Why It's Better to do Half Dome in January (or at least October), and Intro to Ice Block Sailing
I've done Half Dome more times than I can remember. It's an amazingly beautiful 18-ish-mile hike in Yosemite National Park, and everyone who can (and almost everyone can, with an early enough start) should do it at least once.
This will be your reward.
But Eva, you might be thinking, It's hard to get a permit! I can't do Half Dome without a permit!
There's simple solution to the permit problem. Go during the off-season, shoulder season or whatever you want to call the months of October-March. You know -- the times when you don't need a permit.
Check the conditions first, obviously -- you probably don't want to do Half Dome in a blizzard, or run into unexpected road closures or anything. But if it looks like the weather's going to cooperate, there's no good reason not to go during the cooler months.
But Eva, you may be wondering, Aren't the cables down October-March? Astute observation. The cables will be down -- but they will still be there.
Oh. In case you don't know:
The most famous--or infamous--part of the hike is the ascent up the cables. The two metal cables allow hikers to climb the last 400 feet to the summit without rock climbing equipment. Since 1919, relatively few people have fallen and died on the cables. However, injuries are not uncommon for those acting irresponsibly.
From the NPS website.
I've done Half Dome twice while the cables were "down." Personally, I didn't find it any more challenging than when they were suspended at waist-height. You just have to pick them up first. If anything, I think going with the cables down might be marginally easier, simply because there are no crowds, no lines -- no slow hikers to get stuck behind.
Basically, it's this:
Notice that the people in the pictures are wearing gloves. Those are provided during the summer months. In the off-season, you need to bring your own. Something grippy, to protect your hands while you're climbing the cable.
Just remember to wear layers.
Oh, and if you're going to leave your backpack at the sub-dome, don't leave food in it. It breaks my heart every time I see a rodent chewing through someone's nice pack and stealing their fuel. Remember -- it's a long hike back.
(Plus, people food in't good for them.)
If you've got time to explore before heading home, I recommend a winter trip to Tenaya Lake. It's this huge, beautiful Alpine lake that freezes in the winter. Slide around on your belly, ice skate or just walk on the lake.
Keep your eyes out for ice blocks. If you can find a chunk of ice big enough to sit on, and you've got a buddy to give you a push, you can slide alarmingly far, alarmingly fast. Especially if you've got some wind on your back. (Pro tip: Unzip your jacket and hold it open like a sail. You'll be surprised how much a little breeze can push you.)
Ice block sailing is a great activity for sore and tired legs -- and it's only available in Yosemite during the winter.
9/16/2014 05:52:37 am
Great post Eva! For those who want to be extra safe I'd also recommend bringing a harness and either a quick draw or a prussik (http://www.animatedknots.com/prusik/index.php?Categ=climbing) to connect to the cable, especially if you are uncomfortable with climbing something steep. If you fall this should prevent you from sliding all the way down the face.
8/19/2017 11:52:28 am
A quickdraw will afford you zero fall protection on a cable. A prusik or a valdotain tresse are good options.
11/24/2020 06:38:46 pm
A quick draw will limit your fall to the next place the cable is bolted to the granite (so you could fall up to 40 feet or so depending on where on the cables you fell). It would be a super crappy fall, but it would not kill you. A prusik is significantly better though.
10/6/2016 11:36:30 am
How long did it take you to get to the top of Half Dome without any harness, rope, etc.? And is it just about 400 ft from the bottom to the top?
10/19/2016 05:30:21 pm
12/17/2016 06:56:35 pm
2/20/2017 09:44:49 am
Hi Eva! Thanks for the post, it looks like you had an awesome time! I did have a couple questions for you as I am planning on climbing half dome (the trail, not rock climbing) the end of this upcoming March. Will I need a permit? and do you think the cables will be up? I am a pretty avid hiker and have been exposed to winter conditions while hiking, do you think I would need cramp on's and an ice ax? I just want to make sure I am as prepared as possible. Any advice or recommendations would be greatly appreciated. Thank you kindly.
3/19/2017 04:42:15 am
Hi, I am a bit confused cause you are writing "October-March". Aren't the cables down till memorial day weekend -> End of May?
1/10/2022 04:27:48 am
Bruh, did you read the article?
1/10/2022 04:33:26 am
I did, did you?
3/23/2017 11:04:01 pm
Hi Eva! I hope you are able to respond as I am really curious..... I've hiked to the top of half dome 4 times, all in July/August. The last time was the only time with a permit, and I have never used a rope and harness. I am getting married in October at Glacier Point and thought it would be fun for my fiancé and I to take some (not all) of the bridal party on the hike. However, the cables will be taken down just days before we get there. I'm not worried about myself and my fiancé, but do you think it is safe enough with the cables down to take experienced hikers that have never climbed half dome before? I just imagine there is a lot more slack, and I'm not sure how that would work with a few of us using the cables at the same time.
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Eva is a content specialist with a passion for play, travel... and a little bit of girl power. Read more >
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