Would the hordes of other tourists spoil our party or would this turn out to be one of America’s best National Parks? The latter ran true with Yosemite taking us on an adventure that ensured we will return to experience a second chapter. From forest fires to a bone dry Yosemite Falls to the top of Half Dome, we found we could escape the masses and enjoy everything this park had to offer.
Not sure we would even be able to find an available campsite within Yosemite Valley, we checked on recreation.gov every day until first we managed to get into the Upper Pines campground over the weekend, and sometime later four additional nights became available which I once again snapped up. We totally recommend planning any visit at this time of year well in advance, with campground reservations open 6 months prior to actual visiting dates. This time we were lucky! Now we had to hope that this continued with obtaining Half Dome lottery permits.
On this occasion we weren’t going to be able to experience much outside of the Valley area, but with plenty to do there over the six days we were ready to hit the trails. Surprisingly, as soon as we headed out on the hikes that Park Services classed as strenuous we became isolated from the masses – seems like the majority of visitors are intimidated by the early morning starts and anything with more than a slight gradient! This was perfect for us though. We hiked to the top of the very dry Yosemite Falls, then proceeded further to Eagle Point, providing spectacular valley views,and another occasion I hiked the Four Mile trail to Glacier Point. Most people drive to the same point! The finale would definitely be Half Dome.
Permit Required to Hike Half Dome Cables
A daily total of 225 preseason lottery permits had already been issued for 2014. In addition approximately 50 permits would be released by a daily lottery throughout the season, which ran from May 3rd to October 14th, weather permitting, and based on estimated under-use and cancellation rates. Lottery applications are accepted 2 days prior to the desired hiking dates between midnight and 1pm, either by visiting recreation.gov or calling 877-444-6777. A non-refundable $4.50 application applied to all submissions, as well as a $16 permit fee applied to winning applications.
The hike to Half Dome as far as the subdome is possible without permits, whereas the final 400 ft of fixed metal cabling either requires adventure seekers to go through the above procedure or take the highly technical and intimidating rock climbing route straight up the face! We fortunately lucked out and after two declines a third attempt managed to secure us permits for a midweek hike. Game on.
Hitting the trail at 6am was the way to go, not too early and not too late, with many people we met on the trail starting as early as 4am. Not sure how my hip was going to stand up to the abuse of a tough 16 mile hike, but hey, these things are not meant to be easy right? Our decision was to ascend via the Mist trail, passing by the trickling Vernal and Nevada waterfalls, then on into wooded trails to the Subdome, returning via the slightly longer John Muir trail. The hike up to the base of the Subdome, where we encountered a lone park ranger to verify we had the necessary permits to continue on up onto the fixed cables, was straightforward and we made good time – by now we could make out a couple of hikers pulling themselves up towards the top of the cables, It still looked a long way off! The Subdome was at times sketchy, especially for people with exposure fears, but nothing like the gradient of the final section. Some hikers have harnesses, some move at snail pace, and some turn around before going too far, and some, like us just blast our way up to the summit.
The cables are on metal posts with wooden beams positioned up the granite dome at the foot of the posts. To ascend this without cables would almost be classed as rock climbing, but with something to grip onto wasn’t too bad at all. The descent looked like it night be a different beast but turned out to be easier than going up! The round trip took us 7 hours, far faster than expected – Andrea really is turning into a super hiker.
With such perfect hiking conditions we found it hard to believe that people were airlifted by helicopter from the top a week earlier due to the fire that had been encroaching in on the domes flanks and the John Muir trail. Fortunately we had no such worries, although the fire could still be seen in the nearby valley.
The great thing about Yosemite is its size, giving visitors a vast array of places to get off the beaten path and be away from the masses in Yosemite Valley. Our drive out through Tuolomne Meadows and the Tioga Pass entrance at almost 10.000 ft looked like it had so much to offer, definitely an alternative for next time.
September 12th – September 18th 2014