Half Dome Hike

Not every adventure requires a summit – A great day hiking Half Dome

Outdoor Adventures

The timing was almost too perfect to be believe: It was just as I passed into Yosemite National Park yesterday that the rain defied the forecasts and began to fall. Still well in the dark of night, I thought (or perhaps hoped) that it was just a tree shedding some water but no such luck. So, as I navigated the minutes of the drive towards the Happy Isles Trailhead parking lot, I was uncertain if we would even hike, much less complete our intended goal reaching Half Dome’s summit.

Luckily the rain stayed light and subsided quickly. Equally encouraging, the rest of my group arrived amped to get out for the day. I’m lucky to get to Yosemite a lot and apparently that’s led me to build some awfully high expectations but excitement is contagious, their attitude served as a little reality check reminder that any day in the park is great to have.

Clouds forming over Yosemite Valley on our descent
Clouds forming over Yosemite Valley on our descent.

And so after the usual quick morning chat and prep, off we went. I’ve written about hiking Half Dome before if you want a trail guide but for this story, let’s just say it started off strong. Heading up the Mist Trail is one of those views I can’t get enough of ever. Though the falls are still awfully light, the recent rains have helped give them a bit more life while fall colors dot the surrounding cliffs — pretty rad!

After a few quick photo stops along the way, we topped out the falls and made our way to Little Yosemite Valley leaving what few other early morning hikers we had encountered behind for the most part, save for the other Half Dome hopefuls that is. Walking around with the place almost to ourselves made for a quick pace but also gave us that much more to soak in and stalk about. It wasn’t hard to pass the time — and the miles with it.

Yosemite view from Half Dome subdome
Views from the subdome. Doesn’t get much better than this! (click for a giant version)

Reaching the base of the sub dome just a few hours into our hike, it had turned into a gorgeous day with the sun shining through but with the fall temperatures still nice and cool. Our pace slowed as made our way up the stone switchbacks to the base of the cables, ahead of us the stunning view of the last few hundred feet of half dome and all around, excited hikers plotting their next move going up, calling it a day, or happily heading home.

Ultimately we decided to make the subdome our destination for the day, forgoing the summit.

Half Dome hike views
More epic views from the Half Dome hike. Check out that new snow!

Back when I got into diving, a friend shared what she called the rule of 3 — if any 3 things are off, that’s reason to call it a day. I’m not sure where she picked up the idea but it’s always stuck with me. Nothing was up yesterday that would make a summit outright unreasonable but combining the rain of the morning and the clouds now lingering around, the time day as we approached our turn around time, and the intense crowds above with our energy level, it just felt like we were in a good place as is.

It may just be me but I have no issues with bailing by design (bailing by things out of my control however sucks.) Obviously a summit is great, especially when you’ve gone nearly the entire way but I don’t know, touching the top is not what makes a great day for me.

Nevada falls on the descent
Nevada falls on the descent

Leaving with a little more gas in the tank and a bit more time gave us the chance to meander back down to the valley by a different path (which also helped the group’s tired legs.) Taking the John Muir Trail gave us the chance to stand above Nevada Falls, take in a great and very different view of it and enough a far less crowded walk back down. The last few miles always feel like they’re going on forever but passing new terrain, fall colors, it’s hard to complain. 

As we returned to our cars, timing was once again hilariously perfect. The clouds we had seen brewing from the subdome had continued to roll on in and the rain began just as we were a couple minutes out from the car. I’m not making this up, I swear, some days you just get lucky. 

42,000 steps, 4,400′ of climbing, endless views and a pizza finish. What more do you need?

Heading to Half Dome Village (it’s still Curry Village in my book, silly ugh) for dinner, nothing about the day felt like a miss at all. Good company, great views, a fun adventure, and pizza. Not every day needs a summit to be a win though I suppose I will have to go back at least once more…