Half Dome: Vernal Falls

Half dome is not for those who are only half prepared. We prepped *a lot* and we only made it to the subdome. Only is a funny word though. For me, only reaching the subdome isn’t a failed attempt. What some would call failed, I call successful (and arguably one of my biggest achievements).

Half Dome is probably one of the most iconic sights of Yosemite National Park. It’s hulking outline stands tall over the whole park and it’s easy to see why it’s the one sight that everyone wants a photo with.

Our journey on Half Dome actually started a couple of visits back when we first stayed at Yosemite. Three friends with ambitions of making it to the top. We were fuelled with the optimism of those who have never attempted it before and bolstered by the sense of adventure that can only arise from watching ‘In to the Wild’ in a tent in the middle of Wawona the night before. We thought we could conquer it with gusto. That’s not to say we came to it green – we’d done our research; training as much as we could by getting hiking trips in back home (although to be fair, nothing like the height of Half Dome) and we’d kitted ourselves out in all of the right gear.

On that first occasion, we started out on the wrong foot by setting off far too late for the trek. By the time we had driven from Wawona to the trail head in Yosemite Valley, it was probably about 9am. Although this sounds fairly early, most people recommend that to get to the top and back in good time, you should be planning to set off on the first part of the trail at around 4/5am. As the first part of the pathway is paved, this makes sense. Trust us, you want to make up time on the way up as coming down the route in the dark because you have set off too late is no fun at all.

Getting ready for the hike is no mean feet either. The whole trail takes around 10-12 hours walk, gaining an elevation of 4800ft (8,800ft above sea level). Being prepared is so important. For me, this meant 2 hydration packs, 2 additional bottles of water, breakfast and lunch and lots of energy boosting snacks. That’s a lot to carry on your back for a hike or this length but, it is absolutely necessary!

The first section of trail is only about a mile or so of paved pathway, but it’s very steep (at this point of the trail, we were 4500ft above sea level). After a short hike up this path, the water fountains at the top are a very welcome sight. This is the last place to get water on the half dome trail (and also the last place for flushing toilets – prepare yourself!!). I have to say, this water is the best I have ever tasted. Ever. I actually ended up emptying one hydration pack and filling it up with water from this fountain instead. It’s that good, and I’ve tasted water from a glacier). I have no idea why it tasted so amazing but every time we have decided to do the half dome trail (about 3 times), the thought of that water fountain has been my motivating factor for getting to the top of the first mile!

After passing the footbridge just past the water-stop, the steepness increases massively as huge stone steps lead up to the first major waterfall on the trail; Vernal Falls. This part of the hike, although strenuous, is stunning. The steps are cut into the side of the waterfall, meaning that the water roars down to your left as you ascend. We’ve done this trail in the middle of summer and early spring. In summer, the steps are hot and dry, but in the spring it’s clear to see how the Mist Trail gets its name. In a huge contrast to the first time we took this trail, visiting in spring left us soaked! The force of Vernal Falls generated a spray which make us feel like we were hiking up the middle of the waterfall rather than the side. It was slippy and soggy work, but by the time we got to the top of the waterfall, we were grateful for the cooling effect of the spray.

The top of Vernal Falls was incredible. At 5000ft up, rushing of the water and the view across the valley below made the hard climb all the more worthwhile.

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