Julie United States 36 Comments

Have you ever wondered what it is like to climb the Half Dome cables? Did you even know that hiking Half Dome was something you could do?

I will admit it, when I saw my first photos of people clinging to the steel cables on Half Dome, climbing one of Yosemite’s most famous icons, this hike got added to our bucket list. In 2017, with a trip to Yosemite, we got our chance to hike up the Half Dome cables. In March we applied for our permits and in April we found out we were one of the lucky 225 applicants for July 6, 2017.

This was a thrilling experience for our family. It’s challenging for fit adults, but Kara was almost 13 and Tyler was 14 when we did this hike. This is a major accomplishment for all ages, but Tyler and Kara continue to amaze us, with their endurance, stamina, and love of crazy experiences like this, just like their parents.

Stats on the Half Dome Hike

Distance: 17 miles round trip from Yosemite Valley
Total Ascent: 5,457 feet
Difficulty: Extremely strenuous
Length of Time: 10 – 14 hours

Our day started at 6 am, when we took our first steps on the Mist Trail from Yosemite’s valley floor. For four hours we hiked uphill, past Vernal Fall, past Nevada Fall, past campsites, and then higher than Yosemite Falls and Glacier Point.

From the sub dome, which is a smaller version of Half Dome, we got our first real view of those infamous cables.

Hiking Half Dome Cables

Earth Trekkers Half Dome

At 10 am we were staring up at Half Dome. With our early morning start and fast hiking pace (yes, even with kids) we got here before the main crowds arrived.

Until 2010, Half Dome could be hiked without a permit. If you see photos from this time, there would literally be hundreds of people clinging to the cables. This created a dangerous situation, with too many people precariously hanging onto the cables. One wrong move could mean disaster. In fact, more than 20 people have died climbing Half Dome, either from falling off the cables, having a heart attack, being struck by lightning, or from failed base jumps.

Now, with the permit system in place, the number of people on Half Dome is much more manageable. Still, it helps to get here early, not only to avoid the crowds but also to avoid afternoon thunderstorms. Half Dome is NOT a place you want to be in rain, thunder and lightning.

The Climb Up the Half Dome Cables

Our climb up was quick since there were very few people in front of us. I knew to expect a steep incline and slick surfaces, but even so, the difficulty of this climb took me a little by surprise. This climb is hard! Don’t underestimate it.

Half Dome Cables

Tyler on the Cables

The granite surface has been worn smooth by the shoes of the thousands of people before us. The climb is so steep that we pulled ourselves up more with our upper body strength than by walking up with our feet. And since the elevation is now over 8,000 feet, it doesn’t take much to get out of breath. Plus, we already hiked for 4 hours, so we were already fatigued.

This is not easy. But it is thrilling.

Kara Rivenbark

We would climb a short distance, rest and catch our breath, and then keep going. It’s exhilarating, looking out at Yosemite and down the cables.It’s a relief to finally reach the top. We made it!! Now we could take in the view and enjoy our accomplishment.

Hiking Yosemite

On Top of Half Dome

I planned on a longer stay here than what we actually did. But rain clouds were in the area, and now knowing just how steep and slippery Half Dome is, we did not want to be on those cables if it started raining. After a few photos we headed back down the cables.

Half Dome View

Kara on Half Dome

Tyler Rivenbark

Julie Rivenbark

 

Top of Half Dome

Kids on top of Half Dome

Hiking Yosemite with Kids

Hiking Half Dome with Kids

Climbing Down the Half Dome Cables

If you are not afraid of heights, going down is much easier than going up.

We figured out that turning around and walking down backwards is much easier than facing forwards. Plus, wearing gloves is a must!! As you slide down, your hands rub on the cables. Without gloves, you will rub the palms of your hands raw.

Half Dome Cables with Kids

During our brief rest on top of Half Dome, many more people arrived at the cables. It took longer going down since now we had to wait to leapfrog around other climbers. But that gave us more time to enjoy the view and take photos. For us, being on the cables was thrilling and we loved every minute of it.

Edge of the Dome

Half Dome Cables in July

All four of us made it safely to the bottom. After getting one last look at the cables, we hiked down the sub dome (and it did rain…a little bit), and then to Yosemite Valley.Climbing the Half Dome cables was a thrilling experience, probably one of our favorite family experiences of all time.

We will never look at Half Dome the same way again.

How Long Does it Take to Climb the Half Dome Cables?

