Half Dome via the Cables Route

Half Dome…

Is there a more iconic summit in the USA than that of Half Dome? How many miles of film, and now terrabytes of storage, has been expended upon this monolith? Probably more than any other feature in any national park.

From all sides the peak looks impossible and in the 1800s was declared to be such.
The first ascent was by Scotsman George Anderson who drilled holes, placed spikes and lassoed his way up to the previously untouched summit in 1875.

In 1919 the current route of cables and posts was established and provides a safe route to the top of this icon.

Now, you could do it like a lot of people do and start predawn from the valley, rush up the 14 or 16 miles (depending upon the route), gain 4800 feet of elevation and stagger back down having “conquered” the summit and go directly to sleep.

Or you can take your time and enjoy the journey as well as the summit and experience the beauty and wonders of the high summit and climb another peak along the way with us.
We start from the beautiful Tuolumne Meadows area and spend the first night near beautiful Sunrise Lakes.
The next day we cross over Tenaya Peak and camp directly below Half Dome which we climb the next day early in the morning hoping to be in front of those coming up from the Valley giving us some quite time on the summit to soak up the view and scenery. We end the trip in the Valley.


Day 1

We meet at Curry Village at 10.00am. You will leave a vehicle here and we will shuttle up to the Sunrise Trailhead near Tenaya Lake, one of the jewels of the High Sierra. From here it is a leisurely walk to the first night’s camp at Sunrise Lakes. We want to take this day slowly so that you can gain some acclimatization to the elevation and give the body time to adapt.

This is an elevation gain of about 1250 feet over 3.5 miles and our camp is at about 9170 feet.

Day 2

We get back onto the trail early morning and head up to Clouds Rest.

The ascent is gradual and before long we are crossing the narrow spine of this huge expanse of slabs and sweeps of gray granite. The top is an ideal place for a first class lunch on the finest granite tabletop anywhere.

From here it is downhill and a little cross country to our camp below the shoulder of Half Dome. From our sandy campsite here we can look down into Yosemite Valley far below and across to the little know dome of Mt Watkins Half Domes smaller sister.

Today we have an elevation gain of about 1400 feet and 3100 feet of descending over 7.5 miles and our camp is at about 7450 feet.

Day 3

We rise early grab a quick breakfast and head out with light packs to Half Dome. The trail over the shoulder is steep and steady but not too bad. Topping out on the shoulder as light creeps across the sky the final section up the cables looks very intimidating. But the front of view of any peak is always exaggerated and as we get closer it starts to look a lot more reasonable.

The cables are supported with iron stanchions and wooden slats at irregular interval on which to take a break.

The cable section is not actually that long and after a while the angle slowly decreases and the walking becomes easier until we are on top.

We will take a break, identify the landmarks close and far before heading back to camp for a late breakfast/early lunch.

We get back on the main Half Dome trail and head down the remaining 6 miles of trail through Little Yosemite Valley and then down the wonderful and well named Mist Trail. Here we pass Nevada falls and then hope to be soaked and refreshed by the spray of Vernal falls.

We reach the bottom of Yosemite Valley at Happy Isles and catch the shuttle bus back to Curry Village, the vehicles and journey’s end.To the summit and back to camp is about 1500 feet of gain and 1500 feet of descending over about 2.6 miles Once we leave camp we descend about 4000 feet with about 650 feet of ascending over 6.5 miles until we reach the trail’s end in the Valley. This is a long day but by that time the packs will be light and you will be fit and acclimatized.

Program Prerequisites:

Good level of physical condition. Prior backpacking experience is not necessary but helpful.

A good head for heights is necessary for the final climb.

Program Inclusions:

Price includes guiding, permits, group climbing gear, tents, kitchen gear, breakfasts, lunches and dinners (you bring hot/cold drinks and snack items). Scheduled dates include YNP reservation fees. Private programs do not. Local accommodation is not included.

Please Read before you go

We feel the following information is essential... (links open as PDF in new window)

  1. Itinerary/Equipment List
  2. SMC Cancellation Policy
  3. Suggestions on preparation - get the most out of your trip!
  4. Tips on physical training for your trip
  5. LNT - Let's work together to protect our precious mountain environment.

PDF Maps:

Half Dome map

Rental Equipment:

Need to rent equipment for your trip? We can help.