Hiking Half Dome was a bucket list item for me.
I decided earlier this year I was going to do it.
When my buddy dropped out, I took it as a sign that maybe this was something I needed to do alone… an opportunity to unplug from the world and focus on myself.
It was the best thing I could’ve done.
I had a lot of “me time” during the 16-mile, 11-hour (including a one-hour break at the top of Half Dome) hike. Here a few insights and takeaways from my trip:
- “Too much” is better than “not enough.” I had never done a hike of this magnitude before, so I wasn’t sure what my limits would be. The recommendation was to bring four liters of water for the average hiker. With temperatures expected to hit the 90’s, I opted for five liters. It added extra weight, but I didn’t want to risk it. I also brought way too many snacks and one too may sandwiches. But I just kept thinking of the worst-case scenario. As I was hiking alone, what if I got lost? What if I came across someone who needed water? A couple extra pounds of food and water could be the difference between life and death. As it turns out, I only needed 3.5 liters of water, but I will always err on the side of caution.
- Social media is not all bad. Yes, it has its faults, but it came in quite handy for me on this trip. While I was happy to unplug for most of it, I had quite a few friends and family back home who were worried about me making the hike alone… especially as I planned to start in the dark. Cell reception is practically non-existent on the Yosemite Valley floor, so they were just going to have to wait until I got “back to civilization” to find out if I was safe. But lo and behold as I reached the top of Half Dome, I had cell phone coverage again! Of course I called my mom first, but after I was able to post a status update on Facebook complete with a picture. It was a great way to update my friends and family that I was safe and that I had made it!
- Personal communication is still a valuable tool. On the trail, you’ll come across like-minded hikers going up or coming down. It was refreshing to break away from the texts and emails and simply have conversations. Sometimes it was just “Good Morning” and other times it was more in depth. As the temperatures soared in the afternoon, I found myself constantly asking people still going up if they had enough food and water. Also, the last 400 feet to reach Half Dome requires a steep climb via a cable system. People are lined up single file and can basically only go when the person in front of them goes. At the same time, there are people coming down the cables. So you have to yield and work together to ensure each other’s safety. This made communication the potential difference between life and death. Also, without communication, I would only have selfies!
- The early bird does catch the worm! I did my research and knew this hike was going to be a long one. I also knew it was going to get HOT! So I opted to start my hike before the sun came up to beat the heat going up. I figured that it would be much easier to deal with the heat coming down. I was right. With comfortable temps in the morning, I not only made great time, but also consumed far less water. I was at the top by 9:10 am and had plenty of time to relax before heading back down the mountain. I felt for the people who opted to sleep in and start later. They looked quite miserable as they made the climb with the sun beating down on them. It’s always good to get an early start in all aspects in life… and do the hardest thing first!
- The last mile is truly the hardest mile… and the most rewarding. As I noted above, after hours of hiking up, you have to scale the side of Half Dome via a cable system to reach the top. It’s steep and slippery and people have been seriously injured and have even died trying to climb it. It’s not for the faint of heart and requires more arm and leg strength than you would think. It’s a physical and mental challenge as you are already tired from the initial climb. But the payoff is spectacular. You not only have incredible views, but you feel a sense of pride knowing you have accomplished something that few others have. Coming down the mountain, the last mile is just as difficult, if not even more. You’ve been hiking all day… you’re hot and tired… your legs are killing you, your shoulders and back hurt from wearing a backpack. All you want to do is get back to your camp and lie down! Again that last mile is the worst… but collapsing on my cot at camp when I finally got there is a feeling I will never forget!
I’ve put together a slideshow if you want to see more of my Half Dome bucket list adventure: