One Best Hike: Yosemite's Half Dome

One Best Hike: Yosemite's Half Dome

by Rick Deutsch
One Best Hike: Yosemite's Half Dome

One Best Hike: Yosemite's Half Dome

by Rick Deutsch

Paperback(Second Edition)

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Successfully hike Yosemite’s most famous landmark with the guide that helps you prepare and provides the details you need to know.

Getting to the top of Yosemite National Park’s Half Dome in California is one of America’s epic day hikes. Starting in Yosemite Valley, you’ll ascend nearly one vertical mile past two impressive waterfalls, through fragrant pine, fir, and cedar forests, then 425 feet up sheer granite on the famed steel cables to the summit, where you’ll enjoy some of the grandest views of your life. If you do it right, you’ll be back down in the valley, celebrating your accomplishment, later that evening.

While tremendously rewarding, this hike is also one of the park’s most strenuous. Here’s everything you need to know to successfully make the 15-plus-mile trek. This step-by-step guidebook by Rick Deutsch tells you exactly how to hit the trail with confidence.

Inside you’ll find:

  • Detailed, specific advice on the proper physical conditioning
  • Trail-tested list of what to wear and bring on the hike
  • Historical vignettes and 18 key points of interest along the trail, with GPS markers
  • More than 100 photos so you know what to expect

One Best Hike: Yosemite’s Half Dome, with its can-do approach, nuts-and-bolts advice, and practical tips, will leave you wondering why you’ve waited so long to embark on this truly special hiking adventure.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780899976747
Publisher: Wilderness Press
Publication date: 03/27/2012
Series: One Best Hike
Edition description: Second Edition
Pages: 208
Product dimensions: 5.56(w) x 8.34(h) x 0.42(d)

About the Author

Rick Deutsch lives in San Jose, California, with his wife, Diane. A veteran of Silicon Valley high tech, Rick is an adventure traveler. Some of his personal bests include rafting through the Grand Canyon (three times); ascending California’s Mount Whitney and Mount Shasta; pedaling the 500-mile Iowa RAGBRAI cross-state bike tour (two times); mountain biking in Moab, Utah; 250 scuba dives, including Papua New Guinea, Palau, Truk Lagoon, the Caribbean, and the Galapagos; hiking Peru’s Machu Picchu; and dogsledding in Alaska. It was after his 17th trek up Half Dome that he decided to write this guide to help others enjoy this fun and rewarding hike. As of press time, he has hiked Half Dome 31 times.

Read an Excerpt

POI 2: Vernal Fall Bridge

  • Elapsed time: 30 minutes
  • Altitude: 4,409 feet
  • Cumulative Distance: 1 mile
  • GPS Coordinates: N 37 43.565 W 119 33.094

As you walk up the paved path you will get some good ups and downs to warm up. To your left you will a see large rockfall that at one time was the site of a trail to Sierra Point. It has long been closed and is not recommended for use. Rattlesnakes abound here, and it is pretty rough scrambling. Sierra Point was the one spot where you could see four waterfalls from a single vantage point: Vernal Fall, Nevada Fall, Yosemite Falls, and Illilouette Fall. Grizzly Peak lies just above you and to the left. You can easily see and hear the roaring Merced River to your right. As you continue, the view to the right will open up and you may catch a glimpse of Illilouette Fall streaming down in the distance. All the falls at Yosemite are fed by snowmelt and are virtually gone by late August, depending on the previous year’s snowpack.

Once you arrive at the wooden footbridge, you can look up and to the left to see the waterfall framed by trees. An emergency telephone is nearby. A sink and water fountain provide the final opportunity to fill your bottles with potable water. For the rest of the hike, you’ll need to treat the water.

Also, the restroom building at the right, opened in the 1930s, will provide your last chance to use a flushing, porcelain toilet. There are no trash cans, so please pack your waste.

A couple hundred yards up the Mist Trail, you will arrive at a control gate. It is closed during the winter, when the steps ahead might be covered with ice. A junction here allows you to continue on the Mist Trail or go right onto the JMT. Regardless of which way you proceed at the control gate, look to your hard right, and just a few yards up the JMT you will see a large granite rock to the left of the trail. It is called Register Rock. In the early days before the government organized things, people built trails in the rough terrain and charged tolls to use them. For a period in the 1860s hikers signed or “registered” on the rock and paid a toll to use the trail to get to Glacier Point and Nevada Fall. The alternative was the Mist Trail, described below, but that involved navigating a scary series of ladders next to the fall.

