Sierra Nevada - Yosemite National Park - Half Dome

On August 21, 1966 I climbed Half Dome from Little Yosemite Valley as part of an Explorer Post 360 John Muir Trek. At various times I also photographed Half Dome from various places and have included some of those pictures here.

Half Dome and Tenaya Canyon from Washburn Point - Yosemite National Park - Jun 2006
Half Dome and Tenaya Canyon from Washburn Point - Yosemite National Park - Jun 2006

Half Dome is a granite dome at the eastern end of Yosemite Valley in Yosemite National Park, California. It is a well-known rock formation in the park, named for its distinct shape. One side is a sheer face while the other three sides are smooth and round, making it appear like a dome cut in half. The granite crest rises more than 4,737 feet above the valley floor.

The impression from the valley floor that this is a round dome that has lost its northwest half is an illusion. From Washburn Point, Half Dome can be seen as a thin ridge of rock, an arête, that is oriented northeast-southwest, with its southeast side almost as steep as its northwest side except for the very top. Although the trend of this ridge, as well as that of Tenaya Canyon, is probably controlled by master joints, 80 percent of the northwest "half" of the original dome may well still be there.

Hikers use cables to ascend Half Dome. As late as the 1870s, Half Dome was described as "perfectly inaccessible" by Josiah Whitney of the California Geological Survey. The summit was finally reached by George G. Anderson in October 1875, via a route constructed by drilling and placing iron eyebolts into the smooth granite.


Climbing the cables on Half Dome - Yosemite National Park - Aug 1966
Steve Henderson leads Explorer Post 360 group climbing the cables on Half Dome
Yosemite National Park - Aug 1966

Today, Half Dome may be ascended in several different ways. Thousands of hikers reach the top each year by following an 8.5 mile trail from the valley floor. After a rigorous 2 mile approach, including several hundred feet of granite stairs, the final pitch up the peak's steep but somewhat rounded east face is ascended with the aid of a pair of post-mounted braided steel cables originally constructed close to the Anderson route in 1919.

Alternatively, over a dozen rock climbing routes lead from the valley up Half Dome's vertical northwest face. The first technical ascent was in 1957 via a route pioneered by Royal Robbins, Mike Sherrick, and Jerry Gallwas, today known as the Regular Northwest Face.

Their five-day epic was the first Grade VI climb in the United States. Their route has now been free climbed several times in a few hours' time. Other technical routes ascend the south face and the west shoulder.

The Half Dome Cable Route hike runs from the valley floor to the top of the dome in 8.2 miles (via the Mist Trail), with 4,800 feet of elevation gain. The length and difficulty of the trail used to keep it less crowded than other park trails, but in recent years the trail traffic has grown to as many as 800 people a day.

The hike can be done from the valley floor in a single long day, but many people break it up by camping overnight in Little Yosemite Valley. It can also be done from camp in Little Yosemite Valley while backpacking the John Muir Trail. The trail climbs past Vernal and Nevada Falls, then continues into Little Yosemite Valley, then north to the base of the northeast ridge of Half Dome itself.

The cables going up Half Dome - Yosemite National Park - Aug 1966
The cables going up Half Dome - Yosemite National Park - Aug 1966

The final 400 feet ascent is steeply up the rock between two steel cables used as handholds. The cables are fixed with bolts in the rock and raised onto a series of metal poles in late May (the poles do not anchor the cables).

The cables are taken down from the poles for the winter in early October, but they are still fixed to the rock surface and can be used. The National Park Service recommends against climbing the route when the cables are down or when the surface of the rock is wet and slippery. The Cable Route is rated class 3, while the same face away from the cables is rated class 5.

The Cable Route can be crowded. In past years, as many as 1,000 hikers per day sometimes climbed the dome on a summer weekend, and about 50,000 hikers climbed it every year.

Since 2011 the Park Service has placed limits on the number of people allowed to use the Cable Route each day (300 per day as of 2019). A permit is required. For details on how to get a permit check the Park Website for Backpacking Half Dome Permits or Day Hike Half Dome Permits.

Permits are checked by a ranger on the trail, and no hikers without permits are allowed to hike beyond the base of the sub-dome or to the bottom of the cables. Hikers caught bypassing the rangers to visit either the sub-dome or main dome without a permit face fines of up to $5,000 and/or 6 months in jail.

The top of Half Dome is a large, flat area where climbers can relax and enjoy their accomplishment. The summit offers views of the surrounding areas, including Little Yosemite Valley and the Valley Floor.

A notable location to one side of Half Dome is the "Diving Board", where Ansel Adams took his photograph "Monolith, The Face of Half Dome" on April 10, 1927. Often confused with "the Visor," a small overhanging ledge at the summit, the Diving Board is on the shoulder of Half Dome.

From 1919 when the cables were erected through 2011, there have been seven fatal falls from the cables. The latest fatality occurred on September 5, 2019.

Lightning strikes can be a risk while on or near the summit. On July 27, 1985, five hikers were struck by lightning, resulting in two fatalities.

The Cable Route was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 2012.

