Half Dome Cables

greenspun.com : LUSENET : Mountaineering : One Thread

Hi, I went to yosemite in August 1999, it was my first time and since i was only there for a day i wasn't able to find out much about climbing Half Dome. Is there a certain age restriction? One thing i'm not sure of is the cables. I've looked everywhere on the Web but didn't find out much, so could someone tell how exactly that works? I'm going for my 14th birthday in mid-June, can you make a prediction on the weather at that time? If there are anymore reccomendations please inform, thank you very much. Your Truely Sara Lackey

-- sara "rebel" lackey (shadyian69@hotmail.com), February 04, 2001


The cables are up year around, although the posts that hold them up are removed during the winter months... There isn't any age restriction for hiking up the trail to Half Dome, but you would want to be in pretty decent shape since it is roughly a 17-mile round trip hike with a 5000 foot elevation gain... Weather in mid-June can be from freezing to 100degrees, take your pick, although you can generally expect it to be on the warm/hot side that time of year...Just make sure you take plenty of water and snacks, it's a LONG trip...

-- Jim (leining@attglobal.net), February 05, 2001.

The cables typically come down in October. I hiked it the weekend they took it down. On the cables I happened across a couple of small children who seemed like it really wasn't that big a deal for them. I am not in that great of shape but I made it in about 7 hours. It's more a factor of willpower than it is physical endurance. Definitely worth it.

-- Derik Schwartz (deriks@earthlink.net), April 19, 2001.

I am presuming that by now - a full eight months after she posted her query - that the person - Sarah - who got this conversation going has gotten her answer, that, indeed, she's conquered Half Dome and that she's provided her own answers to her questions. For those who follow this string, though, or who have more questions, some additional detail might be helpful.

As to background, I climbed Half Dome on Saturday, October 13th, 2001, and though hardly the Alpine, vertical assault that's detailed elsewhere on these pages and that make us mere hikers feel tiny in comparison, I have to count this as one of the most exhilarating and gratifying outdoors experiences I've ever had.

From the Day Parking lot by Curry Village, up to the top, an hour at the top, and then a smart, unbroken march back down, it was 7hours and 45 min. Because I count myself in superb physical shape, the first thing that must be said is that this is a challenging, long and difficult hike. One earlier writer said it might be more a matter of 'will power' than pure physique, and that's certainly an apt and accurate comment. In other words, if you're determined to be able to say that you got to the top of one of the more famed peaks in America, a person of otherwise moderate physical skills and fitness can do it. You might be paying for it in aches and soreness for many days afterwards, but it can be done.

To try to put this observation in a different context, if someone tells me that they've scaled Half Dome via the cables, that's something I'll take seriously and have to attach a certain admiration to. By further comparison, the hike from the valley floor to the top of Yosemite Falls felt like only a moderate challenge. By further comparison, the hike from the valley floor to the top of Glacier Point and back down felt like a stroll.

As to the other question about what does it mean when the 'Cables are Down,' though obliquely answered in the earlier postings, a little more detail might help. The cables are always there, anchored into the granite and running up the rear face of Half Dome from the point that the rear face of Half Dome meets its shoulder and up to the summit. The cables run for what seems like about 200 yards and are necessary to scale what appears to be between a 50 and 65 degree angle. What changes is whether the cables are threaded through a series of steel guardrails that are then anchored into the granite, or whether, as was the case on my experience, they are simply lying there. There are two cables - the right and left stair railing, if you will - and when the railings are not up the cables are, respectively, the up and down paths (though on the day that I was there, there must have been 30 people up top and 40 or so waiting to try their hand pulling themselves up, so it created a hairy traffic jam on the cables where some breathless soul who was trying to haul himself up had to negotiate a one-handed pull-around with someone who was coming down on the same cable. It would have been comic if it weren't so hairy.) I think when the cables are 'up,' there may be an additional concession in that occasional stairs or platforms are built into the ascent - not steps, as such, that run the entire length but at least some periodic platforms that provide rest changes.

It is my understanding the the stanchions that hold the cables up - creating this stairwell effect - are in place from early June to the first or second week of October. But, again, the cables are always there and as long as the Vernal Fall, Mist and Nevada Falls trails are open, then you can try Half Dome beyond the points that the stanchions are up. The one concession they do make to you is this large pile of work gloves, garden gloves, even baseball bat gloves at the bottom of the cables to give you a better grip going up and down. A further comment here is that pros who have done this often say that they actually prefer it when the cables are down, that when the cables are lying against the rock you can better customize the angle you want to take up - a minimal lean where you're scaling, lizard-like, up the face and keeping the cable close in front of you and to the surface, or a fuller lean-back where you're feet are out in front of your and you're leaning hard against the cable. When I do it again, I'll want to do it the same way, with the cables down.

The final thought here is that if you have even a hint of vertigo, then you might want to make two adaptions. (I did neither and it made the experience more tense than it should have been; so I share these thoughts from the 'lessons learned' file.) The first is to give yourself an extended rest when you get to the bottom of the cables. You need more than a few minutes to make the oxygen adjustment, to get your legs back, to water up. The hike just to get to the bottom of the cables is very stiff, and if you do like I did and just jump right on to the cables, you'll get about mid-way up and hit the marathoner's 'wall,' a potentially scary zone where you have run out of gas to pull yourself up the final 100 yards and where you're now exposed to a sudden freezing of your instincts and confidence brought on by the height and the awareness of how exposed you are. For one, there's no 'pull out.' There might be one or two tiny ledges on the way up, but you are totally dependent on your arm strength at this point. On my way up, there were at least three hikers who seemed completely frozen, unable, at least at that moment, to go either up or down, and clearly quite freightened. Had I fully rested at the bottom of the cables, I think the pull up would have been much less taxing - physically and psychicly.

