We woke early, just before daybreak, and started stoking a fire for breakfast. A few friends (Mike, Kenneth, Eroica, Greg, Thomas, Manuel, and Jake) and I had decided to take a weekend of exploration in Yosemite. For me, Yosemite was a bucket list item and I was super excited to finally have the opportunity to experience it. This day was especially exciting as we planned to hike to the top of Half Dome, the most recognized formation of the valley.
Master Chef Mike got on the grill and before long we were all fed, dressed, and packed up for the day’s hike. We were camped just outside the park so we all piled into a couple of cars and took off towards Half Dome trailhead for our 16 mile round trip journey to the summit. Driving into the park took some time, winding in and out on the entrance road until the views finally opened up to huge granite walls bathed in morning light and lush green foliage lining the roadside. We pulled in and grabbed the first open spot we could. In the shade the temps in the bottom of the valley were cool, and in my shorts and t-shirt I moved quickly to fight off the chill.
Soon we walked over the Happy Isles Bridge crossing the Merced River that feeds the valley. This also just so happened to be the start of the JMT, let’s just say I was really excited all around! We crossed another foot bridge and paused for a moment to stare upstream in awe. The river was fierce and crashed down the sides of the riverbank with a violent force that demanded nothing but respect for its pure power. We trekked on and, as always, the group of 8 began to slowly string out. As we all stopped for a quick water refill and a bathroom break before really getting into the hike, Greg said he has going to trek ahead. Off he went, and before long we soon followed.
Mike and I soon pulled away from the group too as the incline began to increase, but we didn’t notice as we were both too awestruck by the views of the woods around us and the river flowing nearby. We took a slight divergence from the JMT to go up the Mist Trail. We trekked on and up the granite steps and were soon blasted with a huge mist from Vernal Falls. The sun was shining through and creating a breathtaking rainbow making the whole experience that much more surreal. We stopped and just took the whole thing in as we were getting sprayed by the falls above. The trail really went to work after this, almost going straight vertical to climb above the falls. Up and up we went until one last switchback brought us to the head of a gorgeous fall. Mike said, “I’ll wait here on the others as they don’t have a map and don’t know the way.” All smiles as usual I headed on alone.
I’ve always enjoyed hiking in groups, but sometimes it’s nice to just pull away and enjoy the trail on your own. I pressed on, up the Mist Trail, through the cool forest until I came upon another set of falls; Nevada Falls. Turn after turn the beauty of this place was unquestionable. That matched with the challenge of the hike really kept be going until finally I reached the junction where I would rejoin the JMT to find Greg chilling out on a rock on the entrance of Little Yosemite Valley. Like a lizard he was just zenning out, having a nice little rest before taking on the next leg of the trek. I plopped down and grabbed a quick snack and we chatted about the trail below.
Greg, like me, really likes to get after it on the trail and we decided to press on, knowing the group would eventually catch up at Half Dome. Through the flats of Yosemite Valley, the foliage and terrain began to change. We were above 5000 feet now and as we got away from the river we entered an area where pinion pine reigned supreme. The tall red barked trees sparkly shaded us from the sun as we pushed quickly towards the base of Half Dome. A new turn would open up to the valley below or views of the snow-dusted Sierras peaks in the distance. We took a few moments to take in each new view before pushing on and up. We were both ready to get to the top as the sun beat down on our heads.
At the base we encountered 2 Park Rangers with an iPad checking permit holder names like a couple of bouncers at a club. My name was on the list and we grinned as the red rope was taken back and we pressed hard up the steep backbone of the dome. Steep and fast our hearts were thumping at full throttle when the infamous “chains” came into view. The line of people looked like ants in the distance and I was excited to take on the last extremely steep and slick 400 foot climb to the summit of the dome. The line was almost stagnant between the chains; some clutching the metal bars holding up the chains, other stalled waiting for someone to pass or move forward.
Greg looked at me and said “man, let just go, popping his head under, pulling up and climbing on the outside of the chains to gain summit. People looked at us like madmen as we passed, some full of fear in their eyes and others with frustration for the wait ahead, but they all were too cautious to take to the outside of the chains. Light lightning we were up, politely excusing ourselves to the climbers stuck between that chains as we bypassed them, all until the crowd grew thin and the grade finally flattened out. We were only steps from the summit! Touching the top at the same time we claimed summit and took in the incredible views. Of course it was picture time, we took turns, walking to the edge, climbing out on diving board rocks and staring down the sheet walls of the front of Half Dome at the valley below.
After the picture session was over, we both chilled out and had a nice 20 minute nap before finally heading back down to the base. On our way down we ran into the rest of the group on their way up. Greeting them with smiles we encouraged them that the chains ahead were not too bad and the sights at the top were pure beauty so they headed on. At the base Thomas and Mike waited for their chance to summit as they were short 2 permits. Mike found a permit opportunity, and soon after Thomas did as well. I headed back up once more with Thomas to make sure the last of our group could enjoy the views at the top.
Once down, we regrouped and headed back the way we came back to the trailhead where our cars waited on us. What a beautiful day! Any day spent outside in the beauty of nature really makes me appreciate and enjoy the opportunities I’ve been given, especially at such an incredible place as Yosemite. Get out there, and if you do, it will blow your mind!
- Weather: Hi 70s, Low 50s, Sunny clear skys
- Water: 3.0 liters
- Food: Salt and Venigar chips, 2 PowerBar, 1 Cliff Builders Bar, 1 Nature valley Protien batr, 1 apple, 1 PB&J (Thanks Mike), 1 bag of gummy worms
- Time: 10 hours
- Distance: 16 miles Round Trip
- Accumulated Gain: 5,050 feet
- Mule Camelback backpack (3 liter bladder)
- Arc’teryx Hoody
- Peal Izumi arm coolers
- Cotton Handkerchief
- Cotton T shirt
- Nike Running Shorts
- Merrell Mid Moab Hiking Boots
- Darn Tough Medium Wool Sox