It took us just under 20 minutes to climb up the cables. Traffic was light so we did not have to wait for anyone in front of us.

We spent 25 minutes on top of Half Dome, which is not much time. We wanted to stay longer but we could see rain clouds in the distance.

To get down the cables it took us 30 minutes. We did have to stop and wait frequently since there was now two way traffic on the cables.

Tips for Climbing the Half Dome Cables

Watch the weather. If it is raining or storm clouds are in the area, do not hike up Half Dome. People have been struck by lightning while on the Half Dome cables. Plus, the granite rock is already slippery…if it is wet, climbing the cables becomes very, very dangerous.

Bring gloves. Without gloves, you risk rubbing the palms of your hands raw while climbing and descending the cables. While we were here, there was a pile of discarded gloves at the bottom of the cables you can borrow.

Wear hiking shoes or boots with excellent traction.

Take your time. Be patient with slower hikers.

While climbing the cables, we pulled ourselves up with one hand on each cable. There are plywood boards spanning the cable route at each of the poles. This is a good place to stop and rest. Climb to the next board, take a short break, and then climb to the next board. It’s harder to pause in between boards because the granite rock is so slippery.

When descending, it’s easier to turn around and walk down backwards. Keep both hands on the cables. Again, pause on the plywood boards, not on the slick granite trail.

You have the option to bring a harness and clip onto the cables. This is the best way to stay safe while climbing and descending the cables. If you plan to do this, you will need a harness, carabiners, and a Y-shaped lanyard. If we did it again, we would use a harness, and we highly recommend it to stay safe on the cables.


More Information for Your Trip to Yosemite:


If you are looking for more epic hiking ideas, how about:

How to Hike the Grand Canyon Rim-to-Rim
The Kjeragbolten Hike: A Complete Guide
The Tongariro Alpine Crossing: New Zealand’s Best Single Day Hike
Angels Landing Survival Guide: Things to Know Before You go
How to Hike the Zion Narrows from the Top-Down

Or check out our Hiking Page for more awesome hikes around the world.

 

Climbing Half Dome Cables

 

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Comments 36

  1. Avatar for Brett
    Brett

    I’ve done Half Dome at least a dozen times. My 18 year did it when he was 7. We clipped in and it was so slow. Half way up he was getting very impatient so I clipped him into me and off we went. And honestly going down backwards is not ideal either. Very slow.

  2. Avatar for Debbie Gosser Osborn Steiniger
    Debbie Gosser Osborn Steiniger

    My husband grew up in Fresno and spent a lot of his time in Yosemite. In the early 90’s my husband, son & I took many trips backpacking there. One of the longest was started at Tuolumne Meadows down to Cathedral Lake to Tenaya Lake, Clouds Rest and Half Dome to Vernal Fall. We camped at Little Yosemite Valley Camp and then back to Half Dome the next day. I stopped at the cables, I just couldn’t bring myself to do it, but my son & husband proceeded while I went back to camp. They made a pact that day unbeknownst to me, that whichever of them passed away first, the other would bring their ashes and release them off Half Dome. We had no idea that a few years later in 1998 my husband would die in a crash. In 1999 my son was working in the park, actually for a few years, and on one of his many trips up Half Dome he climbed into that little space the “visor” and released my husband’s ashes. Now, even though I live in Texas, every time I see a photo of Half Dome, I think of my late husband and his love of Yosemite.

  3. Avatar for Sharon Duncan
    Sharon Duncan

    We hiked Half Dome as a family, probably a dozen times between 1990 and 2010. The first time our son was about 7, and he scampered up ahead of us. My husband realized that if he slipped there would be no catching him. We never again went up without webbing and carabiners (for all of us, not just the kids). In all that time, I don’t think we ever saw more than a couple others who hooked into the cables like we did. I’m happy to see comments here that indicate people are beginning to take the cables more seriously. Clip in. There is no downside to protecting yourself and those around you.

