Half Dome Cables Route

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Details

Quality: 

0

Scenery: 

4

Crowds: 

5

Difficulty: 

This is a tough dayhike! Be prepared

Distance Comments: 

Round trip from Happy Isles, via the Mist Trail. Add 2 miles RT via the JMT

Distance in Miles: 

16.00 miles

Trip Type: 

Out and back

Trailhead: 

Happy Isles

Trailhead Elevation: 

4000

Elevation Gain/Loss: 

4800/4800

Elevation Min/Max: 

4000/8842

References: 

Soares, 30-32

Running: 

Heros only (5 out of 5)

Highlights: 

For many people a hike to the top of the iconic Half Dome is the event of a lifetime. Most people find this a grueling outing, but you will be rewarded by outstanding views and a great sense of accomplishment. Please Note: there have been a rash of deaths on Half Dome in recent years. Please be careful both on the cables and near the rivers — both have claimed lives. Have fun. Stay alive!

Details: 

Please know that permits are required seven days per week to hike Half Dome when the cables are up. Please see the NPS Half Dome Permit page for details. Anything they say there supercedes anything I say here.

Your first choice is to decide whether or not to do this as a day hike or an overnight. I have found a page on the net (now where's that link?) where the person says that most people regret doing it in a day. Personally, I would regret doing it as an overnight. His logic is that most people find it too grueling to enjoy if they do the round trip in a day. This has not been my experience and the Yosemite Mountain School hiking guides frequently take people up Half Dome in a day. My logic for not wanting to do this trail as an overnight is simple. This is well within my fun day-hiking distance and I don't really want to go backpacking on such a crowded trail. If I'm going to hump all that overnight gear somewhere, I want a wilderness experience and the fact is that the Half Dome Cables trail feels more like Manhattan at lunch hour.

If you insist on doing this as an overnight, you may have to choose a trailhead other than Happy Isles or Glacier Point. Quotas for backcountry permits are set on a per-trailhead basis, so it can be extremely hard to secure a permit for the most popular trailheads. The good news is that there are other options that add very little extra effort. The next easiest is to start at Mono Meadows. If you want more mileage, you could start at Tenaya Lake for a 22-mile round-trip hike. Not a bad option as you'll have chance at some solitude for part of you hike at least.

My preferred option is simply to get ready and get up early. Rickey Gates may have run this trail in in 2:28 round trip, but most people will want to get up early and get going both in order to have the full day and in order to get up out of the Valley before it gets too hot. Also, if you start early enough you will to some extent beat the crowds, especially on the first part, since a lot of people hike just part of this trail and start late. If you start before the shuttles start running (7:00am) and just walk to Happy Isles, you'll cut down on the amount of company you have on the trail.

Your first objective is to get to the top of Nevada Falls. Most people do this by starting from Happy Isles and hiking the Mist Trail or the John Muir Trail. Another option is to start from the Glacier Point and hike the Panorama Trail, but this option will leave you with the 1000 foot climb up from Illouette Creek back to your car at the end of the day unless you catch a ride or shuttle up to Glacier Point. I won't discuss that portion of the trail since I already have a detailed page on the Mist Trail and will eventually add one for the Panorama Trail.

From the top of Nevada Falls, you have a mellow and gentle hike with excellent views of Liberty Cap and the South Face of Half Dome. After about a mile along the Merced, you come to the mouth of Little Yosemite Valley, usually called simply "LYV", with its large and crowded campground. When the trail forks between the Half Dome trail and the campground/Merced Lake trail, you will leave the riverside and, consequently, convenient places to refill you water bottles. At this point the river has passed one High Camp, one stock watering hole, and one crowded campground. I rarely filter Sierra water, but I would recommend filtering here.

Little Yosemite Valley campground is the preferred campsite for overnighters. Despite the name, if you only go as far as the campground, you get little sense of why the spectacular Merced River Canyon merits being called "Little Yosemite Valley" — for that you need to hike at least another three miles toward Merced Lake, but that's for another page. I'll just note here that if you can get two nights at LYV campground, you could hike a few miles of the true LYV before heading out on your last day. On the down side, permits for the LYV campground are hard to come by and this is far from a wilderness experience. It resembles the hustle and bustle of the Valley campgrounds more than it feels like a wilderness site (full disclosure: I've never actually slept here, but I have hiked by in the evening and even as late as 9:00pm, so I have a sense of what it's like at night).

Once past Little Yosemite Valley, the trail will begin to rise again and become more forested with your typical mid-altitude mixed conifer assortment (Red Fir, Jeffrey Pine). At 2.5 miles from Half Dome, you'll pass your last signed trail junction where the John Muir Trail and the Cloud's Rest trails break off. A half-mile past this there is a spring where you can refill for a last time. The spring is easy to miss, but if you are low on water, keep your eyes open and focused on the left side of the trail and with luck you'll find it.

From here follow an increasingly dusty trail until the forest opens up and the shoulder of Half Dome comes in view. From that point, things get steeper and steeper and ever more spectacular until you get to the top.

