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  • Writer's pictureKatie McGuire

So You're Gonna Hike Half Dome (PART 1): What You Need to Know Before the Hike


Okay, I know what you're thinking...


"KATIE hiked Half Dome?! Well if Katie can hike Half Dome, then I for sure can hike Half Dome."

And let me just tell you...you'd be wrong... I mean, yes, I did hike Half Dome, but not on a whim.

It takes a lot of hard work, determination & preparation to conquer this massive feat. Unless you are as fit as Dwayne Johnson, I wouldn't recommend a spontaneous trip to climb this Rock (lol see what I did there? Okay, that was lame. Moving on...). If you don't put in the work to prepare yourself physically & mentally for this excursion, for your safety, I would hold off until you are. If you have the time to put in to prepare for it, then...you'd be right...If I can do this, you can do this!


Let me be the first to WARN YOU, this hike is NOT for the faint of heart!!!


I had a dream, I stuck to it, & I only sort of regretted it. Hahaha, okay don't get me wrong, I'm so glad I was able to check this off of my bucket list. What an amazing accomplishment! I don't want to scare you from living out your dream. I'm just here to help you as you embark on your journey to summit the coolest mountain ever.


I SURVIVED it so you could THRIVE it!


In this series of posts I will be sharing with you what you need to know before your trip (PART 1) & what you'll need to know while you're hiking it (PART 2). This is all based on my own personal experience. Like I said, I survived it so you can thrive it! Here you'll find helpful information that I researched before my hike, as well as notes I took during my journey of things I wish I knew beforehand so YOU can be set & ready to go when it's your turn! I really hope this helps!


Here's what you'll find:


*NOTE: Everything that's underlined is a link for ya! No affiliations, just want to help you out!



Climbing Sub Dome—haze courtesy of CA wildfires

1. Planning Your Trip.

  • Do not do this hike alone! For your safety, you need to have at least 1 other person with you. So grab some buddies and map out your schedule!

Choose Your Own Adventure!

  • Day Trip

  • Overnight, Backpacking

_________________________________________

  • Day Trip: If you're planning to do it all in one day, make sure you're fully prepared for a nonstop physically draining day. Think about being at Disneyland from park opening to closing—but instead of standing still while waiting in line, or sitting down while riding the rides, you're using an elliptical the whole time (with an occasional break of course). You're about to put yourself through an extremely intense and strenuous day, so be ready.

  • Overnight, Backpacking: Look into a backpacking experience. Hike up to Little Yosemite Valley to camp (around a 5 mile hike from Happy Isles, leaving about a 4 mile hike to Half Dome from the campsite), and climb the cables early morning on Day 2—You'll avoid the crowded cables & have plenty of time during the day to hike back to the valley. Your energy will be saved as you are pacing out the journey. You'll need a wilderness permit for this.

Most of the tips & recommendations in this blog series will be applicable for the Day Trip, as this is what we experienced, but I have no doubt that most of it can be applied for a multi-day trek. Hindsight, I wish I had looked into the overnight backpacking route, so make sure you're weighing your options!


2. How To Get Permits To Climb The Cables:

The cables on Half Dome are only up for part of the year—May 19th to October 13th (these dates may be changed & adjusted due to weather conditions).

Everyone who wants to summit Half Dome by way of the cables will need to obtain a permit.

Only a certain amount of permits are given out per day during the cable season (about 200), so getting permits can be a bit tricky (think of this like Disneyland...people from all over the world flock here to have a chance to climb this rock. I swear this is the last Disneyland comparison, hahaha).


There are two (2) ways to get a permit:

Preseason Lottery & Daily Lottery.


I highly recommend trying for the preseason lottery FIRST. If you don't score permits this way, you can try to get a daily lottery.


Preseason Lottery: Preseason permit applications open in March each year. You can apply at any point during this month. When applying, give as many date options as they will allow (which is 7). The more dates you give, the more chances you have at scoring permits. Make sure that all of the dates you give are days you can actually go. Nothing would suck more than winning a lottery for a day you can't actually make. Make sure that you have the correct number of everyone in your group when applying. You can easily drop a permit if someone backs out, but you cannot add them to your group later on. When applying, have someone set as the "leader" (the person you can count on to not drop out, haha). This will be the name on the permits—they must be present on the hike.


Sometime in April you will receive an email letting you know if you won a lottery, along with the date of your hike!


Daily Lottery: Like I mentioned before, there are a certain number of permits that are given out for each day of the cable season. You can also apply for a permit two (2) days in advance of your desired hiking date. You will find out the night of your application whether you have a permit.