The second thought is that even if heights are a problem for you, you can still handle the cables by 1) resting yourself and being capable of an extended pull up without breaks, and 2) by staring straight ahead at the rock in front of you until you've gotten to the top. In other words, if you are challenged by heights, then you're not helping yourself if you look over your shoulder to the right or left, or if you insist on looking back down. Just stare straight ahead at the rock and keep pulling. This is especially true on the way down (which is a great deal easier, by the way, but by no means a cakewalk). If heights are NOT a problem, then behold one of the great vistas in this great country.

The final thought here - and I hope my wordiness is helpful and hasn't annoyed - is that you need to brace yourself for the small village that awaits you up top. Because you can be hiking for several hours on the way up - 3+ in my case - and see nary another soul, you start building on the unique and solitary nature of your effort. 'Boy, here I am, with this part of Yosemite all to myself,' you say to yourself as you work your way up this very difficult trail, passing slower travelers along the way, complimenting yourself on your fitness. Because so much of the trip is spent alone, you assume the summit will be a solitary experience. But someway, somehow, converging from God knows where, you get to the top and there are 50+ people up there. Perhaps they left the valley floor much earlier than you. Perhaps they camped out in the area surrounding the base of the cables and only started their ascent a short while ago. Whatever the case, you might want to disenthrall yourself at the outset.

Having said all this, Half Dome via the Vernall Falls and John Muir trails, is still one of the great outdoors experiences that a mid-level, day-trip hiker could ever hope to have. A hearty recommend.

-- Edward Dougherty (edwardd@well.com), November 05, 2001.

Edward gave a very good response. I've done the roundtrip 11 times since 1993 and it never gets boring. Each time you experience different weather, different animals, different people.

As for the cables, Edward gives a great description. His time of 7:45 is, I know, better than average. In fact, in the Yosemite visitor's guide they recommend 10-12 hours for the entire journey and that is about right. Of course, that depends on how much time you want to spend at the top. After working so hard to get there, you sure don't want to leave all the great views after 5 minutes. A good way to do it is take a 15 minute break at the bottom of the cables, fill yourself with water, and then have a nice lunch up on top while taking in the views of the Sierra Nevada and Yosemite Valley itself.

The 300 yards of cable take anywhere from 15-45 minutes to climb depending upon how crowded they are. If you have to wait for a school group of 30-50 kids, it can take awhile for everyone to maneuver around each other. Summer weekends take longer than fall middle-of-the-week days. Going up is strenuous, but you can rest on the 2x4s every 10-20 feet. Coming down is easy and everyone has their preferred way to do it. I see many people going down face forward, but to me that is most difficult. You are looking down the sheer face the entire time and if you slip, you don't have much to hang on to. By going down as if you were coming down a ladder, you can "feed" yourself down the cable line and stop whenever you want to. Plus, for those with some fear of heights, going down like on a ladder means you are never looking down. But I've spoken to many that would never go down that way and prefer going down face forward. So it really just depends on what is comfortable to you.

And remember this comforting fact -- no one has ever fallen from the cables. A few have been killed when lightning struck the cables, but overall the cables are very safe.

As Edward stated, this isn't scaling El Capitan. That's reserved for the few and the proud. Half Dome is more in the realm of a strenuous hike. I've literally seen people from 7 to 75 at the top. If you prepare yourself (start long day hikes several weeks before your trip), start early (5:30-6:30am), and carry sufficient amounts of water (2-3 liters on a hot day), and you are even in fair shape, you can do it. And you will remember the trip for as long as you live.

Good hiking to all............

-- Bill Mahan (wbmahan@mcleodusa.net), May 26, 2002.

I climbed half dome yesterday, friday, june 13th 2003. I would say all other comments are accurate. I did not train, I did not prepare, it was, for me, above all a matter of sheer will and little more. We did bring the right amount of water, power bars, and cell phone reception is pretty good along the way -- excellent security even though the trail is populated even mid-week to the extend that if you run into trouble, you will see other hikers within ten minutes tops. There is in fact something about the experience which produces faithful reporting - so expect what you have read here to be wholly accurate. I would like to add two things, one pleasant, one unpleasant. It took us twelve hours, not ten, not eight. We left at seven ayem , returned at seven pm. An emormous part of the great fun are the various groups and duos you encounter along the way. We hopscotched several groups that we'd pass, then encounter again while resting back and forth from the valley all the way to the summit. Shared experience produces instant friendship, instant intimacy. Names aren't often exchanged but humor, irony, exhaustion, awe, and a sense of joi certainly enhance the experience. That was delightful. Here's the bad news and the only and essential comment I can make and promise you to be absolutely certain -- be sure to wear shoes that totally fit!! mine were a quarter size too small and the way down produced unpleasant if not severely battered toes! the steep decline upon the return forces your feet toward the front of your shoes and if your toes are smashing the front of those shoes every step, you may be sure that the pain will be excrutiating! Beyond that, it is indeed, an unparalleled experience.

-- joshua (jravetch@aol.com), June 15, 2003.

I just did Half Dome with two friends on tue., june 24, 2003 and we did the round trip in 5 hours and 40 mins. We started at the valley at 7 am and got to the top at like 10:30. we really didn't spend too much time up there since it was very windy and cold. I didn't train or anything and am not in the best of shape cardiovascularly speaking but i just know how to push myself.

-- Eric Smith (egg6485@aol.com), June 29, 2003.

Moderation questions? read the FAQ