The Hike I’ll Not Take – Half Dome Hike
The Big Kahuna of valley hikes is the trek up to the top of Half Dome. This is, easily, the hardest of all the day hikes in the park. But, it is by far the most popular, at least in word if not deed. So much so, that it now requires a wilderness permit, even if you want to do it as a day hike. The last 400 feet of the hike (to the top) is assisted by two metal cables. As of this writing, 300 permits are made available per day when the cables are up, which is usually from May to October. This cut down the number of ascents from an estimated 600 per day. The alternative to getting to the top without cables is rock climbing, which requires all the associated climbing equipment. No permit is required if the cables are not up. The only thing preventing you from climbing Half Dome when the cables are not up is Gravity.
By all accounts, this is a spectacular hike:
“From the broad summit of this monolith…you have a 360° panorama.”
“…Yosemite Valley is spread out like a map, with El Capitan at its west end….”
“It’s rewarding…incredible views both along the way and at the top….”
As a day hike, you’ll want to leave by 6 or 7 AM in order to make it back in a day or, at least, get off the dome early enough to avoid the characteristic afternoon thundershowers. Round trip, it is over 16 miles. If backpacking, plan to spend the night in Little Yosemite Valley, which is about 5 miles out, and plan to leave for the top by 9 AM. You’ll need a permit for that as well. Allow 10 to 12 hours for the hike, more or less. It has an elevation gain 4842 feet. It is nearly a 17 mile round trip hike from Happy Isles (just east of Camp Curry) to the top. It is classified as “very strenuous.”
I was doing the Panorama Trail once and came across a couple guys actually running up the trail. They were from Texas and only had the one day and wanted to do Half Dome. They had driven up to Glacier Point and started down at 4 AM. It was now 3 or 4 PM. They had gone all the way down to Nevada Falls then up to Half Dome and were now on their way back to get the car and go back to Texas. I almost had a coronary on their behalf just imagining what their hike was like!
I’ll admit there was a time that I was intrigued by the prospects of taking this hike. Just the view alone may well be worth the trip. But a 10 to 12 hour hike for a few moments at the top? For me, since I don’t get out much, it would be closer 14 or 18 hours if my spirits were up.
I’m not one of those “…because it’s there…” kind of guys. I was at the wilderness center a few trips back checking on requirements for cross country skiing and couple next to me wanted to get permits for Half Dome. So just to take an on-the-spot survey, I asked the ranger I was working with (a petit young woman probably in her mid-twenties) if she ever took the hike. She said, “No I haven’t”. “Really?”, I asked, “Why not?” She said, “I usually do the North Face.” Whoa! I guess I’m in the wrong room.
For me, there really has to be a photo opportunity involved. I saw a video with Huell Howser taking the trip to Half Dome, which he and the crew did as an overnighter. I didn’t see anything that warranted the trip, photographically speaking. I’m not saying there is nothing there or that a good photographer can’t make a statement out of anything, given the inspiration. What I am saying is that there are plenty of other ventures in the park I am highly motivated to investigate or I know have a higher probability of photographic gold.
I’m not saying, “I’ll never take the hike.” There are no absolutes, except, maybe, “Never cook bacon while naked” I’m just saying that I have no INTENTION, or motivation to take the hike. Nor am I saying that there are no photo opportunities. As a matter of fact, if I ever did take the climb, I can envision setting up a tri-pod to snap a selfie of me sitting cross-legged with my back to the edge and Yosemite Valley in the background (or Glacier Point or North Dome or any of the other million vistas available with a 360 view from up there). And imagine snapping a 360-panorama from Half Dome. Wow. It almost makes me start looking for my hiking shoes. Almost. For me, it just isn’t motivation enough.
But, Hey, you can go for it. Have a good time. I’m sure you will. But it will be without me. To top it off (pardon the pun), there are “I made it to the top” souvenirs like T-Shirts, caps, coffee mugs, etc. with which you can share your victory.
 Yosemite National Park – A Natural-History Guide to Yosemite and its Trails by Jeffrey P. Schaffer, Wilderness Press, Fourth Edition, 1999 Page 225.
 Hiking Yosemite National Park by Suzanne Swedo, Falcon Publishing, First Edition, 2000 Page 41
 The Complete Guidebook to Yosemite National Park by Steven P Medley, Yosemite Association, Revised 1997 Edition Page 31
 Well, I guess it would be safe if you cooked it in a microwave…So there you are…there are absolutely no absolutes!