Having just returned home from Europe after hiking Tour Du Mont Blanc, a part of me wanted to take a few weeks off before getting out to do any serious hiking. I’ve been hiking just about every weekend since January, and my muscles could definitely use a little rest. There was just one small problem to this rest plan…Julia and I had permits to hike Half Dome! It was a hike and trip too good to pass up based purely on muscle fatigue. Even with the impending threat of thunder storms and the El Portal fire raging close by, Yosemite is a place that fixes all wrongs, heals tired muscles, and recharges fatigued minds.
We started early at 05:30 to make sure we made it up and down the steep granite face of Half Dome before the forecasted thunderstorms made their way in. The last time I hiked Half Dome, thunderstorms hit the day before I hiked and a girl slipped and fell hundreds of feet to her death. That has always stuck with me, and I’ve made a mental pact that I will put out all competitive fires in the event things ever look sketchy as I approach the cables. Aside from the taste of smoke in the air, the morning was off to a great start. We parked at the lot just past Curry Village and made our way to the trailhead for the Mist Trail.
The first mile or so of this trail is on asphalt as it takes you to Vernal Fall, a popular site for many of the less than adventurous visitors of the park. It’s rare you get to see this section completely empty, an experience that completely justifies an early start time. Shortly after leaving the asphalt road, the trail heads up a long stone staircase that eventually brings you to the the top of Vernal Fall and Emerald Pool.
After taking some shots at Vernal Fall, we continued on over some granite slab before crossing a bridge and continuing on toward Nevada Fall. The trail here is much of the same, a semi-steep grade with easy footing, and steps carved into the stone. It was at about this point in the morning we realized the thick grey haze overhead was probably going to be sticking around for the entirety of the day. The smell of smoke continued to grow stronger, and although the sun was making it’s way higher up above us, the wood burning close by kept it’s light to a muffled bleak weakness.
The trail really levels out after Nevada Fall and is close to flat for a few miles before picking up a little ground before reaching the subdome. We reached the subdome at about 08:00 before the ranger had time to make his way up to check permits. No matter how many times you’ve pulled yourself up the cables, viewed pictures, or watched videos online, nothing quite prepares you for what lies ahead. The final push to the summit always seems steeper than you’ll allow your mind to envision.
Julia had never hiked Half Dome before, so a lot of my excitement was seeing how she responded to stepping in between the cables and staring up at what stood before her. With no one in front of me, I’d just pull myself up without stopping and claim my prize. So we both agreed it would be best if I stayed behind her and allow for her to work at her own pace. She did well, and used all the strength she had to make her way to the top. Even with the smoke billowing up from El Portal to cast the sky in a post apocalyptic light, the beauty of Yosemite Valley stood tall. There are few places on earth with a view that can ever compare to this.
We spent as much time as we could at the summit, but kept in mind that thunderstorms were in the forecast for the morning. Few things will get the blood pumping like looking down at the cables and realizing you have to navigate down while others are sliding by. We reached the bottom and spent a few moments to take it all in.
The weather was quite pleasant on the way down due to the sun blocking out much of the suns heat. We passed a deer feeding about 10 feet from the trail, and was obviously very accustomed to seeing two legged primates scampering by. The downhill usually feels longer for me on most hikes, but this one just flew by, and before I knew it, I found myself showering clean at Curry Village and readying myself to drive home.