Sunset on Half Dome - Yosemite National Park - Oct 1975
Sunset on Half Dome - Yosemite National Park - Oct 1975

On top of Half Dome, Teneya Canyon and Washington Column - Yosemite National Park - Aug 1966
Art Ravenscroft, Steve and Scott Henderson on top of Half Dome
Teneya Canyon and Washington Column - Yosemite National Park - Aug 1966

Half Dome was originally called "Tis-sa-ack", meaning Cleft Rock in the language of the local Ahwahnechee people. Tis-sa-ack is also the name of the fourth route on the formation, ascended by Royal Robbins and Don Peterson over eight days in October 1969.

Tis-sa-ack is the name of a mother from a native legend. The face seen in Half Dome is supposed to be hers. Tis-sa-ack is the name of a Mono Lake Paiute Indian girl in the Yosemite Native American legend. John Muir referred to the peak as "Tissiack".

Others say Ahwahneechee Native Americans named Half Dome "Face of a Young Woman Stained with Tears" ("Tis-se’-yak") because of the colonies of brown-black lichens that form dark vertical drip-like stripes along drainage tracks in the rock faces.

In 1988, Half Dome was featured on a 25 cent United States postage stamp. An image of Half Dome, along with John Muir and the California condor, appears on the California State Quarter, released in January 2005.

Teneya Canyon from Half Dome - Yosemite National Park - Aug 1966
Teneya Canyon from Half Dome - Yosemite National Park - Aug 1966

Half Dome from Olmstead Point on the Tioga Pass Road with the hiker cable route shown - Yosemite National Park - Jun 2006
Half Dome from Olmstead Point on the Tioga Pass Road with the hiker cable route shown
Yosemite National Park - Jun 2006
Half Dome from Olmstead Point on the Tioga Pass Road - Yosemite National Park - Jun 2006
Half Dome from Olmstead Point on the Tioga Pass Road
Yosemite National Park - Jun 2006

Half Dome from Little Yosemite Valley Trail - Yosemite National Park - Aug 1966
Half Dome from Little Yosemite Valley Trail - Yosemite National Park - Aug 1966
Half Dome, Yosemite Valley from Clouds Rest - Yosemite National Park - Sep 1975
Half Dome, Yosemite Valley from Clouds Rest - Yosemite National Park - Sep 1975

Half Dome from Clouds Rest - Yosemite National Park - Sep 1975
Half Dome from Clouds Rest - Yosemite National Park - Sep 1975
Morning light on Half Dome from Clouds Rest - Yosemite National Park - Sep 1975
Morning light on Half Dome from Clouds Rest - Yosemite National Park - Sep 1975

Half Dome from trail near Glacier Point, Yosemite National Park - Aug 1973
Half Dome from trail near Glacier Point, Yosemite National Park - Aug 1973
Half Dome, Vernal Falls, Nevada Falls from near Glacier Point - Yosemite National Park - Aug 1973
Half Dome, Vernal Falls, Nevada Falls from near Glacier Point
Yosemite National Park - Aug 1973

Half Dome from south (Starr King Meadow area) - Yosemite National Park - Aug 1973
Half Dome from south (Starr King Meadow area) - Yosemite National Park - Aug 1973
Half Dome from south (Starr King Meadow area) - Yosemite National Park - Aug 1973
Half Dome from south (Starr King Meadow area) - Yosemite National Park - Aug 1973

Half Dome from south viewpoint near Starr King Meadow camp - Yosemite National Park - Sep 1973
Half Dome from south viewpoint near Starr King Meadow camp
Yosemite National Park - Sep 1973
Half Dome from south viewpoint near Starr King Meadow camp - Yosemite National Park - Sep 1973
Half Dome from south viewpoint near Starr King Meadow camp
Yosemite National Park - Sep 1973

Half Dome, tourists floating in Merced River in Yosemite Valley - Yosemite National Park - Jul 1957
Half Dome, tourists floating in Merced River in Yosemite Valley
Yosemite National Park - Jul 1957
Storm clouds over sunset on Half Dome from Yosemite Valley - Yosemite National Park - Jul 1957
Storm clouds over sunset on Half Dome from Yosemite Valley
Yosemite National Park - Jul 1957

Clouds Rest (in back) and Half Dome from Glacier Point - Yosemite National Park - Jun 1968
Clouds Rest (in back) and Half Dome from Glacier Point
Yosemite National Park - Jun 1968

Half Dome from near Stables in Yosemite Valley - Yosemite National Park - Jan 1966
Half Dome from near Stables in Yosemite Valley - Yosemite National Park - Jan 1966
Half Dome from Stables in Yosemite Valley - Yosemite National Park - Jan 1966
Half Dome from Stables in Yosemite Valley - Yosemite National Park - Jan 1966

Clouds Rest (in back), Half Dome from Sentinel Dome - Yosemite National Park - Jan 1970
Clouds Rest (in back), Half Dome from Sentinel Dome
Yosemite National Park - Jan 1970
Clouds Rest (in back) and Half Dome from Sentinel Dome - Yosemite National Park - Jun 1968
Clouds Rest (in back) and Half Dome from Sentinel Dome
Yosemite National Park - Jun 1968

Clouds Rest (in back), Half Dome from Sentinel Dome - Yosemite National Park - Jan 1970
Clouds Rest (in back), Half Dome from Sentinel Dome
Yosemite National Park - Jan 1970


Hiking Half Dome (NPS Video)