Half Dome. I had set my heart on hiking this extreme 14,2 mile (22,7 km) Yosemite National Park trail.
It is one of the most dangerous hiking trails in Amerika, including a spectacular cable ascend to the top of the granite peak. Multiple people have died on the trail and since 2008 hikers need to take part in a lottery to get a license to be aloud to hike the cables. Only 300 people out of approximately 2.000 applicants per day are awarded a license.
I went for it, filled in my application and paid my non refundable $5 dollar to enter the lottery.
But I was unlucky and my application was denied.
When I arrived in Yosemite I talked to a ranger who told me that there were ways to hike it if I really had my heart set on it. He however suggested taking an alternative trail: “Half Dome might have the name, but I promise you this one has the view and beauty.”
His suggestion was to combine two strenuous hikes: The Four Mile trail (4,8 miles – 7,7km one way) and the Panorama trail (8,3 miles – 13,4km one way) .
The two combined would make a very strenuous 13,1 mile (21,1km) hike. It sounded excellent until we decided to walk the Upper Yosemite falls trail the day before as a warm up. That warm up turned out to be a strenuous workout with sore calves and knees as a result. We looked into shortening the hike by only walking the Panorama trail. The Panorama trail however isn’t a loop trail and it’s starting point is Glacier Point. The only way of getting to Glacier Point without using your car is by booking a tour-buss. But unlucky as we were they were already sold out.
So we decided to go for it. If we had the guts to apply for Half Dome than we sure should be able to walk the Four Mile and Panorama trail in one day.
The next morning we drove up to Swinging Bridge point at 7am to start our ascend on the Four Mile trail.
The ascend, with its multiple switchbacks was pretty strenuous. The elevation gain of 3.200 feet (975m) makes it longer and higher than the Upper Yosemite falls; but easier because most of the trail is paved.
With El Capitan and the Cathedral Rocks on the west, Yosemite falls in the north and Half Dome in the east, the views became more and more impressive as we climbed. It took us 2h40 to get up to Glacier Point (vs 3h for the upper Yosemite falls).
Glacier point is one of the best viewpoints in Yosemite. We got an almost complete park overview from this point. On the left we saw the Yosemite falls thundering down into the valley. In the middle there was half dome arising impressively above all else. And on the right were the beautiful Nevada and Vernal falls. Absolutely astonishing.
I sat there sweat-soaked, for an hour feeling we had really earned this magnificent view after that climb. The place was however swarming with people as most come by bus or car to take a quick picture. Others descend on the Four Mile trail which is a perfect trail if you are looking for a walk in the park.
After an hour of gazing, and refilling our water bottles we started to descend on the Panorama trail towards the Illilouette fall. During these first 2 miles (3,2km) we descended 1.300 feet (400m) through burned down parts of forest, circling around to the side of half dome. After a fast paced hour we reached the Illilouette fall where we found a lovely little spot to sit beside the falls to have lunch.
After stuffing our tummies we had to ascend another 800 feet (240m) to the Panorama Cliff ridgeline. The sun was excruciating, the shaded spots were few and the altitude took our breath at this point.
Luckily the path quickly descended again into the woods up to an intersection where we could choose to either descend on the Mist trail (2,9 miles – 4,7 km) or the John Muir trail (3,3 miles – 5,3 km).
We chose the Mist Trail because I’m a sucker for waterfalls.
And so we started to descend to Nevada fall.
When we reached the roaring fall we noticed a small missing persons sign. Only a few days earlier a man had ignored the safety warning and swam in the upper fall pool. He was taken by the water and got swept down the fall. Three days later he still hadn’t been found.
The descend from Nevada fall to Vernal fall is a though one. It is a very steep rock path and a real knee breaker. We came across a young girl who hadn’t been wearing appropriate footwear and had sprained or even broken her ankle. Four tough men were trying to carry her down the slippery path. A job impossible and so they quickly descended to the valley to go for help.
We then reached the plateau of Vernal fall where the Mist trail begins. The Mist Trail descends beside the fall and though it felt like a nice refreshment, the path was very slippery and hazardous.
It’s seemed a very popular trail part and it suddenly got very crowdy at this point.
Reaching the bottom of the fall we only had to descend on a paved path to the Happy Isles bus stop.
We took the shuttle bus back to Camp 4 and crossed the road to Swinging Bridge.
We ended our day walk around 5pm. It had taken us 10 hours (9 if you forget about the hour I spend enjoying the view at Glacier point) to finish this very strenuous hike. When a sporty dude told me had done the same hike but had needed two hours more I felt so awesome and did a little dance.
When we were back at the village I heard that there had been a major rock slide on the John Muir trail, which had to be closed down for the next couple of days. Guess I got lucky after all.
Aftermath: 2 blisters and 2 inflamed knees, but so worth it.
Do It Yourself
Get more info and a hiking map at the Yosemite National Park visitors centre!