On a recent trip, I looked closely high on the rock and believe the following inscription could have been done more than 125 years ago: gertrude smith 1881 f.k.c. It is too high to be modern graffiti, and it would have been very hard for a tagger to suspend himself by a rope and write it. I think Ms. Smith could have stood on the shack that once stood by the rock to write the inscription. Most of the historic signatures were lost when park superintendent Colonel Harry Benson ordered them removed in 1907.

I suggest you take the Mist Trail up during your morning hike. It will converge with the JMT at the Nevada Fall area. You will get wet from the spray on the Mist Trail in May and June, but it will be shorter than taking the JMT. The Mist Trail route to Nevada Fall is 2.6 miles versus 3.7 miles via the JMT. If you want to stay dry, the JMT is the way to go, but you will miss some interesting sights. Later in the day, we will return to Happy Isles on the longer JMT to save our knees from the downhill pounding.

Be forewarned: The lower Mist Trail will serve up nearly 700 steps, which will test how hard you trained. Your party will spread out into fast, average, and slow packs. Hiking poles will help you with the haul up.

Stop for 10 minutes every hour to rest and drink. When ascending the many steps, when you step up, lock your back leg briefly and put all your weight on it. As you step up, use momentum to swing the leg forward. Try to get a rhythm going as you walk. Counting cadence helps pass the time. “Left, left, left–right–left.” Singing softly helps your breathing. Use your diaphragm to pump your air. If your knees ping, try going a little pigeon-toed. This moves the stress point and might help. Breathe through your mouth. You’ll suck in more air. Exhale as though you are blowing out a birthday candle. This will allow you to breathe in more on your next inhale.

The Mist Trail in early summer can be a deluge, with the waterfall throwing off a shower onto the trail. It is very exciting and highly recommended. Watch for rainbows as the mist hits the sun. In May and June the spray will begin about halfway to the top. At that point, I put on my poncho (a cheap surplus store one) and gaiters made from produce bags. Simply go to your local supermarket and get the free plastic bags normally used for produce. Bring them with you on your hike, along with two rubber bands. Before you reach the spray, wrap the bags around the tops of your boots and secure them with the rubber bands. This will keep the water out of your boots. Another handy idea is to bring binder clips to secure your poncho to your hat brim and your pants. Without these, the wind will blow the poncho all around, and you may get soaked. If you wear your raingear, you’ll be dry enough.

Once you are through the spray, you can give your used raingear to others coming down the trail so you don’t have to carry it the rest of the day. Do not discard it on the trail. If you get no takers for your raingear, stuff it back into your pack. You might need it again if you encounter an afternoon rainstorm.

Halfway up, an overhanging rock arch provides a brief shelter. Your trekking poles will steady your climb. As you head up the nearly 700 steps, pay homage to Stephen Cunningham, who constructed this difficult trail up to the cliff.

Near the top you will be out of the spray and can continue up the remaining steps. Off to your right you will see the Fern Grotto. This overhang is a quiet place to relax if you can negotiate the short climb up and have plenty of time. The huge gap was carved by dynamite, and visitors used wooden ladders to access it from 1858 to 1897, when stone steps were installed in place of the ladders. The original ladders, built by Cunningham, were in two sections: the first began beneath the overhang in Fern Grotto and led to a ledge midway up. From there, visitors took a short dogleg left to the second ladder, which led to the cliff top just south of Vernal Fall’s summit. This two-part system was replaced in 1871, when Albert Snow erected a wooden stairway (with safety railings) to the top of the overhang. As you approach the very top, you’ll ascend several steps carved into the rock. The handrails on the trail that exist through the exposed areas of the mist section of Vernal Fall were installed in 1929. They run alongside the river below the waterfall, along the cliff face, and at the apron atop the fall.

Table of Contents











  • POI 1: Mileage Marker Sign
  • POI 2: Vernal Fall Bridge
  • POI 3: Top of Vernal Fall
  • POI 4: Silver Apron Bridge
  • POI 5: Mist Trail–JMT Junction
  • POI 6: Little Yosemite Valley
  • POI 7: Half Dome–JMT Split
  • POI 8: The Little Spring
  • POI 9: Base of Sub Dome
  • POI 10: Base of the Cables
  • POI 11: Apex of Half Dome
  • POI 12: The Little Spring—again
  • POI 13: Little Yosemite Valley—again
  • POI 14: Mist Trail–JMT Junction—again
  • POI 15: Nevada Fall Bridge
  • POI 16: Clark Point
  • POI 17: Vernal Fall Bridge—again
  • POI 18: Mileage Marker Sign—again


APPENDIX 1: Key Dates in Yosemite and Half Dome History

APPENDIX 2: Preventive Search and Rescue Tips

APPENDIX 3: Half Dome Hiking Accidents

APPENDIX 4: References and Information Sources



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