This means you gotta be ready to make it to Yosemite National Park on the drop of a hat. The likelihood of getting a permit this way is much more slim. I know someone who scored permits this way, but I also heard a couple on our hike who tried every single day of the season to get permits and had no luck. They decided to do the hike to the base of SubDome hoping someone had room on their permits for an extra person. It's not impossible, but it's a lot harder to get.





I spy Katie somewhere in this picture...

The base of Vernal Fall, Yosemite in training for hike day

3. Train, Train, Train & Maybe Train Some More:

  • BE LIKE ME & start training months & months before your hike date!! My hike date was at the beginning of October, so as soon as we got word that we won a preseason lottery, we started workin'!

  • DON'T BE LIKE ME & only train a smidgen... This hike is NO JOKE, and your body needs as much physical training as possible. My little team (Dad, sis & yours truly) had every intention of sticking to our training schedule. Since our hike date was in 2020, our plans were changed when COVID made using a gym impossible, and the insane California wildfires closed all outdoor hikes due to extremely poor air quality. This made our training significantly less...and boy do I wish things had been different. If life doesn't throw a wrench in your training schedule, make sure you're sticking to it well!

Before the wildfires were a big issues, we did get the chance to to have a "training day" in Yosemite about 4 months before our hike, where we hiked to Vernal & Nevada Falls. This was super helpful in physical preparedness, as well as mapping our pace come hike day as this is part of the trail to Half Dome.


RECOMMENDED TRAINING:

  • Walk every day. Start small then build up the length of your walk over time. This will help you to build endurance, which is needed for hiking Half Dome. Add your backpack to these walks to prepare you for the weight you'll be carrying.

  • Hike as much as possible! Find a local hiking trail & hike it. Set dates in your calendar and work yourself up to harder climbs to challenge yourself.

  • Stairs. We have a park near my house that has a long set of steep stairs. We came here often to run/walk up and down over & over. Looking ahead to the Mist Trail, this is helpful for all those stairs you'll have to climb. Cardio is also important to build up!

  • Push Ups, Pull Ups, Tricep Dips: Don't neglect your arms! When you get to the cables, your arms are doing most of the work! From pulling yourself up the side of the rock, to clinging to one side waiting for others to safely pass by you, your arms are doing a lot of work. Staying consistent in preparing your arms is important.

Kevin Abernethy has some great exercising tips that were really helpful for me in preparing my body for Half Dome. You can check out his recommendations here: How To Prepare for Half Dome


4. What To Bring!!!

At the end of this blog, there will be a downloadable check list of what to pack that you can print off! My gift to you!


HIKING GEAR:

  • Backpack with hip belt & sternum strap.

  • Camelbak: at least a gallon!

  • Extra water bottle(s). Because you need to make sure you're bringing more than a gallon of water with you! There is nothing worse than being dehydrated on this hike (trust me lol).

  • Mad Grip gloves: These were literally a life saver on the cables! I did my research before the hike, & can't imagine using a different pair of gloves (or even being without gloves at all). 10/10 recommend!!

  • Head lamp & extra batteries: You'll be starting the hike (and possibly ending the hike depending on what time of the season you're hiking) in the dark, so having a head lamp and batteries is a MUST!

  • Trowel, toilet paper & ziplock baggies: When desperate times call for desperate measures, you gotta be prepared! I was unaware of the location of the last restroom before Sub Dome & Half Dome, and needed to use a tree before making the climb (don't worry, I share these locations with you in PART 2!) You can totally use a rock to dig a hole, but having a trowel was really handy as you have to dig 6-8 inches since Yosemite follows the "Leave No Trace" rule. This also means that you have to pack out what you pack in, including toilet paper. Having doubled ziplock baggies was necessary for the used goods.

Suggestions:

  • Collapsible Trekking Poles. Great for relieving strain on your legs, especially heading back down the mountain! These were a life saver on the Mist Trail, post summit! Make sure they can fold up enough to fit in your backpack while climbing the cables! I linked the poles that I used. They fit perfectly inside of my backpack.

  • Water Treatment. We didn't have this & 100% regretted it. If you don't bring over a gallon of water each, please bring water treatment so you can fill up from the Merced River at Little Yosemite Valley. I linked a post that compares filtration systems for hiking.

  • Bear Bell. When you're hiking in the dark, you want to make sure you're safe, as you won't be able to see your surroundings fully. Having a bear bell is a great idea. It helped to give me peace of mind.


CLOTHING:

  • Hiking Boots. Make sure it's a good pair! If you don't already own any, do your research & make sure to try them on before purchasing! This is an investment that is worth it if you want happy feet after a super long hike. I did research before buying my pair & I was super happy with them! Ladies, look no further—I linked my pair for ya.

