We had a very ambitious hiking agenda planned for the weekend – Clouds Rest and Half Dome on back-to-back days. The agenda included some backpacking, camping, as well as day hikes to summit each of the peaks. It was the most difficult hike I’ve done, and likely the most dangerous hike going up Half Dome, but the views were amazing and definitely worth all the effort.
My Yosemite trip started on a Thursday night two weeks ago at midnight. Erika, Shou, Brendan, Judy, Ryan and I met up after a full day of work and dragon boat practice and began our three-and-a-half-hour drive to Yosemite National Park. We arrived at the Wilderness Center around 4:30 am and was first in line for permits to backpack and hike up Half Dome.
While waiting for the permits and watching the sunrise, we walked around the valley and it was beautiful everywhere we looked. We were surrounded by giant granite rocks, trees and waterfalls. When driving in, I didn’t realize we were in the middle of all these scenery, but once the sun came up it was like everything came to life and revealed themselves.
Friday was mainly a recovery day and doing small hikes in Yosemite Valley. After we got our permits, we set up camp to take a nap, eat lunch, and relax a little. The view from our campsite looked like an image from Google Search – people wading in the river on camping chairs and giant granite rocks in the background.
In the afternoon, we drove to Yosemite Falls and Ryan took us to a secret cave. It was only a couple of steps off the main trail, but it wasn’t marked and definitely not something the park rangers wanted people to explore. The opening was spacious at first, but the more we climbed the narrower it became, and we shimmied through passages three feet in diameter and climbed upside down to get deeper into the cave. All the while, everything was pitch black and we only had one headlamp. It was an interesting experience, but I’m not sure if I would go through that again.
On Saturday, we woke up at 4:30am to hike up to Clouds Rest. The first 4.7 miles was a constant uphill climb with our 50+ lb backpacks. We chose the Mist Trail, which was shorter but wetter, and hiked right next to Vernal Falls. The mist felt really good especially when we were all sweaty from the hike.
After Vernal Falls, we climbed an even longer but less steep incline as we ascended Nevada Falls. It was pretty brutal because we were in the sun and by this point the backpack began to feel much heavier. But after we reached the top we were pretty much at the Backpacker’s Campground to set up camp for the night. But our day wasn’t close to being over yet.
We began our 6.2-mile one-way hike to Clouds Rest early in the afternoon. It started out great because our day packs felt like nothing compared to backpacks. But that feeling soon faded as the trail became steeper and we felt more fatigued. The last couple of miles were such a struggle – we were all self-motivating ourselves and trying to get to the top in one piece.
Once atop Clouds Rest, however, the view was absolutely beautiful. It’s 9926 feet above sea level and is one of the highest peaks in the area, over a thousand feet higher than Half Dome. We saw Tenaya Lake on one side and Half Dome on the other, and giant valleys, granite rocks, and cliffs all around. The air was a little hazy so it was like a sea of mountains with different shades of blue. The entire time up there, I was awed at how high we’ve climbed and how beautiful the view was. We didn’t stay long before heading back to our camp, and by the end of the day we hiked 17.1 miles.
Sunday morning, we woke up still aching pretty badly from the previous day. After our Mountain House and ramen breakfast, we set out for the 3.9-mile one-way hike to Half Dome! The final rock scramble up Sub Dome was challenging especially when there’s no shade at all, but overall the hike was definitely easier than Clouds Rest.
We reached the base of Half Dome and jeez, it looked way steeper and scarier than I had imagined. It was literally a straight shot up a giant granite rock with just two metal cables to hold on to.
We put on gloves, secured everything in our backpacks, I mounted the GoPro on my head and we began our climb up! It was okay at first, but the middle section was really steep and there was no way you could do it without cables. I used my arms to pull myself up and had to take breaks every couple of sections. Luckily there were planks every 10 feet or so for me to rest without feeling like I was going to fall. While waiting though, I was thinking, “If I drop anything, it’s gone forever. Which means if I drop myself…” And that made climb even faster.
The summit of Half Dome had similar views as Clouds Rest with a great 360-view of the entire valley, but the main draw was the overhang cliff that extended over the valley. Ryan sat ON the ledge, meaning his legs were dangling 8800 feet above the ground, and I was so nervous watching him and taking his picture. I didn’t go quite as close to the edge and only inched onto the outer most rock without going over the ledge. Just thinking about it now makes my palms sweaty.
We saw these two really in shape 80+ years old grandmas climbed up Half Dome and they didn’t even look tired! Very impressive. We also saw this guy propose on the ledge – it was so amazing and everyone was so happy for them!
The climb down Half Dome wasn’t as bad as I had imagined. The only thing was that the cables got crowded and we had to wait a bit to pass people, and waiting on a 45-degree incline didn’t feel like the safest thing.
We reached our cars back in Yosemite Valley on Sunday afternoon and were all so relieved we were done with hiking. It was a strenuous weekend – 17.1 miles on Saturday and 12.5 miles on Sunday – but worth all the hard work we put in. The more challenging it was, the more gratifying it felt when we get to the top. Yosemite was just so beautiful and I would highly recommend doing these hikes, just not on back-to-back days. I can’t wait to come back in the future to explore other sections of the park.