Before reaching the summit, you have to confront the cables. These are steep and generations of hikers have made the rock rather polished. I'm amazed there aren't more serious accidents here, but there do not seem to be many. Nevertheless, in recent years there has been a rash of deaths here after many years without incident, so don't take this too lightly. The park service has a pile of old gloves at the base, but it's probably worth it to bring some work gloves that fit (though I never have actually).

Under no circumstances should you go to the top if you see clouds moving in. People have been killed here by lightning strikes. Also, never throw anything from the top — there are climbers below on the Regular Northwest Face route (and others) and you could easily kill someone.

Once on the summit, you will have awesome panoramic views of the Valley, Mount Hoffman, the Clark Range and the Sierra Crest. You yourself will be in a barren moonscape. Old photos show that this was not always the case, but we have loved the summit of Half Dome to death. There are still some rare Mount Lyell salamanders near the top, which is the reason for prohibiting camping up there. Still, the views are amazing and it's one of the best picnicking spots in Yosemite. With the crowds, there's often a festive atmosphere on the summit. Enjoy! It's a long trek back down.

Runner's Notes: 

This is one of the classic hardcore runs in Yosemite. Take the Mist Trail if you're tough and going for the record, which as of June 2010 stands at an impressive 2:28:18 round trip, 1:28:47 up, 59:31 down by Rickey Gates. I've interviewed Rickey Gates and former record holder Ryan Ghelfi (2:32) and several runners have added their own experience, meaning that those pages are great resources: running Half Dome à la Ryan (more detail) with Rickey's additions. If you're not up for the super steep Mist Trail, it might be worth running the extra mile up the JMT. In any case, save yourself on the truly steep parts by keeping a reasonable pace. They are not that long or that numerous and there's a surprising amount of flat ground on this run to make up time. Even the best runner's don't truly "run" the entire Mist Trail or the Cables. Again, see the other page for way more on running Half Dome. And please, if it helps you, add your own experiences to help others.

11 Comments

summit stone

please can you tell me what a summit stone is? and how many hours should the hike to half dome take from the trailhead to the top? thank you Anita!!

How Long to Hike Half Dome?

Anita,

How long is a piece of string? In other words, the speed will depend greatly on the hiker. Many parties take two to three days. The fastest people do the round trip in under three hours, but these are extremely fit competitive runners who can run a marathon in less time than that.

When my wife worked at the mountaineering school, they typically counted on about 12 hours, give or take a couple of hours, to guide a reasonably fit person up and down.

A friend just photographed a Boy Scout troop hiking HD and it took them about seven hours to the summit and probably a little less to get down.

So the answer is, between three hours and three days, but for average people, somewhere between six and fifteen hours, more typically eight to ten.

Roughly speaking, timewise the top of Vernal Falls is a bit more than halfway to the top of Nevada Falls, which is a bit more than a third of the way to the top of Half Dome. So that gives you some idea of what your overall pace will be.

This was by far the most

This was by far the most intense hike i have ever done...IM TALKING INTENSE!!!!.....I have never been so exhausted...I went thru so many emotions...I cried because i was so tired, i was pissed, i was happy, i was proud you name it...i was not able to go up the cables i got vertigo and was horrified....be prepared mentally and physically...I will go back next year and climb the cables... =O)

My crew started the hike at 5

My crew started the hike at 5 in the morning got all the way down at about 6:30pm....there was alot of traffic on the cables....I would recommend to start the hike at around 3 or 4 in the morning...otherwise you will be hanging for dear life off those cables for about 45 min...talk about scary....

Just got back from the half

Just got back from the half dome hike. We had a party of five including an 11 year old (a very fit 11 yr old). We took six hours to the top..including several long stops and a nice picnic lunch. I was then surprised that we took 7 hours (with a long break at the creek for water) to get down..we decided to take an alternative route down (John Muir trail)..glad we did as it was also gorgeous. Overall, it was a managebly strenuous hike..it was over 100 degrees that day, which made it a little more difficult. We were definately fighting dehydration. One word of caution..we did encounter a lot of loose gravel on the shoulder below the saddle and after watching another hiker slip, I did the same sustaining injuries. However, the views and sense of accomplishment after reaching the top were definately worth it. Be safe and have fun.

Congratulations everyone and

Congratulations everyone and thanks so much for leaving your comments!

Yes, HD is intense. Most people don't realize how much the steep uphills on the Mist Trail will take out of them. Also, it's common for people to take just as long on the way down as the way up. This is partly because of fatigue and partly because on real steep terrain, you won't go that fast on your way down.

Finally, with respect to dehydration - You can bring a water filter and pump out of the Merced River. It's a good idea to fill up just around the junction where the trail to Little Yosemite Valley splits off from the Half Dome trail.

Camping?

Say your camping in Yosemite and want to wake up early then hike to Half Dome....which is the closest campground to Half Dome, cause I believe it is Upper Pines but i want to be sure... Thanks!

Any of the Pines campgrounds

Any of the Pines campgrounds are more or less the same. Upper Pines puts you a couple of minutes closer.

It doesn't really matter a whole lot, though. You can stay anywhere and drive to Curry and then walk from there. On my morning runs, it takes me about 6 minutes from the Curry parking lot to the trailhead, so it doesn't add that much, and if you're leaving after 7am, you can take the shuttle anyway.

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