Half Dome — Page 5

Merced River & Little Yosemite Valley

Little Yosemite Valley

Having connected with the top of the Mist Trail, the John Muir Trail becomes noticeably more crowded, populated once again with the full complement of today's Half Dome hikers.

This section of the route crosses the long, sandy floor of Little Yosemite Valley, passing initially alongside the Merced River before eventually making a big semi-circle about Half Dome's impressive south face, which rises high above the horizon to our left.

Little Yosemite Valley Hikers & Half Dome's South Face Yosemite Redwoods Half Dome Trail

Even from this considerable distance, sharp-eyed persons may be able to see a tiny line of spec-like hikers working up the route's cable section.

But that's a long way from here.

Plodding across sandy ground always proves to be a grind—especially on the hike back out. Sand erodes muscles and spirits, even though the way is mostly flat here.

About a mile ahead Bill and I pass the turnoff to the backpacker's camp. Now the trail begins to climb a bit, first gently, then more aggressively up a series of switchbacks. This is the section of the hike where you begin to suspect (incorrectly) that you're actually getting somewhere.

In fact, after another mile or so of this we leave the John Muir Trail for the Half Dome Trail, where the climbing and huffing and puffing begin in earnest.

We've got fully 2000 more vertical feet to gain, and now the altitude plus the sand-slogging plus the heat of the day are beginning to take their toll on me, slowing my pace considerably.

Bill seems unaffected. He scampers along ahead, soon traveling out of sight. I continue grinding along.

A curious phenomenon, so many miles up the trail now, is the abundance of people who appear utterly unprepared for a hike of this magnitude. Lack of proper footwear, clothing, even water—you name it, you'll probably find it here. Can some of these people really be hiking this far without any water? The perks of being young, says Bill, when I find him waiting for me ahead.

But still...really? I'm hot and thirsty, trying to conserve what I have in my water bottle. I can't imagine hiking here without water entirely. Half Dome, it must be said, absolutely does have that zooish quality found, say, on the Mount Whitney Trail or Shasta's Avalanche Gulch. It is a place where popularity draws the full range of the human spectrum, young and old, prepared and not.

Of course, conflict arises in that these places are wilderness, each with their own set of challenges seen and unseen. This dynamic generates a stage filled with daily mini-dramas, in which the unprepared (or the unlucky) find their way into troubles great or small (mostly small). Meanwhile, rangers and policy makers furrow their brows, trying in vain to find solutions to eliminate rescue calls without denying people access.

next: Sub Dome

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.

Pray for snow.