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TR: Half Dome 5/3/15

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TR: Half Dome 5/3/15

Postby zacjust32 » Tue May 05, 2015 2:25 pm

NOTE: In researching this hike I was shocked how few TR's of Half Dome are here on HST. Most of the threads I read were just questions about the cables. Hopefully this will answer some questions as to the actual trail.

Because of another year of California drought, the cables on Half Dome were put up three weeks early. I took advantage of this and went Sunday, the second day they were up. It was my first time climbing it so I was excited to finally see the infamous cables. I have done the Vernal-Nevada Falls trail half a dozen times with church groups and school outings, but never made it any further. This was the year's debut/conditioning hike so it was going to be interesting regardless.

Me and my buddy pulled into Fresno at 4:30 to pick up the third member of our posse, then a quick drive up to the park. We made great time and stopped at tunnel view for the obligatory tourist pictures by 6:30. The sun was just cresting Half Dome so pictures weren't great, but the view was good enough to put in perspective exactly what we were trying to do. We drove down to parking and had to walk to Happy Isles, finally getting to the trailhead at 7:15. 8:00 got us to the top of Vernal Falls and by 9:15 we were standing on top of Nevada.
ImageGOPR9499 by zacjust32, on Flickr
A short snack break at the top then a short jog to new territory. The trail continued up, merging with the JMT, and paralleling the Merced River and Liberty Cap. We refilled our water bladders at the junction to Little Yosemite Valley knowing it was the last chance we had before we returned here 9 miles later. Imagevlcsnap-2015-05-04-13h20m12s195 by zacjust32, on Flickr

Thus began the slog up, through sand and sparse tree cover reminding me of the trail to Mist Falls. Where's all the scenery? I wasn't expecting this to be a death march through 25% tree cover with no breeze. The most exciting thing we saw were two deer right on the trail, they were in the same place coming back through. The views of the backside of Half Dome and the sub-dome were sparse but pushed me on.

After two and a half more hours of much needed conditioning we crested the top of the ridge and saw Half Dome's profile across from us in all its glory.
url=https://flic.kr/p/stei6c]Image[/url]vlcsnap-2015-05-04-13h28m24s238 by zacjust32, on Flickr
Imagevlcsnap-2015-05-04-13h28m48s224 by zacjust32, on Flickr

The views of the valley were clear and much different than those at the bottom. Snow Creek Falls was running across the way and we marveled at the Snow Creek Trail ascending with countless switchbacks up the near vertical granite walls. It was at this time I noticed that I had left my camera on for the last 3 hours, draining nearly all the battery. To make matters worse, I also found that I left my spare batteries back in the truck, great... We turned up to the switchbacks on the granite subdome. These were not as steep nor treacherous as the earlier ones on the Mist trail, but they were still difficult. Steps turned to slabs which in turn led us to the top of the subdome, looking over the infamous cables.
ImageWP_20150503_029 by zacjust32, on Flickr
Imagevlcsnap-2015-05-04-13h30m16s253 by zacjust32, on Flickr

We took another break at the base, loading up on electrolytes and praying we wouldn't cramp up. We donned our gloves and got ready to head up, until a large group started just ahead of us. They had makeshift harnesses out of webbing and dual clips to ensure a long and slow ascent. We waited until they were at lease halfway up before playing catch-up. Researching the cables online I heard horror stories of them being backed up with people, but there were <50 people climbing and on top of the dome at the same time the entire day. The cables were a nice escape from the leg workout earlier in the day, but exhaustion soon set in. As we gained in elevation the picture breaks became more often and longer, funny how that works.
Imagevlcsnap-2015-05-04-13h32m53s105 by zacjust32, on Flickr
As the slope decreased along with the distance between us and the group ahead, we made the choice to forgo the cables and get past the traffic. It was only a matter of time until our legs and arms would be done, so a quick jog up to the summit saved us the pain of cramping on the cables. Instead I cramped on top, so much for power gel gummies and Gatorade.
The views on top were magical, we could see the whole valley from here!
ImageWP_20150503_13_41_56_Panorama by zacjust32, on Flickr
ImageWP_20150503_021 by zacjust32, on Flickr
ImageWP_20150503_024 by zacjust32, on Flickr
And the obligatory mother-torturing, fake-falling pose
Image0503151355 by zacjust32, on Flickr

A group with ropes and shoes strapped to their packs passed by us. I asked if they climbed the face, they laughed and told me they were just climbing the other side of the dome. We spent the next hour eating lunch at the top watching people like ants bustle around Curry Village. It was finally time to go back down the cables. This was much more frightening than going up, but much faster.

