Half Dome — Page 9

Hikers on Half Dome Cables


Having been maybe a little bit impatient on the way up, I resolve to do better on the way down—and in particular to stay safely between the cables the whole way.

So, my descent begins with another long, long wait. I take my place at the end of the line of people trying, like me, to get back down. Time passes. No one moves. I try to imagine what the holdup is. When after twenty minutes or so a lone person crests the hump and ascends past us, we aggressively interrogate him: what's going on down there?

Waiting to Descend the Cables Half Dome & 46° Granite At the Bottom of the Cables Sierra Landscape Half Dome, Sub Dome, and Hikers

The answer seems to be just too many people.

Since we've got some time to kill, then, it might be a good time to discuss ways that you can maximize your future cable-crawling enjoyment.

I assume NPS is going to extend the currently-trial permit system to eliminate the Monday loophole. So crowds next year are not likely to be so oppressive.

Still, the best way to beat the crowds is to get up early. Get to the base of the cables by 10 a.m., and you'll likely find the route all but empty. Peaks hours are 11 a.m. to around 3 or 4 p.m., the period when most people reach the cables from Yosemite Valley, mill around at the top for an hour or so, and then head back down.

If there are two mandatory pieces of gear for the route, they are good leather work gloves, and hiking or mountaineering boots with a vibram rubber sole.

The gloves are invaluable for the descent, as they allow you to use friction to step-'n-slide down the cables. The boots are even more important: decades of foot travel across Half Dome's east face have polished the rock to glass-like slipperiness.

In ordinary footwear, including most running shoes, you'll have almost no traction whatsoever on the steepest part of the route—not good. Also, notice that there are wood slats across the cables at each pair of rail posts—use them!

Where it gets steep, stand on the slats, and only move when it's clear on your side to advance to the next slat. Don't attempt to hang from the cable in between slats.

When all is going well, people move single-file up one cable and down the other in a spaced rhythm, stopping at each slat until it's clear to move to the next one. When all is going poorly (ie, today), people clog the cables, getting hung up between slats in large bunches, where they cling, death grip-style, feet slipping and skidding beneath them, their strength and sanity rapidly eroding.

Are we moving yet? Ah, good. I'm ready to get down. It is just shy of 3 p.m. when I reach the bottom of the cables, where I find long-lost Bill ready to ascend. He's decided the crowds on the cables have thinned enough to have a go at it. I wish him well, and we make plans to reunite back in the valley. That done, I set a fast pace down the trail, hoping to make dinner at the Curry Village dining hall—but first I plan to refill my empty water bottle ASAP.

I'm blazing along when I spy the weary faces of our tent-cabin neighbors, father and son, still diligently working their way upward, now at the base of Sub Dome's granite steps. I say a quick hello as I pass; they don't seem to recognize me. It seems to me they should have turned back by now—especially if they expect to get home before dark—but I'm in a hurry, hungry and thirsty, and I don't stop to say anything.

next: The Mist Trail

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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