Seeing Yosemite for the first time is an experience for which there is no substitute. For many years I had seen photographs of the Valley with commanding views of El Capitan and Half Dome; however, to see and experience them for myself was truly sensational.
Rabbit and I slept in the park prior to entering Tuolmne Meadows, which is located near the east entrance. The next morning we came into Tuolmne and stopped by the Ranger station to check out getting a permit to climb Half Dome in Yosemite Valley. We showed up just in time to get in line for the 11am permit handouts. After listening to a 15 minute talk on wilderness safety from a Ranger, we entered the building for the permits. By getting an overnight Wilderness permit, the Ranger was then able to stamp the Half Dome permit to it. By doing it this way, we were able to circumvent the lottery of day-hiking Half Dome directly from the Valley, which is next to impossible to get. We were required by the Ranger to have an entry and exit point to get the Wilderness permit. Rabbit decided to enter from Cathedral Lakes to finish the JMT before climbing Half Dome. I entered from Happy Isles trailhead and overnighted at the backpackers camp at Little Yosemite Valley the night before the climb.
The day we entered the park, I met up with my folks where the PCT intersects Tioga Pass Road in Tuolmne Meadows. They stayed at June Lake near the park’s east end. During their 3-day stay in the area, we visited Mariposa Grove and Merced Grove, which are some of the largest Giant Sequoia trees in the country. It was incredible to see these magnificent trees towering over us! Plus, I got to see my parents after being away for over 2 months.
I left my tent and backpack at the backpackers camp and left for Half Dome at 6am. I was at the sub-dome by 7am, climbed the Dome in a half hour and was back in Little Yosemite Valley by 9am. Leaving early to climb Half Dome has many advantages including cooler hiking conditions and fewer hikers.
Climbing Half Dome, one of Yosemite’s most prominent geological features, involves climbing slabs of granite with the assistance of steel cables to pull yourself up and down. The cables, which are put in place each summer by the park staff, rest on metal poles that are placed in holes drilled into the granite. At each of the pole locations there are rickety 2x4s going across to help with the footing.
Going up was actually scarier for me than coming down and “passing” other climbers added even more craziness to the situation. Each hiker uses their own technique to get up and down (e.g. one-hand, two-hand, face-up, face-down). At the base of the Dome there are a pile of vinyl-coated gloves for the climbers to wear so they can grip the hot cables and improve the gripping action.
Since I don’t have a big fear of heights, I thoroughly enjoyed myself and tried to comfort the other climbers who were gripping on to the cables for dear life!
The experience of being in Yosemite and climbing Half Dome is one I’ll never forget and was a worthwhile stopover while on my PCT journey.
Yosemite National Park
Half Dome Climb