Glacier Point

Yosemite. Source: Flickr

So you’ve decided to fulfill that metaphoric goal of climbing a mountain and Half Dome is the goal. Good choice. Having done it twice myself, the pain of blisters is a small and insignificant consequence of seeing the top of Half Dome. However, there are other little nagging things that, when combined, become a big headache. So there are my suggestions for avoiding all of that:

1. Get in Shape Before You Go – Even if you’ve got some endurance in the way of running on flat surfaces, you should really train by doing the stairmaster or climbing some small hills from time to time. I’m not exactly sure of the altitude, but I believe you’re climbing vertically for over a mile, in addition to the distance of about 8.5 miles from the trail head. It’s not that it’s a consistant climb; that would be too easy. There are 2 really difficult points – one about 1/4 of the way up next to Vernal Fall and the other one right before you get to Half Dome. When you get there, it seems like you’re climbing a million steps, so be prepared physically. Then, at the very end, you have to have enough upper body strength to pull yourself up using metal cables on a pretty steep incline (below) to get to the top. Sorry, no lifts.

(Image by Marisa Wong)

2. Start at 6am – You have to remember that it’s a round trip and each way may take up to 8 hours, especially if you want to stop and take pictures, rest, eat, etc. Then there’s taking the time to enjoy the moment when you get to the top. Even if you are an expert climber and can do it in 5 hours, that’s still 10 hours round trip plus the time you spend up on the top. So if you start at 6am, you can be down by 6pm and that’s important because there are no lights to guide you back. If you can, stay inside the park and start your morning there. If you’re coming in from out of town, make sure to get to the trail head at 6am. If you get there around 9am, I would advise you to not do the climb all the way or be prepared with good flashlights and a climb down in the dark.

3. Bring all the Necessities – This sounds simple, but I’ve been dumb enough to forget stuff too. You will need: a flashlight, map, plenty of liquids, food, sun block, backpack, a walking stick (if you can afford one), camera, good hiking shoes, and an extra layer of clothing just in case. As for the map, there’s another way down Half Dome so that you don’t have to climb down the steep steps of Vernal Fall, which makes the steps wet and is very dangerous after you’re tired from the all-day hike. Look for that path on the map. For food, don’t forget to bring variety. For some reason, my friends and I always forget to bring a solid meal; instead, we always just bring snacks, which doesn’t cut it when it’s 5pm and you’ve been snacking all day. All I wanted was a big juicy steak at that point. Last, even though there are plenty of trees, you still need the sun block because when you get to the top, and if there’s a line like that (above), you’ll be underneath the scorching sun for over an hour.

Remember to check Yosemite’s website to check if there are warnings against climbing half dome. And, of course, get all the info you need to travel to Central California on our WanderRegions section. Good Luck!

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