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

(6/12/11) 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 Dome"  Great 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: Go Here

Half Dome Topo Trail Maps and 3-D maps
(These TOPO! maps are 2 large JPEG images, and will load slowly.  Again, please be patient.)

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This is looking west from "The Top".  An extremely intimidating position. (Photo courtesy of Paul)

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)

Consider this: "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.)  :-(

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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.

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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!!


Extremely intimidating.   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.

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From the top of Half Dome
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It's a long way to the bottom


View looking west from The Top.


Fourth Day (July 4th)
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.

Jody "Atlanta" 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.

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Tom Brough (left), and Jody from Atlanta.

Audio: Tom and I discussing an active bear in the area, Friday, July 2, 1999.  Go Here.. (928k; 1:58)

"James", 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.