That Time I Climbed Half Dome

If you follow me on Instagram, you may already know that I went on a quick* walk in the park** on Sunday…

*18 miles

**Yosemite National Park

Thanks to my insane boyfriend, earlier this spring we won the lottery. Except instead of getting a million dollars, we got to torture ourselves for 12 hours by hiking to the top of Half Dome.

I complain, but it really was a once in a lifetime experience (or 4 times in a lifetime if you are said insane boyfriend), I’m glad we did it, and I feel pretty damn accomplished. Plus, I think this view was worth it:


A few fun facts about the hike:

  • 8.2 mi (13 km) (via the Mist Trail) to the top, so 16.4 miles round trip. We took a different [longer, but more gradual and less stress on the knees] trail on the way down, and walked about .5 miles each way from the parking lot
  • 4,800 ft (1,460 m) elevation gain
  • The final 400 ft (120 m) ascent is steeply up the rock between two steel cables used as handholds (A class 3 route)
  • A maximum of 300 permits per day in the months of May-October are issued to hikers and backpackers who enter the lottery to apply for permits

Before the hike

Our journey began on Saturday afternoon, when we drove to the little town of Mariposa which is ~40 miles Southwest of Yosemite. We went a little out of our way to stay here because Russell knew they had affordable lodging and some decent food and drink to choose from. I didn’t mind, but really that was mostly because the name of the game through this entire journey was just to follow Russell blindly and trust what he said 😉

IMG_2063We got to town around dinner time and started with drinks while watching #sports at a sports grill, then proceeded to carbo-load with pizza before heading back to the hotel to pack our snacks and sandwiches for the next day.



We then woke up at 4:30am, left a little after 5am, and headed to Yosemite.


The way up

We rolled in to Curry Village around 6:30am, and after walking through the campgrounds to use our final restrooms with running water, we started on our way:

Yosemite Half Dome Hike

Yosemite Half Dome Hike

Still bright and perky on mile 1!

In the first half of the way up the mountain, you pass two waterfalls: Vernal Falls and Nevada Falls. Neither had a ton of water, given the drought and our small amount of snow and rainfall this year. They were pretty fun to hike up, but also involved a lot of steps which were sometimes a bit of a stretch for my 5’5″ legs to climb 😉

Yosemite Half Dome Hike

The second waterfall

Yosemite Half Dome Hike

At the top of the first waterfall (ask me how much I care about rearranging these pics to go in order 😉 )

At this point, I was pretty worried as I was already pretty much out of breath any time we were moving. My legs were feeling pretty good (thanks to a month of consistent Tabata Boot Camp classes, complete with lots of lunges and squats!), but if I learned anything between this hike and the one we did in Tahoe a few weeks before to prepare, it’s that I am definitely not meant for exercising at elevation!

One of the interesting things about this hike was that we really didn’t seem to ever be moving toward Half Dome. It was the most frustrating thing…we would see the mountain, then walk a mile or two and find a spot where we could see it again and it would seem not just further away, but even behind us.

After another couple of hours, we finally made it to a look out point where we could see our final destination. Basically this hike consists of circling around Half Dome and approaching it from the rear (yeah, we had a real fun time with that phrase during the hike 😉 ), and once you get there, you have to climb what they call the “Sub-Dome” before you get to the actual half dome.

Yosemite Half Dome Hike

Yosemite Half Dome Hike

On the tail end of the Sub-Dome

Climbing the Sub-Dome was pretty rough. I knew that the cables would be hard, and I guess in retrospect in looking at this mountain there’s nothing about it that should appear easy. But with about 4.5-5 hours of hiking already under our belts, scaling a pretty steep mountain on uneven terrain was not a walk in the park. I took it pretty slowly, knowing that an even harder challenge laid ahead:

Yosemite Half Dome Hike

The cables

At this point I looked behind me to see the view and thought to myself, “This isn’t such a bad view. I think I would probably be just fine if I didn’t climb the cables and this was the best view I got”…

Yosemite Half Dome Hike

Not bad, right?

But for some reason – a combination of my own confidence and Russell reassuring us that the mountain really wasn’t “that steep”, perhaps (told you we were following him blindly!) – I got it in my head that the cables wouldn’t actually be that hard, and we pushed ahead.

Yosemite Half Dome Hike

The smile of a crazy person

Umm yeah, no. It was hard. Going up the cables is extremely physically demanding…between finding your footing, making sure you have a good grip on the cable, and literally pulling yourself up with each step. Some parts of the mountain are more steep than others, and about 5 minutes in (long before reaching any of the most difficult parts) I definitely had a moment of, “Oh sh*t, I could actually die doing this”.


Note: I had good hiking boots, have built up relatively decent upper body strength over the past few months, and the park has a pile of grippy gloves for using on the cables that I definitely took advantage of. Even so, this wasn’t for the faint of heart. Or the scared of heights. Or the people with non-grippy shoes.


Anyway, all of this to say…we made it.

Yosemite Half Dome Hike

The face of the Dome

Yosemite Half Dome Hike

Feeling strong?

Yosemite Half Dome

I love this picture that Russell got of me in between poses, I feel like it looks like I’m going to jump off, ha ha.

Yosemite Half Dome Hike

If I had known how insanely scary this picture looks, I probably would have been more scared while taking it!

We got to the top and I ate half a sandwich before deciding I was too nauseous (Altitude? Adrenaline?) to eat it. Then a squirrel stole it right out of my backpack and I no longer had the option 😉

The way down

We hung out for about 45 minutes before deciding we were ready to get the hell off the mountain and made our way back to the cables.

Oh yeah, did I forget to mention that you have to go DOWN those suckers too?!


It was a lot less physically demanding – I basically just slid down backwards while pausing to let others up and making sure I was holding on for dear life. But probably a little scarier.

Yosemite Half Dome Hike

This was the point at which I was so ~over it~ that I turned around and practically started running down the last few hundred feet

Yosemite Half Dome Hike

All of us at the bottom

I don’t know if I’d say the rest of the hike was a cake walk, but it did only take us about 4 hours 15 minutes as opposed to 6 hours going up. I always do a lot better with downhill on hikes, and while I was admittedly bringing up the rear on the way up, I got my second wind while going down and felt pretty speedy.

With about 2-3 miles left, we stopped to dunk our achy feet in a cold river and change socks. Russell’s best. idea. ever.


After my feet were nice and refreshed, was when the knee pain started. Perhaps my speedy pace was coming back to bite me…or perhaps they had just had it after nearly 12 hours of hiking.

Different view from the top of one of the waterfalls

Different view from the top of one of the waterfalls

Yosemite Half Dome Hike


Either way, once we got back to the car I was definitely relieved to sit down, even if our ride back did end up being about 4 hours.



At least it was pretty!

All in all, this was definitely one of the hardest things I’ve done. I had much higher expectations for myself than I probably should have – I thought it would be a lot easier than it was, probably thanks to Russell’s encouragement and over-confidence in all of us 😉 but the fact that it was so hard just makes it that much more rewarding that we made it!

If you’re still reading…Thanks for sticking around this long!

Have you ever hiked Half Dome?

What is the hardest physical feat that you have achieved?

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