Hiking Half Dome | Yosemite

Hiking Half Dome: what to know, preparations, my experience, why it's worth it.

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The Experience of a Lifetime

The hike that inspired Nomadik Healths cover photo!

Phew! Writing about Utahs National Parks made me feel like I relived some of the best moments of my life. I’m ready to do the same with the time I hiked one of the most famous mountains in the world and the most challenging hike I’ve done yet. That being, Half Dome in Yosemite National Park baby! An 18mile roundtrip hike with a 48degree angle on pure slick granite rock at the last stretch. This epically gnarly hike is worth every step and will change you for the better. Though I’m super stoked to get out there and make new memories (of course), reminiscing on great past times gets me more excited and eager to get after it!

I’ve also had great feedback in regards to my previous travel post The BeaUTy of Utahs National Parks. Which gets me excited to share more experiences that may be beneficial to anyone curious about checking these excursions off their bucket list. Or even for anyone who just wants a light read!

Yosemite is one of the most renowned parks in the U.S. Though this past year of 2019, grew even more recognition from rapper, Travis Scott. Though his song “Yosemite” mentions nothing of the actual park, I believe he’s using it metaphorically. Representing how astronomical he’s become in the world of rap, as Yosemite is, in the world of National Parks. (I wouldn’t say I’m a fan, but that is clever. Kudos, Mr. Scott).

About Yosemite

Let’s focus on what really gives Yosemite it’s dominant status. The park located in mid-eastern California, not far from the Nevada state line, is a masterpiece mother nature really took her time with. What makes Yosemite so special? The park is populated with towering granite mountains, fairytale valleys, massive waterfalls, and scattered with giant sequoia trees. Sequoias are normally found in northern California, Washington, and Oregon. If you’re thinking “whats so special about a tree?”, Sequoia’s are literally classified as the largest trees in the world. Standing next to one is a mind-boggling experience that everyone should encounter. Total “Jack and the Bean Stalk” vibes.

Yosemite draws in travelers from around the globe, of all breeds. When I say “breeds”, I mean, the hikers, the climbers, the strictly site seers who stick to the road side views (nothing wrong with that), and the crossbreeds (a mix). What I’m getting at is, we all have our own sense of adventure, and Yosemite fulfills each of our cravings. Personally, I’m a site seeker-hiker, but wouldn’t be apposed to dabbling in the climbing scene at some point. Something we all have in common? We flourish in nature, fresh air fuels us, and we acquire a special appreciation for naturally occurring beauty.

The Dome from a far

Find the Dome!

When first driving through the park, (aside from being in awe over the jaw dropping views) I remember Billy (my boyfriend that I’ve mentioned in previous posts) pulling over multiple times, saying “there it is, that’s half dome!”. We drove along Wawona Rd, a perfect drive granting you the chance to view Half Dome from a distance. Along with a solid view of El Capitan (the famous mountain that Alex Honnold conquered in the Netflix documentary ‘Free Solo’). As well as a view of Bridalveil Falls, which literally looks like a giant brides veil.

Billy was so stoked about winning the raffle granting us the chance to hike the legendary mountain, Half Dome. He had looked into the hike beforehand (as most people would, and should). As for me, I kind of like not knowing what to expect (other than the miles and elevation increase). I like diving in blindfolded, and once I’ve started theres no chance I’m stopping. Pretty much mentally signing a contract of completion in my head. It feeds the illusion of discovering a new world. The curiosity of not knowing whats at the top fuels my determination.

I remember telling my mom about our plan to hike Half Dome and I couldn’t understand why she was so nervous. “Oh ma, you’re being so dramatic.” Little did I know, this was the exact trail someone had died on a week prior (Okay mom, I get the concern now). Turns out theres been about 13 death incidents on this hike since the parks been established (rest in peace to all). But then I thought, about 600-800 people die annually while riding their bike, would that prevent you from ever riding your bike again? I’d hope not. Now, of course this is a different scenario, but you get my point, right?

Pre Hike To Do’s

Lock down a campsite near by

In preparation of hiking Half Dome, we got to Yosemite the day prior. Which mainly consisted of us locking down on a campsite, which isn’t easy. Of course the smart thing to do would be to reserve a site in advance. But some of us travelers are spontaneous!…

So heres what we did: We researched campsites near the Half Dome trail head, which led us to Upper Pines Campground. Here, we went to the campers office in regards to a campsite (assuming we were out of luck, but doesn’t hurt to shoot your shot). The camping director took down our name and told us to meet back around 3pm sharp. They’ll wait till the end of the day and see how many sites they have left, factoring in the no-show reserved sites. Then, they’ll go down the waitlist of names in the order they were written until they’ve filled all the sites. It’s best to get there as early as possible to ensure your name is high on the waitlist.

