’t as strenuous with no major climbs. Let me tell you, the more you go through the trails the more you feel like you’re in Lord of the Rings. There were specific spots where I felt like the Elven scenes could have been shot in. It was magical to say the least.

I would consider myself somewhat fit, and have been hiking on and off, but my suggestion for preparation for this trip is to hike, hike, hike or if you can’t I would do the Stairmaster daily. I would also anticipate that the further you go up the less oxygen you will have, even I had to take several breaks, but I didn’t mind because that gave us time to appreciate the surroundings and take pictures.

Along the way you pass a few waterfalls, which always left me speechless. You know the images you see in postcards or on desktop wallpapers? Yeah this was it. Along the way you also get to meet a few of the other hikers. There wasn’t very many at this time of day so you sort of feel a bond when you see someone coming up beside you. We got to meet this family of three at the trailhead and kept meeting up with them on the trail up to the summit.

Eventually the John Muir trail meets up with the Mist trail and this marks your halfway point as you start to finally ascend to half dome. If you aren’t used to long distance hikes this portion of the hike will question your mental stamina, but at this point you’ve been hiking for several hours and want to see that damn summit.

Goal Attained
I literally said a few expletives once we had reach the clearing to see the view from the summit was unreal. Imagine a 360-degree view of nature at its best. You can see all the other peaks and all your worries just seem to go away…even for a minutes. During this time of the season, the cables are not up and without any climbing gear experience, we didn’t dare to climb the full way to the summit, which I didn’t mind because it left us with something to do in the future.

Once you’re up there, you’ll be glad you had taken that jacket, it can get cold with the wind and we had stayed up there a good 30 minutes. For myself the way down is always the more difficult part only because it kills my knees. Although the way down was faster, you also had to be more cautious on your footing as not to twist your ankles. We took the Mist Trail down and it did not disappoint. You come so close to the waterfalls that you can feel the mist on your face.

Let’s do it again
By the end of the trail, you are tired, hungry but feeling accomplished. You look back at the trail you had just finished and wonder how you could have ever done it. You are bad ass. Yes, all this came into my head as we were in the Yosemite Valley gift shop surrounded by people that didn’t smell like 11 hours of sweat.