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Considering a Hike up Half Dome?

Waiting to Climb Half Dome; San Fran. Chronicle photo by Michael Maloney

Waiting to Climb Half Dome in Yosemite National Park; San Fran. Chronicle photo by Michael Maloney

There is a great article in the San Francisco Chronicle this weekend entitled, "DANGER ON THE DOME". It's subtitled, "Overcrowding: Hikers swarming Yosemite's Half Dome create a bottleneck at the treacherously steep granite climb to the summit". I've never climbed Half Dome, and hadn't realized that a climb to the top could easily be accomplished as a day hike. I guess I'm in the minority of Yosemite travelers that didn't know this, because have a look at the photos in the article! Everyone is climbing that thing. In fact, the article says waiting to ascend may take 45 minutes or more. I don't think I'd feel too comfortable in that position, stuck on a 45 degree slope hoping the guy in front of you doesn't fall backwards. I mean, look at that, people are stacked on top of each other climbing those Park Service provided cables up the mountain.

The article gives focus to the dangers present hiking this challenging route. Among the dangers cited, people are arriving quite unprepared. Folks don't bring enough water, and their hiking gear is sub-par (did you catch the photo of the person climbing the mountain in sandals?). As you may recall, three people have died on Half Dome in just the last year, and according to the article, a fourth would have been a goner if his clothes hadn't caught on the cable before he slipped over the edge.

The article ends with some interesting facts regarding deaths in the park. While Half Dome has received some attention lately, people are more likely to die in water related accidents -- like falling from the top of a waterfall. Gruesome.


I am hiking half dome in August with my cousin. I woud consider myself in pretty decent shape (I can run 5 miles with out stopping and have hiked 11 miles on up and down terrain and been fine). I half just gotten into the outdoor thing so am trying to figure out what kind of shoes to wear. I saw these hiking sandals that are like a sneaker but have cut outs in them. They seem to make the most sense for hiking half dome since you go by those waterfalls. Input or advice from anyone?

Yes, individuals are responsible for their lives.

All of you that poo-poo the NPS building trails and rails, forget that without trails etc. people that are going to go in anyway, so they would make their own trails, or bring their motorcycles, 4X4s tearing up the wildlife, not to mention allowing more people to enter open those people to the wonders of our natural resources, thus making them advocates for the wildlife / resources. So before you high-and-mighty-types think you're better than all the hapless tourists you complain, think about the benefits that overcomes the negatives. Watch Ken Burns' recent documentary on national parks, and you'll see what people did back then without the NPS's work.

My 2 ct: Get to know the park first. Don't hike Half Dome because you expect an iconic view from there. Actually, never climb the most iconic landmark to expect a great view. That is because the very landmark will not be visible from its own top. The most iconic views of Half Dome and surroundings are from Glacier Point and even better from Sentinel Dome.

Spend a day in the Valley, a second on Glacier Point (with a small hike to Sentinel Dome), Wawona and the eastern park, a third on Tuolumne Meadows and do small to medium hikes there. When you have adopted to the elevation, and you still want to do the hike, go for it.

Don't go on a weekend. Get up early, July will be crowded. Terribly crowded. Leave the trailhead before seven, actually even before six might be appropriate, if your style is to hike steadily but not so fast. Carry lots of water, some trail food, additional snacks. Wear boots with a sole that is suitable to sheer rock.

Think if you want to enjoy the up hike or make time on the first leg. If the year is relatively wet, Vernal Fall and Mist Trail could be spectacular in July. It is not dangerous when you are fit, but please take care, if you decide to do it on your way back, when you are or might be tired.

Most parts of the trail are boring. They are well trodden, but every now and then, there is a truly spectacular view of the Sierra.

The last 400 feet: Gloves are useful, you need a good grip of the cables. Take your time on this last part. Do not allow anyone to push you beyond your own speed.

Most of all, have fun. Go for it. But please keep the option to turn around if you get tired or dehydrated or what ever goes wrong. If you can't make it to the top, spend time at the two waterfalls or make a short side trip into Little Yosemite Valley.


Some factors you should consider: Where do you live, in terms of elevation? Folks coming from sea level or near that can sometimes require a couple of days to acclimate to the High Sierra, and the top of Half Dome is just about 9,000 feet.

Then, too, there's the arid climate, which can quickly dehydrate you if you don't carry enough water.

They say it can easily take 10-12 hours to make the roundtrip from the valley floor. Are you up for that long of a hike, carrying enough water and snacks?

As for the slope of the final 400 feet, I'm not sure what it is off the top of my head, but I can tell you that when I reached Half Dome's shoulder and looked at that last pitch, I almost turned around;-)

I'd suggest that, if you haven't already, check out the park's page on Half Dome hikes:

You might also consider picking up Rick Deutsch's book, Yosemite's Half Dome, Everything you need to know to successfully hike Yosemite's most famous landmark. If there's anyone who knows anything about preparing for a hike up Half Dome, Rick would be the guy.

I am 66 years old and in good shape. I play adult baseball and take long walks every day. I'm planning to climb the cables in July and I'm wondering if somebody could advise if I'm biting off more than I can chew. The comments posted here are decidedly mixed between "too dangerous" and "worth the risk." Also, what is the slope of the cable climb in degrees?? It looks nearly vertical in the photos.

I personally think the cables are great as with the wilderness in general. I have been climbing the cable since my father first took me back in 1967 (that’s 43 years ago). I lived in Yosemite back in 1973-74 to climb…I am taking one on my sons this summer (2010) to do the cables…Perhaps the park service should limit the number of folks allowed up during the season to 50 or so a day instead of the insane numbers I have seen in past years and what I hear for 2010 during the weekend they are requiring permits (Friday-Sunday) to 400 people a day (more than half pissing on the rock)…That is far to many…As far as folks being stupid and not wearing proper footgear or bring adequate food and water…Hey it is America and it is their life and foolishness…

I think people just like to exagerate. think about how many people climb up to the summit. you probably have a higher chance dying driving up to yosemite than climbming half dome. think about it, that is just three fatalities in one year. have you guys looked at how many people actually die driving in yosemite. its way more!! so i dont know why people are complaining that hiking half dome is not safe enough.

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