Billy and I had a couple hours to kill before the name drawing, so we ventured out a bit and explored some scenic drives such as Wawona Rd I had previously mentioned. We didn’t wander too far, we were eager to find out if we got a campsite or not. Spots were limited, but the people were abundant. They had just started calling names upon our return. Once they called the 10th name, I was losing hope. Sure enough…. we never heard our name. HOWEVER…we were so blessed to have met this couple traveling the U.S. all the way from the U.K. They were super chill and offered to share their site with Billy and I for the night. We ended up staying in the Lower Pines Campground.

Set yourself up for success

Once getting situated at our shared campsite, Billy and I decided to take a ride on our bikes to the Half Dome trail head so we would have a clear plan for the morning to come. About halfway through our bike ride, we came across a parking lot that was close enough to the trail head, Yosemite Valley Trailhead Parking. We decided to park there the next morning and walk the rest of the way up Happy Isles. You’ll eventually see signs leading you to the Half Dome trail.

Upon returning to the campsite, we ate dinner and chilled around the fire with our new, kind friends. We shared stories of our travels and talked about how different the American lifestyle is to that of the U.K. Thats the beauty of traveling, you meet arrays of people who teach you something new. You share stories and suddenly you’re adding to each others buckets list’s of places you never knew existed. It’s a beautiful thing.

As much as we would’ve loved to hangout all night, we couldn’t. Hitting the hay early was in our missions best interest. We pre packed our backpacks and laid out our clothes the night prior. When going for a long day of hiking, it’s best to wake up with the birds (dawn).

Morning hours are chillier and the best time to get your excursion started. You want as little sun exposure as possible. No matter the hike difficulty, sun exposure can make it that much more strenuous. You’ll also wanna beat the human traffic that develops throughout the day. That being said, we woke up at 5:30am, giving us enough time to park Taco (Billys Toyota Tacoma), stretch, double check our supplies, and hike up to the trail. It was just about 6:00am when we reached the trail head, and our journey had officially begun.

Supplies

  • Backpack (I amateurishly used a Jansport but now I can’t live without my Osprey
  • Hat
  • Water (lots of it)
  • Sunscreen
  • Food: we brought cliff bars, jerky, and apples with peanut butter. (I wasn’t vegan yet)
  • Versatile clothing: I wore workout pants that came to my mid calf, a sports bra with a flannel, and hiking boots. As stated, it’s cooler in the morning but gets hotter as the time passes. I eventually threw the flannel in my backpack.
  • Tissues: you never know when mother nature calls. Seriously, bring the tissues.
  • Gloves for the cables: when we went, we didn’t bring gloves. Lucky for us, there was a pile of used gloves right before the cables. They saved me! If you’d rather prepare yourself, heres a link to protective gloves https://amzn.to/2ulaYcx

The Hike to Half Dome

I’ll never forget how crisp the air was that morning. It resembled a…thirst quenching feeling?… I guess..air quenching? It was the perfect “wake me up”. Once arriving at the trail head, it started to feel real. We began our trek along a mostly leveled ground with a slight incline. At the time, I had just gotten over a fibula fracture from that ski season. That being said, my body wasn’t exactly up to par. My leg felt fine, but my lungs and muscles felt weaker than anything. I started getting a little nervous, but once I pushed forward and developed a healthy breathing pattern, anything seemed possible.

Nevada Falls on the hike back down… I was thirsty

Before I knew it we came across this beautiful, mist spewing waterfall, Vernal Falls. It was exactly what we needed during a time of straining incline. The path turned into a stairway that ran along the side of the waterfall, it felt liberating. You come across two waterfalls on this hike, the other being Nevada Falls. There were calm stretches that allowed you to truly take in your surroundings. Then, inclines that would really get your blood pumping.

Something I love about states with high elevation, is the lack of bugs. When I say “bugs”, I mean gnats that fly in your eyes every. waking. moment. of your excursion. We run into that all over the east coast of America, but not so much in the west.

Take your breaks

Throughout the hike we took a few very short breaks. I say “short breaks”, simply because Billy and I like to hustle. Short breaks are also important to keep your stamina going. Long enough to catch our breath, take a couple sips of water, eat a snack, and keep trekking on.

