Rising nearly 5,000 feet above Yosemite Valley and 8,800 feet above sea level, Half Dome is a Yosemite icon and a great challenge to many hikers. Despite an 1865 report declaring that it was “perfectly inaccessible, being probably the only one of the prominent points about the Yosemite which never has been, and never will be, trodden by human foot,” George Anderson reached the summit in 1875, in the process laying the predecessor to today’s cable route.
Today, thousands of people reach the summit. For most, it is an exciting, arduous hike; for a few, it becomes more of an adventure than they wanted. Indeed, park rangers assist hundreds of people on the Half Dome trail every summer. Most of these emergencies could have been prevented… read on to learn how.
Much of the hike to Half Dome is an adventure into Wilderness, and, while there is nothing you can do to guarantee your safety, below you will find some tips to reduce your risk and have a safer, more enjoyable hike.
The 14- to 16-mile round-trip hike to Half Dome is not for you if you’re out of shape or unprepared. You will be gaining elevation (for a total of 4,800 feet) most of your way to the top of Half Dome. Most would say the reward is worth the effort. Along the way, you’ll see outstanding views of Vernal and Nevada Falls, Liberty Cap, Half Dome, and – from the shoulder and summit – panoramic views of Yosemite Valley and the High Sierra.
Most hikers take 10 to 12 hours to hike to Half Dome and back; some take longer. If you plan on hiking during the day, it’s smart to leave around sunrise (or earlier) and then have a non-negotiable turn-around time. For instance, if you haven’t reached the top of Half Dome by 3:30 pm, you will turn around. Check for sunrise and sunset times before you hike. Regardless, each person should carry a flashlight or headlamp with good batteries (hikers commonly struggle down the trail after dark because they don’t have a flashlight). Although the trail is well marked, you should be prepared with a good topographic map and compass and know how to use them.
Half Dome Cables
The most famous–or infamous–part of the hike is the ascent up the cables. The two metal cables allow hikers to climb the last 400 feet to the summit without rock climbing equipment. Since 1919, relatively few people have fallen and died on the cables. However, injuries are not uncommon for those acting irresponsibly.
The Half Dome cables usually go back up the Friday before Memorial Day (conditions permitting) and come down the day after Columbus Day.
Tips while using the cables:
- Take your time and be patient with slower hikers
- Allow faster hikers to pass you (when possible)
- Remain on the inside of the cables
Do not attempt the ascent if:
- Storm clouds are in the area
- The ground is wet (the cables and rock become very slick when wet; most accidents on the cables occur during wet conditions)
- The cables are down for the winter (typically, from the day after Columbus Day until Memorial Day weekend) (check conditions update for status and any available updates)