The kickoff of my hike started with packing up from the Backpackers Campground and walking a half mile to the bus stop at The Majestic Yosemite Hotel. Since I didn’t arrive early enough the day before, I had to pick up my permit at the Wilderness Center. After taking the bus to Yosemite Village and grabbing breakfast, I was at the Wilderness Center in time for the opening “Leave No Trace” lecture from the Ranger.
Since my permit was limited to camping at Little Yosemite Valley, only five miles and 2,000′ from Happy Isles, I inquired about the possibility of adding a Half Dome permit, and I was thrilled that one was available. I was able to get on a bus to Happy Isles shortly after 9am, and after a visit to the last flush toilet I would see in five days, I hit the trail at 9:30am, earlier than I expected.
I opted to take the “real” JMT trail instead of the Mist Trail that went past Vernal Falls due to the crowds and steepness of the Mist Trail. The JMT Trail was steady inclines and switchbacks, but not too bad. I ran into several other people starting out the JMT, all of who were planning on taking longer than the 17 days I had scheduled.
The views got increasingly better, especially at Clark Point when it opened up to a wonderful view of Half Dome, Mount Broderick and Liberty Cap. Additionally, Nevada Falls started becoming prominent, and the trail eventually went just above the falls (where the Mist Trail ends at the JMT).
After a short break at Nevada Falls, I finished the last mile to Little Yosemite Valley, which is a large campground with bear boxes and three decent latrine toilets. I decided that I would pick out a campsite, set up my tent and have lunch before heading out to Half Dome (without a pack). I was on the trail by 12:30pm with a liter of water, hiking poles and snacks to take on the remaining 3.5 miles and 2,700′ to the top of Half Dome. The trail the entire way up to Half Dome was a fairly steep incline, which made me think about the start tomorrow morning with my pack! Once I got up to the parts of Half Dome where you are climbing up the rock above the trees, the views started to become tremendous. The steps that were carved into the slick face were pretty impressive.
That was nothing once you reached the shoulder and saw the cables. Holy Batman, I was shocked that they let normal people do this once I saw them! However, once you started up, it is surprisingly easy climbing up the incline as long as you maintain the 3-point principle. I kept on thinking of Batman and Robin climbing up buildings, expecting Commissioner Gordon to pop out of the side of the rock face asking what I was doing! The cable section took a lot longer than I thought, but I was up on Half Dome shortly after 2:30pm.
The top of Half Dome is really cool (a couple football fields in area?), and of course I loved climbing all around and taking in all the views. Given the sun position (to the West), the views to the North and East mountain ranges were the best, while the view down Yosemite Valley was a bit hazy. Additionally, the cell signal was great, so I was able to FaceTime with Ann and Matthew and let them in on the view.
I stayed up on Half Dome about 90 minutes or so. There was a medical emergency on top (Heat Stroke or Diabetic Shock, I heard) that was taking the attention of a couple Rangers (my permit was never checked), and resulted in a helicopter extraction from the top after I was starting my hike back in the forest (would have been neat to see from the top). Hiking down the cables was no problem, and less crowded given the time of the day. I arrived back in camp by 5:30pm.
Camp was much more crowded when I returned! There was easy access to the Merced River for water, and a great little swimming area that many people were utilizing. I ended up meeting a couple of old timers that were coming off 13 nights in the mountains and have a ton of experience in the Sierras (one did the JMT 12 times and could write a book). I received some great tips and suggestions from them.
A great first day on the trail! I was hoping the extra trip to Half Dome didn’t impact my stamina for the next day, but it wasn’t something I could pass up.