Thursday, April 9, 2009

Prepare to Hike Half Dome

If you’re planning on hiking Half Dome in Yosemite National Park, you’ll want to prepare for it - for many it is the most physically challenging thing they’ll ever do.

I hiked it again this morning (my 5th time) and scored a personal best. It took me 3 hours and 45 minutes to hike from Curry Village to the top of the “cables”. On the way up, I took the Mist Trail which would be better described as “Stairs of Death Trail”. It is a mile or so of very steep stone stairs. The way back took me about the same time because I took the John Muir Trail from Nevada Falls back to the valley floor. That way is about 1.5 miles longer, but much more gradual then the Mist Trail and much easier on the knees. I recommend taking the John Muir trail back if you have shaky or sore knees or legs.

Anyway, enough of my trip. I’ve found a few tricks that help on this long hike that may mean the difference between a fun day and a miserable one.

What to Bring

  • Water. I like to bring (2) one quart bottles and a water filter so I don’t have to carry as much water (heavy). Keep in mind that a person can easily consume a gallon of water or more on this trip. 1 gallon of water weighs 8 lbs but 2 quarts of water and a filter only weigh 5 lbs. The last place to pump water is the top of Nevada Falls which is about 1/2 of the way to the top.
  • Good hiking shoes. I prefer a good trail running shoe over a hiking boot for this trip. The trails are in good condition so unless you have really bad ankles, shoes should be fine. A heavy boot can really drain your energy.
  • Flashlight. Handy in the morning if you leave before dark, VERY handy at night if you have an injured person in your party and have to help them off the mountain.
  • Lightweight camera and/or binoculars. Leave the huge SLR camera at home! Remember that every ounce counts on this trip.
  • Sun Protection. Unless you leave early, you’re going to spend many hours in direct sunlight. Bring a good hat, sunglasses, and sunscreen.
  • Food. I always bring soft candy. When you need a sugar boost, soft candy is easy to chew and digest. I usually snack as I go. Dried fruit and nuts is high in energy and fairly light.
  • Trekking poles. If you are out of shape or have bad knees, these can really assist you on the steps and going downhill.
  • Small medical kit. Probably the most serious injury you’ll encounter is blisters. Bring moleskin, if nothing else. I also bring aspirin for altitude headaches and some band aids for that occasional scrape.

Just a few tips…

  • Leave the trail head about 4:00 in the morning. The worst of the hike will be over before it gets hot, you’ll consume less water, and you’ll feel more energetic.
  • Get a good nights rest before the trip. (Duh)
  • Get a head start on your water consumption. Try to drink a lot the previous day to make sure your body is completely hydrated before you even start hiking.
  • Focus on going light. Every ounce counts when you have to carry it so far. Even things you don’t think about (like heavy boots) add weight that you have to carry.

Don’t say I didn’t warn you

This trip is about 15-18 miles long depending on which trails you take. You will climb nearly a mile vertically. Half Dome is definitely not for everyone and I highly recommend a lot of exercise and walking before attempting it.

If you’re athletic or in reasonable shape, you should have no trouble, but plan on hiking for a long time. If you’re overweight or have bad knees or ankles, consider a lot of physical training before attempting. I’ve taken several small groups of people in various physical conditions and it usually takes about 11-13 hours.

There are several bathrooms along the way so don’t worry about “going in the woods”. Even so, I always bring a little bit of TP.

Leave a comment!

Good luck on your hike! Tell us about your trip including best times, personal experiences, etc, by filling out the comments field, below.


  1. Just to let you all know, the last known spot to pump water is about 2 1/2 miles or so from the top. There's a spring, so make sure you filter before drinking. Good luck

  2. No matter how prepared you feel in the water department, I would suggest keeping at least a liter or 2 of extra water in the car, so you know you have something when you get back to the parking lot.

    Also, invest in a water filter...there is nothing worse than having to wait 30 minutes for the iodine tablets to do their thing...

  3. I would suggest keeping a liter of water in the car, it is good peace of mind knowing you'll have it when you get back to the parking lot after such a long day...I think investing in a filter is wise, there is nothing worse than the 30 minute wait for the iodine tablets to do their thing.

    I would also strongly suggest trekking poles, not even a question if you are overweight, we are talking about 25,000+ high impact steps!