Climbing the Cables on Yosemite’s Half Dome

I have been plotting to climb the cables on Yosemite’s Half Dome for about 2 years. About the time permits were required to access the cables, I started entering the lottery to win the permits. I thought this was my year. I entered for 7 different dates and did not win any, but 3 of my friends entered and amazingly, won for the same day, allowing 18 of us to climb together on Monday June 17th, 2013.

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.

The 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) we met at Happy Isles at 6am.

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.

Coming down the cables was my favorite part, it felt much like repelling. The hardest part was the trip back to base camp, being already tired from sleeping in a strange bed the night before, getting up early, having not enough coffee, making the climb up 4,800 feet and then back down the countless granite steps is exhausting. I wouldn’t trade the experience of making the hike with my husband and sons and friends for many things. The view was truly amazing.

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