Matt and I planned our trip to Yosemite about a month or two in advance so we could be most prepared and of course, have the best time. We knew that if we were going to go there for the first time we had to go big or go home. We are also quite adventurous and ambitious when it comes to short trips like this that we skip the lounge time and try to enjoy every single moment we have before we head back to real life aka do everything in one or two days.
We researched the 'interwebs' and asked around from friends for advice. Almost everyone recommended we do the hike up to Half Dome and climb the cables to the very top. Challenge accepted. That was easy. Inflicted with some fears about testing our strength and if we could make it before sundown.
We booked our campsite easily, we went in September of 2015 so there were some open spots. I definitely recommend staying at the Upper Pines Campground for anyone looking to escape major crowds and want a real camping experience. It is nestled in the heart of Yosemite Valley, situate near the Merced River and Tenaya Creek. (I believe the busiest times to visit start from May-September and from personal experience, it was impossible to book a campsite last minute so plan ahead!) We tried to lock down some Half Dome cable permits however those are also usually booked at the start of the a new season. Don't worry, they also hold a same day/day before lottery for a few lucky hikers as well. Fortunately, we were a pair of lucky ones! *side note: I highly recommend if you do do this semi-last minute and really want to secure a spot, have each person in your hiking party to apply for the permit. You chances are better. More info here!
We spent 3 days and 2 nights in Yosemite. Our first day we checked out Mirror lake, set up our campsite, made dinner (camp tacos, my favorite) and head to bed early to enjoy the entire full day the following day.
Day two, we took our time cooking breakfast (camp eggs and bacon!), walked to what was formerly known as Curry Village and is now, Half Dome Village to visit the general store, grabbed some coffee and any extra supplies we needed then set out to do a small, easy hike on the Mist Trail to Vernal Fall. This trail tends to be popular and pretty busy. Make sure you are wearing comfortable shoes, have extra water, perhaps a light water resistant jacket and a snack. Once you get close to the fall, the trail gets more challenging; there are quite a few steps! This also leads to the Emerald Pool which is the above Vernal fall. We spent at least an hour lounging on the rocks, enjoying lunch and a quick (and chilly) dip in the water. Bring water shoes or sneaks you're not fond of to avoid going in bare foot and possibly a sharp rock!
Day three, we were lucky to get permits to hike up the Half Dome and conquer those cables! Surprisingly, there were a lot of people out there as well. I know they say they sell a few about hundred or so, so that really shocked me! We left and packed up our campsite around 5:30/6am but to be honest didn't actually start our hike until about 7am. Behind schedule but we wanted to pack up + park our car so we would be ready to head out after we were done.
7:00:00am Journey to the top of Half Dome begins.
We chose to follow the John Muir Trail (had to) up. It was challenging both mentally and physically. It was exciting yet nerve wrecking. I kept having this "what if" we don't make it feeling or wondering how strong were were both, really?! Pushing doubt aside (bye, Felicia), what really helped was knowing we had each other to lean on (literally). The chocolate bars came in every time someone got 'hangry' and many, many were breaks taken.
I remember getting to the sub dome which looked like heaven on earth; peaceful, open and sky high; bare with minimal trees, some animal life, and endless views. The cables part looked intimidating at first, but for me personally, once I was on it, I was WAY more comfortable having a cable to hold on to. It is a bit of a tight squeeze having groups coming down, while there are pairs or groups going up... so be mindful to have some empathy, patience, and kindness for others -- enjoy the views!
On top of the world. Past the climbing of cables. We did it.
If I were to imagine what Mars or the moon looks like in person, this was the closest thing yet. It was just solid rock, a few dips and craters, piles of other rocks and the edge. Many were brave enough to walk to the sit or Half Dome; the sheer side which you can see from a distance. Matt was one of those brave souls, he spent some time up there taking photos with his GoPro. I on the other hand was perfectly content with staying at least 4 feet from edge. Its a strange feeling; I felt like I needed to hold on to something as if I was going to get blown of or fall off, which is kind of impossible unless done with force or carelessness. Anyways-- we promised to stay up there for at least an hour, enjoy a meal we packed, many more photos and QT together before we headed back down.
The way down with equally challenging, if not more challenging to have to scale down eh mountain after your muscles are already spent! My knee joints got the best of me as well. But again, the comforting thing to know is that we did it, we were half way done and we still had each other.
Overall, it took us eleven hours from top to bottom 4800 ft in elevation. Every moment (every step) was breath taking and even during the hardest times when I wished it would just be over already, it made me stronger as a person and in our relationship. We finished and could not be happier to see the shuttle bus to take us back to the village and our car. We rested, cleaned up and ate before we trekked back to San Francisco. The feeling of accomplishment and the moments captured still are vivid in my memory. People always ask if I would do it again-- I say yes!!
Totally recommend the following if you get to do this life-changing experience to the top of the world:
- Broken-In Hiking Boots
- Hiking Poles (trust me!!)
- 2 Layers of Clothing (hot, cold)
- Lots of H20! We each had 6 water bottles. Lots to carry - pack wisely
- NUUN Electrolyte tablets (helpful to stay hydrated)
- Energizing Snacks (dried banana chips, chocolate bar and beef jerky was our go to!)
- Inexpensive Gardening Gloves with a good grip (skip the cloth ones with the little rubber dots, they ripped for Matt)
- Extra Socks
- Lunch (we had sandwiches)
- Small first aid kit with blister kits, pain killers and any necessary medications.
- Compass + Map
- Camera- we brought a Kodak disposable camera for kicks and our Nikon DSLR (duh!)