One morning earlier this summer one of my sons got an email from the National Park Service informing him that he had won a lottery for a permit allowing him to hike up Half Dome in Yosemite National Park—the next day. Michael didn’t waste a second. He got in touch with a hiking buddy right away, did what he needed to do to get ready, packed up his gear and hopped in a car for the long drive around lunchtime and headed north.
The Half Dome granite crest, shown above, is probably Yosemite’s most iconic formation. It rises nearly 5,000 feet above the valley floor and to nearly 9,000 feet above sea level. It is even featured on the logos of The North Face, Sierra Designs and Mountain Khakis outdoor product companies.
The pictures make the entire prospect seem incredibly daunting and, as a parent, I confess that I was more than a bit concerned for my son’s safety even though he is a very experienced hiker and climber and is in excellent condition. Even so, and despite an 1865 report declaring that Half Dome was “perfectly inaccessible, being probably the only one of the prominent points about the Yosemite which never has been, and never will be, trodden by human foot,” thousands of people can now reach the summit via an arduous but manageable trail that gains 4,800 feet in elevation. Michael started up around 1 a.m.—to beat some questionable weather forecast for later in the day—and reached the summit around sunrise (see the pics nearby—that’s him).
For my son, what was to be a taxing 16 mile hike became 20 miles and a bunch of added elevation due to a wrong turn in the dark. The final 400 feet up are via cables so that rock climbing equipment isn’t required and not permitted when wet on account of the danger. It’s pretty scary and often pretty much straight up.
The trek was tough and difficult but he made it unscathed. It was incredibly memorable for him. Yet Half Dome was hardly “perfectly inaccessible.”