    1. Avatar for Julie Post
      Author
      Julie

      Wow…7 years old! That’s amazing! I agree…if we did it again we would clip in also. Thanks for writing in! Cheers, Julie

  4. Avatar for Bill Nixon
    Bill Nixon

    The half dome climb at Yosemite described in this article reminds me of climbing the famous Ayers Rock (now called Uluru) in Australia. You needed to hold on to a steel cable for the steepest section of the climb. To ensure only those who were fit enough to do the climb safely would participate, the cable did not start until you arrived at ‘chicken point’ about 100 meters up a steep incline where no assistance was provided. Many less fit people, or those afraid of heights, failed the test and were stopped from climbing. Similar risks existed to Half Dome. Deaths occurred and climbing during storms was very dangerous. Because no hike was involved, you could park your vehicle at the base of the rock, it was definitely not as strenuous an experience as climbing Half Dome, but in many ways the experience described seems similar. Note that climbing Uluru is no longer allowed. The local natives consider this rock sacred ground and object to tourists climbing over it. While understandable from their point of view, it will prevent many other Australians from enjoying this unique experience. The view from the top was amazing.

    1. Avatar for Julie Post
      Author
    2. Avatar for Donald Rohr
      Donald Rohr

      I climbed half dome in ’73 without the two cables. If I remember correctly there was single cable but I didn’t use it . It was fantastic and scary. I’m now 65 and would love to go back however this time I would clip on.

      1. Avatar for Julie Post
        Author
        Julie

        Wow…no cables! That does sound fantastic and scary. It would be interesting what your thoughts would be now on this hike, with the cables, the crowds, and the permit process…how things change. Cheers, Julie

  5. Avatar for Ted Hanson
    Ted Hanson

    I’ve did Half Dome 3 times in the mid 50s and 60s and remember then that the cables were ONE thick, multi wrapped cable,, no side ropes as shown here. Much of the climb was in a slim crevasse that made you walk/climb on the sides while holding on. Wasn’t a long trek in the crevasse but you DID have to watch carefully. No looking at the beautiful scenery around you. The walk, the climb, the 360 degree views on top, made any work, blisters, sunburn worth the effort. I’m 82, have made the trip (not the climb) to Yosemite at least 60 times starting with the Boy Scouts in 1952. Will go again soon, probably the last one, for memories, pictures , views, smells. A lucky life lived well.

    1. Avatar for Patti
      Patti

      What do mean by side ropes? When my daughter and I were there in 2002, it was the cables shown in these photos.

  6. Avatar for Patrick
    1. Avatar for jb
      jb

      Don’t climb half dome with out double clipping. This is a death trap. I watched and listened to a lady slide to her death in sept 2019. Nevermind that it is a bowling alley and your life also depends on people in front of you not falling.

  7. Avatar for Ellen
    Ellen

    As for harnesses which you would now recommend, where can ones that could be used with Half Dome be bought? I will be hiking/climbing Half Dome next month.

    1. Avatar for Julie Post
      Author
      Julie

      If you want to buy a harness, I recommend going to your local sporting good store. If there is a rock climbing gym near you that is even better. You need a rock climbing harness, a lanyard with two attachments for carabiners, and two carabiners. It is called a via ferrata set. You can also purchase this online, but if you have never put one on or used one, you should have someone show you how to use it. It’s straightforward but putting on a harness for the first time can be a tricky. If you only need a harness for Half Dome, see if you can rent one rather than buying one. Cheers, Julie

      1. Avatar for Darby Lewis
        Darby Lewis

        While I am now about 40 year’s older than when I first started going to, hanging out and climbing in one of my favorite places on earth, Yosemite, I never had the joy or adventure experience of doing the “Half Dome” cable climb. I was however fortunate enough to have been a part of the “old school” day’s of Yosemite Mountain Shop and Yosemite Mountaineering School, in the day’s of Lloyd Price! I was able to spend 5 day’s in the Valley, three year’s ago before my first Cancer diagnosis…. I went to revisit the old Mountain Shop, which has, so very sadly become more of an extremely expensive, high end designer, “Aspenesque” clothing store. That said….. please do go and consult with an REI associate if you and your family are planning a Half Dome climb. REI is a really great place to get help and advice if you are a first timer for anything, especially if you are including your kid’s, to learn how to do it safely, cost effectively and share the greatest experience of your life with or without kid’s!

        1. Avatar for Julie Post
          Author
    2. Avatar for Jason Almeida
    3. Avatar for Gary Olson
      Gary Olson

      I have summited half dome three times in the past 5 years and 98% do just fine without harnesses. Just take your time, be aware of those around you, and you will be just fine. My best advice would be to stay off the cable if it is wet or bad weather is moving in. Most of the accidents over the years have been people being on the cable during inclement weather.

    4. Avatar for Sam
      Sam

      I would go to the experts at REI. They can really be of great assistance to you. There is an REI n Fresno for any last minute items. Just call them first. Good luck!

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