We met a lot of cool people on our breaks. Everyone was so different, yet so alike. We were all eager and ready to appreciate what awaits us at the top. All at our own pace, with our own hiking style, and rhythm. All inspired by the same drive.

I remember at a few stops we would see Half Dome from a distance and I’d think “cool, we’re almost there” and almost every time, I’d be wrong. Finally, once arriving to the, somewhat top, I was relieved…for a minute.

The Cables

Ants marching

So, remember how I said I like not knowing what to expect? Well, I’ll tell you what I realllyyy didn’t expect. How steep the hike up those dang cables is!! Duuuuude, I kid you not, I almost shat myself. But what I couldn’t believe, was there were people who got all the way up to that point…. and didn’t hike the cables?! Nah, nuh uh. No matter how frightening it looked, I was doin it. It’s all in your head, your mind controls it all (unless theres a serious medical condition preventing you). Plus, I needed to see what was at the top.

Billy wanted to capture the footage and ensure my safety, so he insisted that i’d go first. With my first step, I thought “Damn, this rocks slick all right”. It’s very slippery, but if you grip the cables tight and rest at each plank of wood, you’ll be alright. I remember stopping about halfway up the cables and looking around. It most definitely freaked me out. I thought, “holy crap, my life couldn’t be more ‘in my hands’ then it is right now”. But those thoughts weren’t doing me justice, so I ditched them real quick and pushed forward. You gotta have your head on straight whilst on the cables, because at a certain point you literally need to pull yourself up to the next resting plank.

Click Here to get a better perspective of the epic steepness that is Half Dome

The Top

The faces of victory!

After 30min on those cables, a weight lifted off my shoulders. I freed the cables from my grip and sprinted to leveled ground. I felt like we had entered a new world. Every single person had the same look on their face. The same smile full of pride and accomplishment. The same eyes in awe at what surrounded us. The 360 view of granite rock that would raise and dip as far as the eyes can see. We were in the clouds! I thought, “this must be heaven on earth. We are chillin on an angels porch”.

Once reaching the top, every moment of struggle became a distant memory. It’s captivating up there, breath taking (literally and metaphorically). I kind of felt like I was dreaming. It’s times like this where I think of how lucky birds are. They can fly up to the most glorious places whenever they want. Seeing so much in such a short period of time. But I guess for us humans, the struggle and rarity is what makes these views so special and these moments so precious.

The Descend

Going down was soooo fun. I was having a field day

Everyone always talks about the climb, but what about the descend? You got up there, cool. Now it’s time to come down. I’m not gonna act like the thought of taking those cables back down didn’t scare the crap out of me, it totally did. But to my surprise, it was sooo much easier. It was actually rad as hell. At first I didn’t really know how to go about it, but then your groove seems to find you. Going down was a lot faster than coming up…well, on the cables anyway.

As for the rest of the descend, it took just as long as it did to come up. All of those steep inclines one the way up can get pretty sketchy going down. Bracing each and every step at certain points can drain you. Especially when one of your legs is making a comeback from a previous injury. I remember my hips being in such pain towards the end of our hike, I was ready to take a nap off the side of the trail.

It’s absolutely gorgeous though, all of it. 18miles, and every step was worth it. Hiking Half Dome was truly an experience like no other and something I will never forget. Your body is capable of great things. It was such an incredible feeling to see Half Dome from a far and say “My little self just dominated that!”, and you can too! My advice, just do it. Especially if it scares you.

Click Here to watch Billy and I take on Half Dome!


Nomadikally Yours, Briana

Half Dome | An Angels Porch

A Poem (very Dr. Seuss style. It’s all in good fun)

The air was crisp
the sun was low
the birds were chirping
Billy said “let’s go”
On a hike we went
a glorious day well spent
Over rivers, through the trees
walking with our feet, hands, and knees
The sky was blue, the slick rock was gray
voices all around chirped “hey, hi, hey”
Elevation and adrenaline increase
my nerves seemed to decrease
Grasping the cables with my eyes closed
I took a deep breath and then I arose
Drenched by perspiration
fueled by determination
One step forward, another one followed
A glance to the right, suddenly the earth seemed to swallow…
dramatic cliffs, risen landscapes, looking down
Finally reached the top, wearing anything but a frown
The air was thin, yet it fueled me within
Risen earth for miles
we reached a peak full of smiles
the sun began to scorch
as we laid on an angels porch
Not a cloud in the sky
suddenly wondering why
I was so full of fright
for Half Dome is a true hikers delight




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