JMT Day 3: Up Half Dome, to Sunrise

Hiking towards Half Dome
Hiking towards Half Dome

Today the first major highlight of the trail awaits us: Half Dome! Actually it is not part of the John Muir Trail, but almost all JMT hikers do the small side trip.

After a warm night (9°C = 48°F in the tent) and a short breakfast we get started at 7:50. Not as early as I’ve hoped, but still early enough to avoid all the day hikers that will summit Half Dome from the bottom of Yosemite Valley.

Easy ascent through the forest to Half Dome Junction
Easy ascent through the forest to Half Dome Junction

After ascending for 300 m (1000 ft) through the forest we reach the junction where the Half Dome Trail branches from the John Muir Trail. Here we get rid of our backpacks. At first we were a bit worried to leave our packs, but as there are already so many packs here the chances of someone (or a bear) taking ours is relatively low.

Nick borrowed us a small knapsack so we can take only the most necessary things (snacks, water and valuables) with us. Nick and Shenan have done Half Dome already yesterday afternoon so they continue east, but we will see them most likely at camp again.

Nick and Shenan at Half Dome Junction
Nick and Shenan at Half Dome Junction

We continue up through the forest until we reach the bottom of Sub Dome where a ranger checks our permits and gives some instructions. Here the forest ends and we’re walking on plain granite.

Half Dome summit comes into view
Half Dome summit comes into view
Steps up Sub Dome
Steps up Sub Dome

Reaching the top of Sub Dome we can see the cables going up Half Dome. Kevin and I speed up to pass a group of boy scouts preparing to go up as well. We don’t want to get stuck behind them. We grab a pair of gloves (mmmh, nice sweaty plastic gloves!) and off we go…

The cables
The cables

The ascent is not very difficult, but still trickier than I thought it would be. The rock is quite slippery from the masses of tourists going up (every day close to 300 permits are issued) and the incline is steeper than expected.

First meters on the cables
First meters on the cables

Mostly you’re pulling yourself up with your arms for a few meters, then rest for some seconds. Fortunately there is little traffic on the cables while we’re going up. I guess the most dangerous thing that can happen is one hiker losing his grip and taking the following hikers with him while falling. Better not only watch your own steps…

Pretty amazing that such a „trail“ is open to the public, given that these are the United Stated of I-can-sue-anyone-for-my-own-stupid-mistakes. But probably you sign away all your rights when applying for a permit…

That's about how steep it gets
That’s about how steep it gets
String of people on the cables
String of people on the cables

Anyway I enjoy the climb and soon we reach the wide summit plateau. We take a break as far away from the actual summit as possible to avoid the crowds.

On the summit plateau
On the summit plateau
On top of Diving Board - is this the fast way back to the valley?
On top of Diving Board – is this the fast way back to the valley?
Descending is more difficult and strenous than going up
Descending is more difficult and strenous than going up

Going down is a bit more difficult than going up but as there is still only little (opposing) traffic we manage to get the cables over with quickly.

People going up and down
People going up and down

We’re running out of water so we head back to Half Dome Junction where we’re a bit relieved to find our packs just where we left them.

Back on the John Muir Trail
Back on the John Muir Trail

After leaving Half Dome Junction we notice the significant decline in the number of people we see. No more day hikers are going here. Until we get closer to Tuolumne Meadows tomorrow it will stay like this! Very good!

For the rest of the day the map promises an easy walk through forest terrain.

Green & juicy meadow
Green & juicy meadow

I frankly expect this to be a bit monotonous, but to my surprise the nature of the forest changes quite often.

Ever changing forest
Ever changing forest
Hiking with a view
Hiking with a view
The view
The view

With the side trip to Half Dome the day gets quite long and Kevin and I are both feeling quite powered out. At 5:15 pm we’re pretty happy to reach our destination, the backpackers‘ campground near Sunrise High Sierra Camp. Nick and Shenan are already there waving at us and have reserved a nice campsite for us! Thanks guys!

The beginning of Long Meadow - the end of our day
The beginning of Long Meadow – the end of our day
Campsite near Sunrise High Sierra Camp
Campsite near Sunrise High Sierra Camp

For dinner I have a MountainHouse Beef Stroganoff with Noodles (not actually my favourite but I’d have eaten anything now) and after a bar of chocolate for dessert I start feeling better again. At dinner I also discover my first „gear failure“ – a broken spork! With some duct tape it is fixed quickly and tomorrow I’ll probably be able to buy a new one at the store in Tuolumne Meadows.

It has been great climbing up Half Dome and I’m happy to have done it. Nevertheless next time I would rather skip it and hike to the neighbouring summit of Cloud’s Rest instead. There should be no crowds and it offers a nice view on Half Dome!

Distance hiked on JMT: 9.2 mi / 14.8 km
Distance hiked off JMT: 4.0 mi / 6.4 km
Elevation gained: 5300 feet / 1600 meters
Time spent hiking (including breaks): 9:35 h

Maps of Day 3 (red = JMT, blue = other trails)

Little Yosemite Valley - Half Dome - Sunrise High Sierra Camp (part 1)
Little Yosemite Valley – Half Dome – Sunrise High Sierra Camp (part 1)
Little Yosemite Valley - Half Dome - Sunrise High Sierra Camp (part 2)
Little Yosemite Valley – Half Dome – Sunrise High Sierra Camp (part 2)
<<< Day 2: Back to square one <<< Day 3 >>> Day 4: Tuolumne Meadows >>>


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