A story of hiking the cables thousands of feet high
Half Dome, one of the most iconic natural wonders in the National Park system towers 5,000 feet above onlookers in the Yosemite Valley.
Located in the Sierra Nevada Mountain Range, Yosemite National Park was once described by Theodore Roosevelt as saying, “It was like lying in a great solemn cathedral, far vaster and more beautiful than any built by the hand of man.”
When looking up at the sheer granite face, some may be met with temptation, to gaze from the top. The birds-eye view of the granite valley dotted with cedar and pine trees cascading below, your feet planted on what was once thought to “never be trodden by human foot.”
It’s almost as if, Yosemite Valley was carved by an ice-cream scoop making way for smooth granite sides and the granites gradual decline arching down to the river rushing below.
The transcending beauty of what it’s like to see Half Dome for the first time is indescribable, this may be why it has garnered millions of visitors since the beginnings of its time as a national park.
Yosemite has been met with crowds since its opening to the public October 1, 1890 and has yet, to cease. According to National Parks Service statistics, 4,009,436 people visited Yosemite during the 2018 calendar year.
This park, beloved to many has put in place something that would keep people safe and happy when climbing to the top, a permit system.
A determined hiker is met with the possibility of not winning a permit commonly referred to as “the lottery.” Hikers enter their information in 48 hours before the proposed hike and with many hopes and dreams they may be lucky enough to be granted one 24 hours before they set out to the granite surface.
In fact, only 300 people a day are allowed to summit the cables.
When I arrived at Yosemite it was a novel idea to me to climb the cables on Half Dome. With little hope in mind, I entered (it was for a Friday hike after all).
I remember exactly where I was when I saw the email flash across my screen. I was happily licking a lime green popsicle, sitting at a metal picnic table outside of the Yosemite Valley gift shop attaining needed sugars after a day of hiking.
My phone dinged and the first words that appeared across the screen were…
I couldn’t believe my eyes, every molecule in my body started jumping for joy.
“I can’t believe I got it!” I exclaimed to my dad.
He replied with, “What’s that?”
I filled in my parents in about the hike to the top of Half Dome, cable and all. With warm wishes and worried remarks I hung up and drove back to the hostel I was staying at (finding a campsite at/near Yosemite in peak season is nearly impossible).
The next morning was the day of the hike. The actual drive to Yosemite Valley takes an hour after reaching the park boundary. I drove past areas that were aflame the past year, tree sized toothpicks charred black sticking up from the ground.
I arrived at 6:30 a.m. stuffing a melted peanut butter cliff bar down my throat and fastening my teal backpack to my body, I fastened my hiking boots and departed.
One thing about national parks that may seem to be positive or negative, depending on the person, is the fact there are always going to be people around. If not right next to you on the trail, close by.
The entire duration of the hike is a 14-16 mile round trip depending on what trail you decide to take.
Opting for the 14-mile hike due to a long one the day before, I was surprised when I started hiking the switchbacks of the trail and stepping up the massive granite steps that were cut out of the rock to make a path.
The steps that were not measly little ones but, my legs stretched for each one, a two for one you could conclude.
Notable things I passed along the way were the powerful Nevada and Vernal Falls, with its thundering water set in free fall. A great refresher to hike by if you’re looking to cool off.
After the miles of granite winding stairs and switchbacks, Half Dome will tower before you partly illuminated in sunlight.
A national parks ranger is often standing there asking for proof of your permit and to assure you’re ready to climb.
Before reaching the cables hikers trek up tightly coiled switchbacks, climbing up the rock face leading to the arching face of Half Dome. It’s a common place to stop and take a break with the sun’s rays giving no one mercy.
After reaching to the sloping top of the Half Dome it really sinks in, standing up close you can gaze at the rock cliff that you viewed thousands of feet across the valley.
In all of its glory, it rises from the Earth, formed 65 million years ago by igneous rock pressured, rising up and later in the last ice age by glaciers polished to a smooth rock face.
People hold onto the cables appearing like ants from eye level. Below other hikers debate with their friends if they’re actually going to make it to the top. It looks a bit intimidating at first.
The commonly referred to cables are metal stakes in the rock face with cables looping through them and in about eight-foot gaps, a block of wood is placed perpendicular to stand upright on. The cables stretch for 400 feet reaching the top. After all, you are hiking at an angle the whole time with your muscles sometimes straining from either side of you and your hands grasping onto the cables on either side equipped in climbing gloves.
People fearful of heights should not look down whilst making their way up to the top. Once you start I can assure you, it’s not as terrifying as it looks but be cautious of looking around.
Due to the many people who hike in just one day, you’ll be met with stopping multiple times on the side of the rock cliff waiting for people to pass by on their way down.
Finally, after 400 feet. People take their final steps to the top and the Yosemite Valley is seen from below, finally getting the birds-eye view hikers once dreamed of.
I couldn’t believe my eyes. I felt like I was on top of the world, walking around the top, being careful not to get too close to the edge being careful of the wind. I ate lunch and saw two rock climbers summit after spending three days on the wall. They were my age (21) and told me they ate cliff bars and peanut butter sleeping on a ledge thousands of feet high.
The hike down was tricky having to navigate between the line of people making their upwards descent. I followed the trail the same route back. Leaping down the granite steps. Finally making it to the parking lot hours later, I collapsed in the seat of my car muscles aching in disbelief that I was able to hike the mystifying granite, Half Dome.