Half Dome — Page 3

Yosemite - John Muir Trail

The John Muir Trail

Four a.m. My tent-neighbor's alarm clock goes off, waking me. This can mean only one thing: just like Bill and me, father and son next door are hiking half dome today.

After they've rustled about for a bit in the dark and then departed, I try unsuccessfully to settle back into sleep. Two hours later our alarm beeps, and after a quick breakfast we're on the trail as well, heading east out of Curry Village toward the John Muir Trail.

Yosemite - Bill on the John Muir Trail Merced River Mule Train Yosemite Valley at Dawn

There are two initial options hikers can choose: the John Muir Trail and the Mist Trail.

It's not a bad idea to go up one and down the other, so that you end up looping around Nevada Falls. Of the two variations the Mist Trail is shorter, steeper, wetter, and most definitely slipperier, making the JMT typically safer and easier—especially if you're hiking in the dark.

For those unwilling or unable to hike all the way to Half Dome, a loop around Nevada and Vernal Falls is itself a fine day hike, well worth the effort. Today, Bill and I will be going up the John Muir and (eventually) down the Mist Trail, ensuring we get to see as many of the sights as possible.

Regardless, we begin the day on the John Muir Trail, joining it at the end of the road out of Curry Village, and here at 7 a.m. the trail is already well-populated with hikers and sightseers.

It is worth mentioning the trail begins with a steep climb that seems even steeper in these early morning hours. We're soon above the chilly air at the valley's floor, and with warming temperatures and a continued climb, I peel off my extra shirt.

Between us and Half Dome there are a number of water sources, but only one is safe to drink untreated.

That would be the obvious drinking fountain at the footbridge that crosses the Merced River, about an hour above the trailhead. Just past this bridge is the junction to the Mist Trail. Bill and I pass our tent-camp neighbors at the footbridge. They turn left, along with most of the morning hikers, heading up the Mist Trail. After topping our water bottles, Bill and I turn right, continuing up the now much less crowded John Muir Trail.

Soon, we're passed by a mule train. With the rise of thru-hiking, mule packers have seen a resurgence in business, as they are often contracted to drop supplies for backpackers attempting long sections of the John Muir Trail. After letting the mules and the dust pass, Bill and I continue our ascent, gradually gaining elevation. We've soon climbed high enough to watch the new day breaking over Glacier Point and Yosemite Valley. It looks like a perfect day to climb Half Dome, with a bright blue sky, no wind, and no trace of clouds.

next: Nevada Falls

About SierraDescents

When there is snow, SierraDescents is Andy Lewicky's California backcountry skiing and mountaineering website. Without snow, sierradescents becomes an ill-tempered hiking and climbing blog.

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