A few years ago when someone would tell me they were going on a 15-hour hike I would absolutely think they were crazy (yes, I’m thinking of you, K.N.), but this year I was like, “yeah, sure, this sounds fun.” And it was! I went with my Achieve Fitness hiking group, and it was the culminating hiking trip after our 12-week training program. I arrived at Housekeeping Camp in Yosemite National Park after an easy 5-hour drive from Reno. This also included a 30-minute stop at Whoa Nellie Deli in Lee Vining for a burger. Lucky me, there was no traffic, but I hear it can get backed up near the park entrance. By 8 pm I was already in bed because we had to wake up at 3 am the next morning to start the hike. After a ride from our leader’s husband, we were ready with our headlamps on at 4 am at the Happy Isles trailhead.
Half-Dome is one of the most iconic landmarks in Yosemite, rising 8,800 feet above sea level. With an elevation gain of 4,800 feet from the valley floor, most people do this 17-mile hike in 12 hours, but it took us 15 because we stopped a lot, took tons of pictures, and enjoyed some time soaking our tired feet near the Little Yosemite Valley Campground on the way back. We took the John Muir trail up and the Mist trail down. The John Muir trail is longer but less steep than the popular and scenic Mist trail. I totally recommend this trail if you’ve done Half-Dome thru the Mist trail before, as it will be easier on your quads, but if you’ve never been to the Mist trail before, you must do it for the amazing views of Nevada and Vernal Falls. Be careful though, on our way down we had rain and hail besides the waterfall mist, and it was very slippery.
The hike is relatively easy (well, for those of us who have been training for a while at least) until you reach the base of Sub-Dome, where they check your hiking permits. It is a good idea to contain your excitement before you start this last part of your hike and actually spend some time relaxing under the shade of the trees. We watched squirrels trying to steal our food and even helped the park ranger with the permits when he had to go to the bathroom. After you start on the Sub-Dome, the heat will be excruciating. BTW, you will need really good traction on your shoes and hiking poles for this part. Many say this 400-feet ascent is the hardest part of the hike, even harder than the cables up Half-Dome. Once you summit Sub-Dome, you have a 30-minute arm work-out pulling yourself up the cables to summit Half-Dome. You must wear rubber gloves and you will have blisters on your hands!
Besides always staying on the trail, another good idea is to never try anything new on a big hike like this. Unfortunately for me, I had no choice. The hike to Half-Dome requires a lot of water – I consumed a total of 4 liters, but I could have used even more. I had brought my UV SteriPen to sterilize my water, but of course it did not want to work that day. I had to use some iodine tablets I had never tried before to clean my water and refill my Camelback around the middle of the hike. I don’t know if it was the iodine or the extra electrolytes I had to put it in the water to offset the taste, but nausea and diarrhea set in, and by the time I finished the hike up Sub-Dome and reached the cables to get to the very top of Half-Dome, I was not feeling good at all. My dilemma was: should I just go ahead and pull myself up thru those cables since I had gotten all the way there already or should I listen to my body and take it easy since I already had another 7 hours ahead of me going back down? What do you think I did? Take the poll below!
The hike down was miserable for a while. Every time I took a sip of my iodine water, I would get nauseated again, but if I didn’t, I would be so thirsty! Not even the beautiful waterfalls of the Mist trail could cheer me up, but one good thing of hiking with a group of relatively unknown people is that I couldn’t just throw a fit like I would have done many years ago while hiking with my ex-husband (sorry K.N.!!) Eventually, I was able to get filtered water, and my stomach started to get a little better. We made it back to our campground at 7:30 pm. At the end of the 15 hours, I felt such a sense of accomplishment I didn’t even care about my water/stomach mishap or that the showers were closed and I had to go to bed all filthy!
It was an incredible amazing experience and I can’t wait to do it again! After you complete a challenge like this, you just feel exhilarated. The views were breathtaking and being in the wilderness is inspirational (especially if you grew up in the city like me). However, I hate when people just talk about how great their experience was (like when everybody was telling me India would be so awesome…), so let me warn you: this hike was HARD! If you decide to do it, please train, train, and train: it is good for your mind since because of my training I knew I could do it, and for your body, since the day after I was barely sore. Oh, and bring a back-up UV SteriPen for your water!