Half Dome: Nevada Falls and Little Yosemite Valley

You can read part one of our trip up half dome here.

The two trails up Half Dome split at the top of Vernal Falls. The Mist trail takes a short detour to the top of Nevada Falls (adding a little distance on to the journey), whereas the John Muir trail is a more direct route. We never want to miss anything (especially as it takes so much effort to climb Half Dome!) so each time we have taken the Mist Trail.

It’s about a 2 mile hike from Vernal Falls to Nevada Falls, characterised by switchbacks and some rocky pathways through a forest area. The sunlight weaving through the trees and the light reflecting off the water at the bottom of Vernal Falls created beautiful little rainbows in the mist.

The top of Nevada Falls is a beautiful place to sit and chill, having gained an extra 1000ft above Vernal Falls, taking us to a total height of 6000ft above sea level. On our first trip, this was as far as we got. We’d set off far too late in the day and didn’t really want to hike in the dark, so we chose to stop at Nevada Falls, spend some time exploring and then headed back down the trail.

One of my best memories of that particular trip was taking off our shoes and socks and paddling in the calm water of the Merced River before the waterfall. It was a perfect way to refresh ourselves after the steep climb!

Our subsequent trips have seen us hiking much further up the trail. Leaving Nevada Falls behind, Little Yosemite Valley is a much flatter part of the hike. Surrounded by trees, it offers some welcome shade from the blistering heat. I loved the surroundings here; the sounds of the forest and the smell of the trees. The scent was almost overwhelming and it makes me think of adventure every time I smell it. This was a stunning walk with glimpses of Half Dome through the trees.

Little Yosemite Campground was a big milestone for me – I hadn’t expected to make it that far!! If I was to do the trail again, I would definitely consider camping at this campground to acclimatise to the altitude and rest up before attempting the climb to the top of Half Dome.

The Mountains are calling and I must go

– John Muir

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.

Sleeping in the Car: What Adventures Are Made Of

We never arrive at our camping destinations in the daytime. It’s become a standing joke now, but sometimes it’s not that funny!

We were planning to stay at Sweetwater camping ground in California before a longer stay in Wawona, Yosemite. Looking at the sat nav, our drive was estimated at about 6 hours, however we failed to take into account the food/ water stops, our supply run through Target, the bumpy forest roads and the fact that our sat nav lost signal and was directing us backwards and forwards across forest roads that looped around and around.

By 10pm when we still hadn’t found the campground, we woke up the two passengers in the back of the car, swapped drivers and pulled out the paper map to try and identify our location.

Finally, pulling into the campground at around 1am, it was too dark to see the pitches, so we opted to sleep in the car by the side of the road. There were four of us in the car. With sleeping bags, tents, fire wood and food. It was cramped to say the least. It was cold. Every noise was a bear (probably). We managed about one hours sleep between the four of us. It was one of the most uncomfortable nights I’ve ever spent.

To make things worse, the toilet facilities were terrible. They were ‘long-drop’ toilets and I swear that something was running around in the pit below. The smell was terrible, but at least some kind soul had left hand wash and toilet paper in the ladies- the guys didn’t even have that!

The next morning, as soon as it got light, we found our spot and set up the tent. Snatching a spot next to the water, we sat up bleary-eyed and took in the sights.

It was beautiful. The water was crystal clear and refreshingly cool in the hot summer sun. The camping area was immaculate and we had loads of space. Our morning view was a riverbank. The trails were pretty and the wildlife was all over the place!

All the things that went wrong fuel our stories of that trip. Instead of focussing on them as negatives, they are the excitement that turns memories into adventures. I love telling people about our stay in Sweetwater.

Other similar experiences are really common when you are travelling. Things don’t go to plan, it’s not all sunshine, blue skies and Instagram friendly photos, but sometimes, a trip that doesn’t go to plan results in some of the best memories of travel.

Hoodoos at Bryce Canyon

A Day at Bryce Canyon

Sitting on the little shuttle bus, we trundled in the heat around Bryce Canyon, jumping on and off the bus from stop to stop to make sure we saw as much as possible on our brief day trip.

The key sites at Bryce Canyon are Bryce Point, Inspiration Point, Sunset Point and Sunrise Point – all with great vistas over the natural cliffs and drops throughout the park.

Looking out over the view, we took our time soaking in the natural beauty of the area. Although it was a very dry and dusty place, there was wildlife all around and we spent ages watching the birds flying in and out of the holes in the rock face.

We didn’t get chance to do a hike or take in a Ranger programme, although both are on offer throughout the park. In particular, if we were there a little longer, I’m sure a hike through the tall, spiky hoodoos at the bottom of the amphitheater would have been incredible and created some great photographs!