To anyone who told me Half Dome was a piece of cake, you lie! It was the hardest hike I’ve done so far, mainly because it’s the longest day hike I’ve done so far. 18 miles round trip, elevation gain of 4,800 feet, 14 hours of hiking, 2 of which were in the dark, and many of which were suffered with dehydration and exhaustion. Not by any means an easy hike, but we all made it to the top and back!
After 7 hours of all-incline hiking, we finally got to the base of the subdome. That basically took all the effort I thought I had in me. I was so relieved when we finally saw the park ranger checking permits for Half Dome (one wonders if he makes that 16-mile trek daily). He told us it was the exact day of Yosemite’s 150th anniversary (July 30) (yay!), and to commemorate it, a storm cloud was rolling in, so consider ourselves warned: if lightning strikes when we’re on the dome or on the cables, we’re toasted. That’s when a sense of urgency really kicked in and we were all ready to climb the subdome and dome with renewed energy.
That energy faded quickly. I was fully exhausted and nearly out of water by then. I was dumb to not refill water when I had the chance to at the top of Nevada Falls, 4 miles back (lesson learned: never depend on there being another water source). The subdome was, in my opinion, the hardest part of the whole hike; it was the first stretch that’s completely exposed to sun, it was a deceivingly steep climb, and coming down on sand-covered slanted slabs of rock probably took longer than going up.
By the time I finally got up the subdome to the base of half dome, I was completely wiped and light-headed. I seriously questioned whether it was a good idea to scale the dome, fearing that I would pass out half way and tumble off into the abyss (as someone’s phone did while we were on the cables). But there was never really a question; I didn’t fly 2,500 miles and climb to the base of the dome only to turn back (though if circumstances were seriously threatening, turning back would be the smarter thing to do and there would be no shame in that).
The entire way up, I kept looking back to check on the approaching storm cloud and every time I saw the rain just a little clearer and making its way over a distant peak. After a harrowing but exhilarating half hour, we all finally made it to the top of the dome. I was the last one of our group up and was still catching my breath and trying to find my bearings when I was ushered to snap a photo quick so we can get off the dome pronto. I was super bummed to not have time to savor the moment, but I was all for not getting stuck on top of the dome and not getting struck by lightning, so I was ready to head back down. “Ready” but not thrilled; the way down looked way more scary than going up, but to my surprise and relief, it was actually easier.
The main task was accomplished but the challenge was far from over; we were all completely out of water, thirsty as hell, and had to hike 4 miles down to the closest water source. That 4 miles felt like eternity; hearing the sound of flowing water in the distance was both inspiriting and taunting. When we finally got to the river, I was ready to hurl myself into the water, but I already waited 1.5 hours, what’s another 10 minutes to pump some safe, clean water.
After resting for longer than we should have, we speedwalked the rest of the way down trying to beat the setting sun (which was BEAUTIFUL, I couldn’t resist snapping a few photos), but we ended up hiking for over an hour in the dark down what felt like an endless number of switchbacks. It was nearly 10 and we knew the last shuttle bus back to our car was about to pass the stop closest to where we were. When we saw the shuttle coming just a couple of minutes after we exited the trail, I was nearly as relieved as when we reached the river. The bus driver asked us what five young ladies were doing still on the road, we said we just hiked the half dome and people on the bus started cheering and clapping. That definitely felt good.
To end the day, we lost our campsite and ended up spending the night sleeping in the car in our filthy clothes. But all in all, it was all worth it. Yosemite was so beautiful and it was a shame to leave after just one (longgg) day hike. It was quite the experience and I would go back in a heartbeat and do the hike again, but next time with better mental and physical preparation.
(Photo credit: Nancy Chan, Joyce Cheung, and Luisa Tsang)