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Monday, September 19, 2005


Half Dome - Second Time up the Rock

The Big Piece of Granite is like a Magnet to Hikers


"Half Dome stands at the elevation of 8,842 feet. It is made up from a type of granite, plutonic rock. Yosemite National Park's Half Dome's missing half is presumed to have fallen off when the Ice Age glaciers passed through."

Half Dome, Sheer Side from Glacier Point
Photo © Arundhati Bhowmick,Aug.2004

Ascended Half Dome on Sept.10th. My friend Sarbajit Ghosal and I had done it in 2001. When Sarbajit mentioned a month ago that he was planning another trip I readily decided to join him. While painfully hanging on to the cable going up the Dome I asked myself, "why am I doing this; what am I trying to prove?". There must be many others who felt the same way I did. There is something about Half Dome that is hard to explain. You see the big piece of granite from various points in the Yosemite Valley and you think the hike (there is no other way of reaching it) would be worth trying. You do it and say "never again". It demands a lot, as a marathon does. But just as a few days after running a marathon, many runners begin to think of the next one, Half Dome hikers are of the same breed. Met a guy who said he had climbed it when he was 25 and was back to do it during his 50th year.

The round trip hike is approximately 17 miles. It can take anywhere from 10 to more than 14 hours depending on weather conditions and fitness of the hiker.During the season, hundreds of men, women and kids hike the 17-mile round trip from Yosemite Valley. Not an easy trek. The elevation gain is about 4800 ft (almost a mile) in 8.5 miles. On September 10th, when we were on the trail, almost 50% of the hikers were women.

View from the trail-Photo © Musafir

On the trail with friends - Photo © Sarbajit Ghosal

With Sarbajit - Photo © Gaurav

In ideal conditions, some hikers do it under 10 hours. It took us 13, out of which we spent more than 1 hour going up the cable (300 yds) to the top. There were bottlenecks on the cable due to number of people ascending and descending at the same time. The unusual volume could have been due to the fact that for repair work the trail is closed this season Monday-Thursday upto 4 PM. That limited most of the hikers to the 3-day window---Friday, Saturday and Sunday.

If we go back it would be to hike up on a weekday. Although the Mist Trail alongside Vernal Falls is shorter by a mile than the John Muir Trail to reach Nevada Falls enroute to Half Dome, we took John Muir. Easier on the knees and we reached Nevada Falls in much better shape than we did four years ago going up the Mist Trail.

The Stairs (Quarter Dome) and the Cables

Sarbajit (2nd from left) on the Stairs
Photo© Musafir

Just when you begin to think that you will be at the base of the Dome, the Quarter Dome looms up. The trail builders have done a great job in creating a switchback to climb the Quarter Dome. Still, it is almost a half mile hike; the stone steps are rather high and take a toll. You descend from Quarter Dome and find youself facing the daunting cables.

Going up the Stairs - Photo © Sarbajit Ghosal

From the Stairs looking down - Photo © Musafir

From distance climbers look like ants crawling up - Photo © Sarbajit Ghosal

Traffic congestion at the base - Photo © Sarbajit Ghosal

From the base looking up - Photo © Musafir

The degree of slope at the base is 35-36 degrees and at points higher up the Dome more than 45 degrees.

Close up of the cables - Photo © Kenton Lee

The typical or target dates for the cables are to have them up for Memorial Weekend."
"They usually remain in place through Columbus Day weekend."

"The cables, extending approximately 300 yards up the steep shoulder of the 8,842 foot dome, allow visitor access to the summit and unparalleled views of Yosemite Valley and the Park's highcountry.

In 1919, the Sierra Club donated funds to install the first cables on Half Dome. The Civilian Conservation Corps replaced the original cables in the 1930's."

Hikers on top - Photo © Musafir

Sarbajit playing Tarzan - Photo © Musafir

Sarbajit at the precipice - Photo © Musafir

Sarbajit descending, backward (recommended). Quarter Dome lower background
Photo © Musafir

It is getting late for climbing Half Dome this season. However, those who are thinking of doing it will greatly benefit from Kenton Lee's excellent post "Climbing Half Dome The Easy Way". It contains a wealth of information about the trail as well as conditioning, gear,etc.

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