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Yosemite National Park, CA   10/02-07/08 (Day 720-725)
Half Dome? Check!

Half Dome Yosemite
Before hiking up Half Dome we drive up to Glacier Point
for an overview of the pain to come.

We’ve been to Yosemite National Park plenty of times over the years, but somehow we’ve never hiked up iconic, valley-dominating Half Dome. When Karen’s sister says she wants to do the hike as well, the deal is sealed and we steer our Airstream straight for the park’s Upper Pines Campground near Curry Village, where we somehow manage to get a weekend campsite reservation and backcountry permits to climb Half Dome even on short notice.

The three of us spend a cozy night carbo-loading, binging on Karen’s sister’s famous pre-hike brownies, sitting out the rain and hoping the weather improves before we have to hit the trail.

Yosemite Nevada Falls
Karen and her sister take a break about 3/4 of the way up to
Little Yosemite Valley with Nevada Falls in the background.

We decide to do the 16 mile round trip hike from Yosemite Valley to the top of 8,836 foot Half Dome and back in two hard-hiking days instead of one insane day so we'll be camping for one night in Little Yosemite Valley just below the dome. This means we’ve got to dust off our tent, which hasn’t seen much action since we got our Safari SE, and pack up our Mountainsmith backpacks which end up weighing about 40 pounds each.

Mountainsmith backpack
Karen's hefty Mountainsmith backpack.

Luckily, it’s barely drizzling as we head out and we credit Karen’s sister’s Magic Poncho (a yellow monstrosity purchased hastily at the Curry Village Gift Shop when it looked like the rain was here to stay) for the improvement in the weather. For the next four hours we head up a section of the John Muir Trail which climbs steadily and steeply before reaching the top of Nevada Falls, then on to Little Yosemite Valley backcountry campground where we are relieved to discover that we still remember how to pitch a tent!

It’s damp and cold, but a group campfire and some tasty freeze-dried Mountain House camp food warm us up before we climb into our sleeping bags with one ear cocked for the aggressive female bear that the ranger warns us likes to roam the campground in search of food.

Half Dome
To reach the summit of Half Dome you have to climb up a nearly vertical
rock slope using cables. Note the ant-sized people clinging to mountain.

The next morning is clear and sunny and we get fantastic views from the trail during the hike up to the base of the final climb to the top of Half Dome. The last 400 feet of the ascent require walking up a nearly vertical granite rock face using massive steel cables to help pull ourselves up—and to keep us from falling off. It’s not for the squeamish and a few hikers seem to be re-considering their need to get to the top.

Hafl Dome Cables
These cables assist in climbing to the top of Half Dome over this
45 to 60 degree rockface that feels pretty near vertical when you're on it.

We, however, haven’t climbed 5,000 feet up from the valley floor just to turn back without reaching the summit so we head for the cables and start basically walking straight up a rock wall.

When we reach the expansive top of Half Dome we’re happy to discover that all of our feet feel great thanks to our new point6 socks. The same can’t be said for our pecs and triceps, however, as this is one of the few hikes we can think of that works the upper body as well as the lower body thanks to all that hauling up the cables.

Half Dome Yosemite Valley
Eric on a ledge on top of Half Dome with Yosemite Valley more than 4,000 feet below.

Then it’s back down Half Dome and back to our campsite in Little Yosemite Valley where we quickly break down camp, don our packs (why do they never seem any lighter even after you’ve devoured most of the food that was originally packed into them?) and continue another three hours very steeply down the brutal granite terrain of the Mist Trail.

Some sections of the so-called trail remind us of ancient Roman roads (only steeper) and the uneven, sole-beating conditions prove, yet again, that going downhill is often even harder than going uphill.

Then we get lost. Well, not really lost but poor signage at a cross roads sends us up the wrong trail for half a mile before we realize our mistake. This unplanned detour eats up precious time with sunset fast approaching on a trail that shouldn’t be navigated in the dark if you can help it. So, despite our fatigue, we hustle, spurred on by visions of the hot shower, homemade dinner and comfy beds we know are waiting for us back in our trusty Airstream

Half Dome Yosemite Valley Airstream
Our Airstream Safari SE with Half Dome in the bakground.

Our only Yosemite regret? We spot the 1928 Graeme Page car driven by Candelaria and Herman Zapp, two Argentinean road trip adventurers we’ve come to admire after reading their book Spark Your Dream. But before we can find the Zapps themselves, they disappear. If you guys are reading this: hola!


** This isn't a normal photo gallery with a slideshow because this post originally appeared on our Airstream blog. **

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