For good reasons, climbing to the summit of Yosemite’s Half Dome is on the must-do list of many outdoor adventurers. For most people, this is not a challenge to be taken on casually – but neither does it need to be a complicated, pricey expedition to Everest. Here are some ideas on how to do Half Dome safely, and with minimal expense.
Four ways to keep it fun and manageable:
- You have got to do some physical preparation for this. No need for a fancy gym membership, but get out and walk, hike, run, backpack, etc. You also need to walk up and down hills, whether that means going up/down local high school stadium steps for an hour, hiking the stairs in your office building on lunch breaks, or driving to a local, hilly park. Hill training makes a big difference when you’re facing a 4800’ elevation gain. If you’re out of shape and won’t have time to condition, plan to just go part of the way.
- You need footwear. Good footwear. Don’t take out-of-the-box new boots on this hike. All kinds of sturdy footwear can work, but your feet need to be comfortable enough to spend hours and hours in them. You can sometimes find perfectly adequate footwear at thrift stores. Also look for sales at local outdoor stores, ignore the newest fashion and squeeze a few more miles out of your old boots.
- If you’re doing this in one day, you must start early. Starting in the dark is a fine idea: you miss ascending in the heat, you beat the crowds, you get ahead of afternoon thunderstorms, and you can finish in the daylight. You won’t be alone if you start at 4 or 5 a.m., and you’ll be glad that you did later on. If you’ve got a campsite or a tent cabin in Yosemite Valley, you can avoid a pre-dawn drive to the trailhead and just start from your base.
- Drink lots of water. Hydration is a key to happiness for a big hike like this one. Start with imbibing adequate liquids the day before your hike, bring a way to treat river water (filter, iodine [cheapest], UV device, etc.), and plan on taking in 3-4 liters during the day while you hike.
Talk with others who’ve done the hike, look at the NPS website for their outline of the Half Dome trip. Travel light, but don’t skimp on food, water, a headlamp, map, raingear; groceries and hiking gear are less expensive outside the park, so plan ahead. Definitely know the weather forecast – never go up the cables if there’s any chance of rain or lightning; not worth it! The cables are only up late May – early October.
If you have the gear, consider doing this as an overnight backpack trip, instead of a one-day assault. Wilderness permits are required for overnighting, and you can get them for free – but this is the park’s most popular backpack, so you need to be in line at the Wilderness Center by 7 a.m. the day before your trip in order to get one before they’re all taken; reserving permits is just $5 plus $5/person. Yosemite’s entrance fee is $20/car, so bring some buddies and split the cost.