How I Spent My Summer Vacation
My Trip To Half Dome
Up the Stairway to Heaven
Another Trip Report
ALL permits for 2011 have been sold
Cables have still not gone up; read this:
Due to the high snow fall
this winter, the cool spring temperatures and frequent storms, and the
remaining deep snowpack the National Park Service will not be putting the
Half Dome Cables in place for the Memorial Day weekend. It is also
unlikely that they would be put up during the first week of June.
Continued expected snow storms in the high country prevent the NPS from
making an accurate prediction of when the cables may be put in place. In
2010, which had less snow fall than 2011, the cables were not put in place
until June 16. Starting next week the NPS will provide weekly conditions
updates on the Half Dome Trail and cables along with any prediction for a
possible opening date, when known. To read these updates go to:
"One Best Hike: Yosemite's Half
book on Half Dome from someone who's done it 21 times
The cables on Half Dome
are scheduled to be put up usually the Thursday before
Memorial weekend, weather permitting.
Thinking of climbing Half Dome?
Read this article appearing in Saturday's
(7/7/07) San Francisco Chronicle:
Half Dome Topo Trail Maps and
(These TOPO! maps are 2 large JPEG images, and will load slowly. Again, please be
This is looking west
from "The Top". An extremely intimidating position. (Photo courtesy of
This is not the casual
day-hike "Gee-why-don't-we-climb-Half-Dome" last minute thing some would have
you believe. It is a grueling 8.5 mile forced march STRAIGHT UP from the Valley
Floor. (If the Marine Corp is looking for a suitable training trip, I think they would be
impressed.) From Yosemite Valley, it encompasses a 4,800 foot gain in elevation over
a 8.5 mile trail. I have never met anyone who did it in one day that
did not regret having done it. You will be beat to a pulp when you
get back... Spread it out over at least two days with any over night
stop at Little Yosemite Valley campground either coming or going.
(Footnote: Here are contrary
opinions from people who took issue with my assessment of the Half-Dome
trail. Go Here)
"I want to thank you for your wonderful web
site. Your pictures are just wonderful. Our family has spent many times in
Yosemite and I love the place. I took my 2 kids in 1981 to the top of Half
Dome in a one day trip. They were 11 and 14 at the time while I was 40.
I did not think I would live another day after we returned to Camp Curry
that night. Your trip report gave me a great rerun of our trip.
Thanks again, if I can't be in Yosemite I'll live it through your
pictures." John W. from Orlando...
I was scanning the maps looking for
somewhere to go over the July 4th Holiday 1999, and realized I had never done Half
Dome. So, knowing the first half of the trip from a previous hike down Little
Yosemite Valley, I decided to make it a 3 day "easy" trip. HA!
First, I was 46 years old, and I was easily one of the oldest codgers on the trail. Second,
even though I'm an experienced backpacker, I overloaded my pack, mostly with 10 pounds of
photography equipment (video and 35mm, tripod, 3 lenses, 8 mm video camera and two video
batteries...). Third, I was not in shape, which was stupid.
I was by myself, as my wife does not like
roughing it, at least with the equipment she has to use. My buddy Bob was at Dinkey
Creek in a travel trailer. Don Vincenti, my other hiking partner, had other
city-plans for the 4th. So, I went solo!
First Day (July 1st)
My wife drove me to Sunnyside walk-in campground where I set up camp, read,
and bought some last minute items for the trip. Couple in the site next to me from
Cincinnati. Went to the Yosemite Lodge Cafeteria (directly across the road from the
campground) and carbo loaded. Hit the sack at around midnight. Idiots in a
nearby campsite totally rude, hooting and hollering all night long. Glad I had my
earplugs. This campground is a noisy place to try and sleep; it's right next
to the road, and VERY crowded all the time.
Second Day (July 2nd)
Arose at 7:30, ate bowl of cereal with raisins, broke camp about 8:30.
Boarded shuttle bus to Happy Isle Nature Center which is the trail head to the Stairway to
Heaven (or Bataan Death March, whichever you prefer). Got off the bus and went the
old way to the nature center, only to find out the bridge has not been rebuilt from the
flood and rockslide. I had to go back down the trail to the road and cross the river and
start again. Added about 1/4 mile to my trip. Not fun with the sherpa's load I
was carrying. (Envision the truck the Joad family used in the movie "Grapes of
Wrath" and you have an idea how I looked. Basically, two legs walking under
this huge load.) :-(
Vernal Falls. This is
why they call it "The Mist Trail" You will get soaked, especially in
spring when the rivers are running full speed. (Photo courtesy of Paul).