  • Boot Socks—I recommend 2 pairs. 1 to wear, 1 to change into later. I was thankful for the extra pair to wear back down the mountain. I think you will be, too.

  • Hat & Beanie/Ear Warmer Headband. Something to protect you from the sun, and something to keep those ears warm! Trust me, you'll thank me later for this advice.

  • Extra Layers: I wore leggings with a tank top, and had a long sleeve shirt over that. For when it got a little colder (like during the dark hours of the hike) I had a lightweight wind breaker.

Suggestions:

  • Rock Climbing Shoes: I used these while climbing the cables. They helped me feel like I had a good grip on the rock. So many people I met on the cables told me I was smart for bringing them, and they wish they would have thought of it. They're not necessary, but I'm glad I had them!! If you already have a pair, consider bringing them! If you think you might want to take up rock climbing as a hobby, maybe consider the investment. Make sure to bring a different pair of socks if you switch into these! Boot socks don't work so well.

CONSUMABLES: Snacks/Foods/Drinks

  • Protein Bars: I 100% recommend Think Protein Bars, as they have bars with up to 20g of protein! But you can grab your favorite protein bar.

  • Trail Mix/Nuts & Seeds: It's a healthy snack to fuel you & keep you going. Full of protein & healthy fats to help keep you energized.

  • Jerky: What's a hike without some dehydrated meat?

  • Fruit: We're talking whatever's easy, like Apples, Oranges, Bananas, or even dried fruit. Just remember, this is a Leave No Trace trail, which means the core & peel of your fruit need to stay with you. Carrying ziplock baggies in your pack is helpful when you're not near a trash receptacle.

  • PB&J Sandwiches

  • Electrolytes: Electrolytes are important for regulating your muscle contractions and keeping you hydrated! We used Gatorade Prime Energy Chews, which are about $0.99 for 1 pack. Some other great options to replenish your electrolytes are Hydrant: Hydrate, & ProBar Bolt Energy Chews.


OTHER:

  • Camera: I used a GoPro, and my phone to capture the memories throughout the day.

  • Portable Charger: In the case of an emergency, you want to make sure your phone has enough juice. If you're using your phone to document your time, this will drain that battery fast!

  • Sunscreen

  • Insect Repellent

  • Hand Sanitizer. You're gonna be using the restroom (whether in an outhouse or a hole), so sanitizer is a must-have.

  • Small First-Aid Kit. You never know what type of injury may occur on a hike, so having a small kit of bandages, medications, ace bandage, etc. is important!

Suggestions:

  • Emergency overnight shelter. In certain cases, it's important to have an emergency shelter on hand. We were in a situation where we got stuck on the mountain longer than anticipated & didn't think we would be able to make it down without staying the night. We weren't prepared with any way to safely stay on the mountain & somewhat dangerously had to push through. This was not an ideal situation. If we had a shelter, we would have had a better back-up plan. Some compact, helpful options to consider: Emergency Tent, Emergency Blanket, Life Bivy


5. Day Before & Morning of The Hike:

A couple of notes for the moments leading up to your adventure!


DAY BEFORE:

  • Rest. Don't train. Just rest.

  • Make sure that you're hydrating well the day before your hike! Try to drink at least a half gallon of water.

  • Be sure to get to bed early so you're well rested for that early wake up call. If you're doing the hike in 1 day, unfortunately there's no time for a nap, so try to get a full nights rest.

  • Load up on carbs for dinner! Pick options that are easily digestible, such as white bread, bananas, pasta & white or brown rice.

MORNING OF:

  • Even though it'll be early, eating a good breakfast will be important. Healthy fuel will be things like eggs, oatmeal, low-fat yogurt, whole-wheat toast, and fruits.

Gore-Tex has some more great things to say regarding what to eat & drink before a hike!



Here is Yosemite National Park's Official Video: Hiking Half Dome. Another great resource!


And here's my vlog of our trip!




Be sure to check out So You're Gonna Hike Half Dome: PART 2 for IMPORTANT information regarding what to know on the hike!



Safe travels to you, friend!









Half Dome Check List:




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1 Comment


Jesus Ramirez
Jesus Ramirez
Oct 03, 2021

Such a great article, Katie! I really appreciate the links, recommendations and maps you provided. I'm excited to plan my trip with friends!


I'd suggest doing of little bit of research for those considering the backpacking option, because Yosemite is indeed bear county; you'll likely need to safely store your food in a bear container, hang it several feet away from where you sleep and hung on a tree, and NOT in your tent. This would avoid any unwanted furry visitors during your overnight stay, and keep your food safe while also protecting the bears and their dietary choices. Let's be good stewards of our environment and considerate of the amazing wildlife in Yosemite!


Looking forward to reading about more…

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