Yosemite NP - Half Dome Panorama

26 Days to WSER: A Lazy Half Dome

I woke and started my journey to Yosemite National Park very early. My plan was to stay at Camp 4, one of only two first-in, first-served campsites that had opened for the season. Camp 4 is famous as a hangout for rock climbers, and a line forms each morning before the ranger arrives to start allocating spots that have been vacated over the previous day. Each campsite fits six people, so groups of strangers are thrown together into a site with shared picnic tables and campfires. I entered the park before the gate was even manned for the day and made my way to Camp 4, arriving at 7:30AM (the ranger arrives at 8:30AM) to find around 15 people ahead of me.

The ranger arrived and immediately informed us that there were sufficient spots available to accommodate everyone in line. I waited my turn, selected my campsite from those available, paid my $5/night (not a typo) fee, and moved my gear across. I setup my tent, moved all of my food and toiletries into the provided bear locker, and then prepared my running gear for the day. I had been advised by a number of people to head out early to avoid the queues, but unfortunately due to the necessity of arranging my accommodation I only set out for my run slightly before midday.

I took a shuttle bus out to the Happy Isles trailhead, and commenced my day by heading up the Mist Trail.

Yosemite NP - Vernall Falls Panorama
Yosemite NP – Vernall Falls Panorama

The trail would take me up past the Vernall and Nevada Falls before connecting onto the trail up to Half Dome. The Mist Trail was packed with people and was very slow going as it is very difficult to overtake people as it climbs up narrow stairs alongside the falls.

Yosemite NP - Vernall Falls
Yosemite NP – Vernall Falls

I stopped for photos of both falls on my way up, and then at the top of the Nevada Falls I turned off onto the trail to Half Dome.

Yosemite NP - Nevada Falls
Yosemite NP – Nevada Falls

For the first time that day I was alone. The early going allowed for some running as I made my way alongside a river but soon the gradient increased and I started to hike up towards the dome. It was a steep climb in sections but I eventually reached the short final climb up to the cables. A ranger checked my permit and then I ascended to the bottom of the cables. I took a couple photos of the venture that awaited me, selected a well-used set of gloves for hanging onto the cables, and then started my way up.

Yosemite NP - Looking Up At Half Dome
Yosemite NP – Looking Up At Half Dome

It is extremely steep and you actually pull yourself up more than climb with your legs. I cannot claim to have a well-developed upper body so it was more tiring than the earlier hike had been. It was a fairly quick ascent as I only passed a handful of people heading down at the same time, and only overtook one couple on my way up.

Yosemite NP - Top of Half Dome Panorama
Yosemite NP – Top of Half Dome Panorama

When I reached the top I made my way to each side of the rock to take in the view and snap a few photos. Then it was time for the more daunting descent of the cables. As I looked down I noted quite a few people already on the cables and I found that the going was easier than it had seemed. But soon I caught up to the people ahead of me, and then things stopped. I would head down a very short way and then need to stop and wait. At some points I sat down on the wooden cross-beams and allowed the people ahead of me to get 20-30 metres ahead before starting once again. There were slow people both ascending and descending so there was no way around. I relaxed, enjoyed the view, took a couple of photos during the descent, and eventually reached the bottom of the cables.

Yosemite NP - Climbing Down Half Dome
Yosemite NP – Climbing Down Half Dome

Having climbed over 4000 feet up I now could enjoy some descent. It had been suggested that once I reached the top of Nevada Falls I could head onto the Panorama Trail, which would allow me to climb once again up to the lookout at Glacier Point, before dropping back into the valley via the Four-Mile Trail. It would add roughly 10 miles to the day and had sounded like a great idea at the time. But evaluating my legs I decided that I might just skip the extra 10 miles and take the more direct route home, although it did guilt me into feeling lazy. It took me a while to realise that even without the additional miles I would complete a 17-mile (27-km) day with over 5000 feet (1500 metres) of ascent, so maybe lazy wasn’t the correct descriptor to use.

Yosemite NP - Nevada Falls and Surrounds
Yosemite NP – Nevada Falls and Surrounds

When I reached the river above the two sets of falls I decided to cool my legs, so I wandered over to the shore and stode straight in still wearing my shoes and socks. I stood in the water for around 10 minutes, then returned to the shore and took off running once again. I reached the top of the Nevada Falls, crossed over to the other side of the falls and took the slightly longer descent down the John Muir Trail, due to its use of switchbacks rather than stairs. It was a very pleasant run down and I soon found myself back at the trailhead.

I made my way back to the shuttle bus stop and a bus immediately pulled up. It was quite full with people standing but there was still plenty of room. However the driver decided that it was full enough, closed the doors, and took off. I decided that there was no way that I was going to wait for another bus, so I took off once again and started running in the vague direction of my campsite. I crossed the river, spotted a large building and decided that I should work out exactly where I was. I had arrived at the Ahwahnee Hotel, so I quickly checked a map for directions, and took off once again. When I reached Yosemite Village I went into the store there, purchased a well-earned drink, and then took a shuttle bus back to my campsite.

It was a spectacular start to my running in Yosemite. I had booked myself into the campsite for 6 nights, so I had plenty of running to come. For details of my first day’s run you can check out the details on MovesCount.com here.

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