Back down the granite steps of the subdome and onto the trail. I was worried about running out of water, but we made it okay and were dead tired with still a ways to go. The 2,000 feet dropped thus far was only half of it, we had another 2,000 to drop down those steps on the Mist Trail. Another hour and we were back at the top of Nevada, looking down at all those knee pounding steps. We almost decided to take the JMT back to save ourselves, but the extra mile and a half deterred us. I could feel hot spots on my feet but decided that getting back to the truck had a higher priority than my feet did at this point. I'll skip the next hour and a half of steps, but I will say they were brutal. Finally, Happy Isles! But we still had .75 miles back to the truck. We ended up leaving around 6:30, made a pit stop in Oakhurst and then back to Fresno.

I can now say that I've climbed Half Dome, one of the most iconic rock formations in the world. To be honest, it wasn't as great as I was expecting. Sure the views were great, but that's about all it was. The trail was horribly hot and dry with no great scenery except at the very end, and that was not the best I've seen. I would actually say that Glacier Point has better views of everything. When you're on top of Half Dome you are missing one of the best parts of the valley because you're standing on it! I may be crazy in saying all this, but I feel that the "greatest day hike of the Sierra" was slightly disappointing.
Last edited by zacjust32 on Wed May 06, 2015 1:08 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: Pre-season Half Dome 5/3/15

Postby maverick » Tue May 05, 2015 3:09 pm

Thanks for the TR and pictures. :thumbsup:
I personally do not like HD because it is has become a zoo (especially on the cables), haven't been up it in over
10 years, don't plan to either.
Would rather do it off-season with the cables down or via the 5.7 Snake Dike route, which is much more fun and
much less traffic, if I ever consider doing it again. Clouds Rest may not be as thrilling, but offers much better scenery
from the top in my opinion.
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Re: Pre-season Half Dome 5/3/15

Postby Jimr » Tue May 05, 2015 3:28 pm

I did that trip a couple of years ago. We started at 3am, so were half way up before the sun came up. It was pretty cool doing the falls in the dark. Cables were almost vacant when we went up, but the crowd caught up by the time we came down, so I did the outside of the cables to avoid the up sloggers.
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Re: TR: Half Dome 5/3/15

Postby ERIC » Sat May 09, 2015 4:31 pm

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Re: TR: Half Dome 5/3/15

Postby Lucrativ » Sat May 09, 2015 11:43 pm

I liked that one from the Vernal Falls railing - -thanks
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Re: TR: Half Dome 5/3/15

Postby balzaccom » Sun May 10, 2015 11:24 am

I don't think many people call this the greatest day hike in the Sierra. In Yosemite, Cloud's Rest is certainly better. Mitchell Peak in SEKI is on everyone's top ten list. Rubicon Trail in Tahoe...

Half Dome is an iconic rock...not a great hike.
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Re: Pre-season Half Dome 5/3/15

Postby cantare » Mon May 11, 2015 12:15 pm

maverick wrote:Thanks for the TR and pictures. :thumbsup:
I personally do not like HD because it is has become a zoo (especially on the cables), haven't been up it in over
10 years, don't plan to either.

But the HD cables aren't necessarily a zoo when they're opened early. I did a mid-week daytrip last year under the same circumstances, and despite a very late start (noon from Happy Isles) we enjoyed a banner day weather-wise, with only about 7 other people total on the cables/summit. I felt very privileged, having experienced the typical summertime traffic jam on a previous outing.

Thanks for the TR!
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Re: TR: Half Dome 5/3/15

Postby zacjust32 » Wed May 13, 2015 11:12 pm

cantare wrote: the HD cables aren't necessarily a zoo when they're opened early. I did a mid-week daytrip last year under the same circumstances, and despite a very late start (noon from Happy Isles) we enjoyed a banner day weather-wise, with only about 7 other people total on the cables/summit.

I was quite surprised after reading about the traffic jams on the cables how empty ours were. Almost no traffic in the opposite direction, it was just us kids passing those who's faster days were behind them. It was a nice peaceful escape at the top, away from all the hustle and bustle of the valley
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Re: TR: Half Dome 5/3/15

Postby AlmostThere » Thu May 14, 2015 7:04 am

I think there are so many non- hikers that rave about Half Dome that those of us who go to so many better places get the hairy eyeball for suggesting HD is not all that.

At least the permit system has cut the average number of daily medical incidents in half... Down from a dozen per day. I do not envy the SAR team. They are probably really tired of that section of trail.
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Re: TR: Half Dome 5/3/15

Postby longri » Thu May 14, 2015 8:17 am

Wow, check out Vernal Fall. It's just a little trickle.

Image

With the selfie wide angle and miniscule flow I didn't even recognize it.
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