Another view of The Mist Trail.
Uneventful ascent to the
first bridge. Decided I didn't want to get wet this early in the day on the Vernal
Falls mist trail, which, although shorter, is wet, cold and the steps are BRUTAL!! Started
up the John Muir Trail to Nevada Falls, which is above Vernal Falls. There is not
ONE level stretch on this 3.3 mile (as opposed to 2.5 miles if you go the Mist Trail.)
1,000 foot gain in elevation. Plus, to add insult to injury, the trail
actually goes above Nevada Falls and down slightly the last 100 feet. I embarked on
the trail at 9:30 and got to Nevada Falls at 1pm. Embarrassingly slow.
Looking over the edge
at Vernal Falls. (Photo courtesy of Paul.)
I was beat to a pulp, and
took at 2.5 hour lunch break with a can of tuna, Top Ramen, raisins and dried
peaches. I hydrated, napped, took some photos and video, and, feeling better,
started out again at 3:30pm. More uphill terrain, but I got to Little Yosemite
Valley in about an hour.
Walked to the campground, located at the
juncture of the Half Dome Trail and Merced Lake Trail. Excellent area, with a Clevis
Toilet, bear boxes and plenty of shady, level campsites. Pitched camp, shot some
video and cooked dinner. My neighbor, Tom "Dances With Bears", was up for
two weeks. Nice guy, had the rangers in the palm of his hand, and was very generous
with his food. They do not allow fires in individual campsites, but there are three
group fire rings with room for about 20 people each. At dusk someone lit a fire,
people began to gather and the fun began! I was the only one who schlepped an
aluminum beach chair up and caught a lot of flack about that, but I was
comfortable!! Later, "Dances With Bears" made some no-cook cheesecake with
genuine cherry filling, and, although runny, was excellent. He shared with
everyone!! What a treat! Then, someone had some hot-link sausages they cooked
over the fire and handed out to everyone. Then, someone had marshmallows, and we
roasted those! WOW! A feast at 6,000 feet! Unbelievably nice people;
teenagers, fathers with sons, couples, all kinds of people from all over the country.
There was a bear (sow w/ cubs) who was
raiding the campsites on a regular basis, and we were all told to be on the lookout.
Rangers came by and said they were going to try and tag her that night, which they
did. Tom and I went out looking for the bear (!) in the middle of the night, but did
not find her. Rangers found her near the ranger station and shot her with the sleep
drug and put a collar on her. She never bothered us at all.
Third Day (July 3)
Arose at 8am, ate breakfast, and hit the Half Dome trail at 9:30.
Again, trail goes straight up, with few very short level stretches. Be forewarned.
BRING MORE WATER THAN YOU THINK YOU'LL NEED BECAUSE YOU'LL NEED IT ALL!!! This is a
steep trail that crosses water only at one place near the start from the campground.
I made that mistake, and ran out!! NOT GOOD!! Luckily, someone had more than
they needed, and gave me about one quart, which I quickly downed.
The first open area along the trail was
glorious!! You can see the cables and hikers from here. It was an intimidating
sight, which made me wonder if I was going to go all the way. Ate lunch, took
pictures and video and started again. Got to the cables at 1:45. Again, this
is an area NOT for those with a fear of heights. Either side of this solid granite, open,
windy, last "base camp" or "camp 5" (in Everest parlance) was a long,
bouncy death-plunge to the valley below. Took more video and stills, and decided to see
how it goes. I encountered many people who had chickened out and turned back when
confronted by those cables. There was no shame in turning back. This trek up the final
face is no casual affair. The slope is about 70 to 75 degrees and demands full
concentration and balls of steel. There is a pile of gloves from which to choose
that you MUST use when going up, because much of your effort is involved in pulling
yourself up with your arms, and you MUST use the gloves. I started up, my heart was
pounding, my mouth was dry (you cannot drink while on the cables), and I was holding on
for dear life. Otherwise, I felt OK, so I went ALL THE WAY!!!! I achieved the summit
at 2:30pm!!! There are the inevitable fools who love to torture the on-lookers by
dangling their legs off the edge of the cliff, or standing with their
toes curling over the edge, looking straight down. Gives me the willies just thinking about it. Took
photos, grooved on the scene for about 1-1/2 hours and started back down. My fear of
heights was all but gone by now, and I bounced down with no problem and no fear in about
10 minutes. The key to going down is to go backwards, and keep your eyes on the granite in
front of you. Back to camp by 5:45 EXHILARATED!! Made dinner, shot more video
and made the scene at the campfire, which featured more marshmallows, hot-dogs, and other
stuff. Most everybody had drifted off to their tents by 11pm, and Tom "Dances
With Bears", James and Jody and I made some fudge brownies and FEASTED!!
