Hiking Half Dome

A few weeks ago I hiked Half Dome with my parents and sister. If you're unfamiliar with Half Dome, it's a huge granite dome that rises almost 5,000 feet over the main valley in Yosemite National Park. It's a challenging 16 mile round trip hike that requires being in a good shape and preparation, but isn't beyond the realm of possibility for regular people.

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We started at 5:30 AM from Upper Pines campground, which was about a 15 minute walk from the trailhead. Next time, I'd try to start at 3:30 or 4. It's not that the trails are too busy... it's just a long day ahead of you and you don't want to be pushing sunset at the end of the day. The cabled section near the summit is busy pretty much every day from 10 AM to 4 PM, so unless you start really early (3ish or earlier), there will probably some sort of wait and crowd near the top, but more on that later.

The good thing about starting before sunrise is that early morning hiking seems to pass by quickly. When you can't see past your headlamp's shine you focus on putting one foot in front of the other. We made good, quick progress before sunrise as a result.

Oh yeah, before I go any further... what are those things on my feet, you ask? And yes, lots of people asked. For the past five years I've worn Chacos for pretty much any outdoor activity I've done with the exception of running, including whitewater rafting, hiking, and canyoneering. The longest hike was probably 10 or 12 miles, so I was a little concerned about 16... but not too worried.

After my dad asked me about a hundred times about wearing open toe shoes the night before -- and even offered (insisted) I wear the extra pair of hiking shoes he brought -- I have to admit, I was wondering if I was pushing past the suggested Chacos threshold. With 1 bar of Edge service I googled "Hike Half Dome in Chacos" from the lodge, found nothing, and decided if I'd hiked Mt. Timpanogos with no issues I should be fine. I started the hike with a pair of socks on just to be on the safe side and took them off after two hours.

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About two-thirds the way up, after crossing paths with well over a hundred other hikers, and to my dad's surprise, we encountered a second Chacos-wearer. In her mid-fifties and sporting a full-length hiking skirt, she caught up to us as we were paused for a rest. She commented that she'd been following my tracks for a while, searching for her Chacos mate. While I can't say I recognize Chacos footprints myself, I'm very impressed. Respect, Chacos lady, respect.

The final ascent to Half Dome's summit includes a 400 foot stretch of metal cables, at as much as a 45 degree angle. The cables were initially put in place almost a hundred years ago and they allow anyone with a good pair of gloves to ascend relatively safely. Injuries and death have occurred, but they are uncommon. The cables make for a interesting, almost welcoming challenge after propelling yourself 8 miles straight uphill with your legs.

As we were hiking down a wildfire broke out to the northwest of the summit. A few helicopters and half a dozen planes showed up, surveyed the scene, and dropped powdery red fire-retardant.

There are two main trails you can take to Half Dome. The John Muir trail is a bit longer, but less strenuous, while the Myst trail is shorter but much steeper (and full of hundreds of huge steps). We took the John Muir Trail up and the Mist Trail down. We hustled down the mountain and got back to camp right at dusk.

Feet-wise, the Chacos did the job, and some. They had excellent grip on sub dome's and Half Dome's granite surfaces, and got me home 100% blister free. If you're questioning whether your Chacos can handle Half Dome, the answer is yes... so long as your feet are used to the straps and you've done a few shorter hikes with them before. As far as who fared better on the mountain between my old man and me, I'll put it this way. One of us never had to stop to change socks. One of us made it up and down without blisters. It's the same one.