This hike is NOT for the faint hearted. Many people change their minds and go back
when confronted with the cables.
|Looking down from the halfway point.
Last chance to chicken out.
|From the top of Half Dome
It's a long way to the bottom
View looking west from The Top.
Fourth Day (July
Slept in 'til 9am, broke camp and started down at 11am. Went the
shorter Vernal Falls trail, which pounded my feet and legs into powder; or so it seemed
when I finally hit the valley at 2pm. I write this from my wheelchair, because I can
hardly walk. My legs are killing me, and I'm scheduled to referee two basketball
games this coming Wednesday. Right. Sure.
Cast of Characters:
Tom "Dances With Bears"
Brough from San Diego. Star of the show. Natural comedian, kept us in
stitches all weekend. Comes to the campground for two weeks every year. Knows
all the rangers and helps them with trash, bear reconnaissance and hiker education.
Looks the part; long hair, very grizzly looking dude, but nice as the day is long.
If you didn't know him, you'd give him a wide berth.
Yes, from Lilburn, GA, had just obtained his Masters Degree in Structural
Engineering from Georgia Tech and lost his
girlfriend. (Hell of a trade!) He had a thick southern accent, and had never
been backpacking this far back and for this long. First visit to Yosemite. Was
affected by the trail up, as it beat him up too. He's 26, so I didn't feel so bad.
Part of the "late" crowd.
Tom Brough (left), and Jody from
Tom and I discussing an active bear in the area, Friday, July 2,
the only black individual I saw on the whole trail all weekend (Why is that?). He
was traveling by himself. A vintner-in-training from Napa, stayed up late with us
each night sitting around telling jokes, laughing till it hurt.
(Never Knew His Name; acronym NKHN)
Guy was there with his son. He was in the Air Force, and was a Nuclear and Chemical
Warfare Instructor/Monitor/Deployment Specialist weird-oh. Had a butch haircut,
refused to use mosquito repellent, general hard-ass. He was great with his son,
though. The kid was obviously having a good time, and we all asked him about the
movie "Broken Arrow", which he explained to us in minute detail. We soon
regretted bringing the subject up.
(another NKHN, see above)
This guy was there with his 7 year old son, and brought the marshmallows every night.
He made his son do multiplication tables for 15 minutes each morning before he
would let him go fishing or playing with the other kids!!!! But, the kid seemed to take it all in stride. All the talk about
the bear in the area scared him, and we had to calm him down as a group. Soon he was
zooming through the forest in pitch dark like the other kids.
The Couple From The Bay Area
These folks started out as your textbook Bay Area yuppies. Liberal Rush-haters,
nose-in-the-air, holier-than-thou, friends-of-the-earth types. They were friendly,
though, just aloof and opinionated. They had their 12-year-old nephew in from
Oklahoma and they were showing him the grand tour of California, and he was loving it, as
all the kids were. The Uncle had a bit of scotch he was sipping, and got quite
drunk, and finally loosened up and got down with the rest of us commoners and was telling
dirty jokes before long. His wife got disgusted and went to bed. We knew he
had it in him. He eventually revealed he was quite a fan of Howard Stern (!)
"The Five Teenage Girls"
We never knew their names, but they were with the Youth Conservation Corp and moved
in one lump. They came around the campfire, and one of them explained to us how the
mountain climbers on El Capitan sleep on those platforms. Then, Tom showed up and
the sight of him scared them off. He left on Bear Reconnaissance and they came back,
like a bunch of trout.
"The Five Teenage Boys"
They were also with the Youth Conservation Corp and, you guessed it, followed the girls
around wherever they went. Funny as hell to watch. One of these kids was there
from the state of Maine, and was only 16 and was doing 8 weeks by himself in the
YCC!! He was loving it. He was right in the middle of explaining to me what
his job was, and suddenly the girls left, so the story ended.
The Boy Scouts These
12 Boy Scouts came into camp at 12 midnight!! Pitched camp, went to bed and were
very quiet. We were all impressed with their efficiency. They got up early the
next morning and kept right on going. Bizarre.
I am definitely going back one of these
days, but I think the next trip will be to Vogelsang in August for the meteor showers.
Tom and James are talking about coming up for it.