After spending my summer in Chicago, I came back home to California feeling a void from not having spent any time in the mountains. Luckily, a friend of mine happened to win the Yosemite Half Dome lottery that grants permits to hikers. Just like that, we were set to go at the end of September. Since we had both done the hike before, we thought, “Why not hike through the night to catch the sunrise?” Searching for a new perspective, we got ready to hike Half Dome at night.
DAY 0 – A NIGHT FULL OF STARS
We left Sunday, after church. When we got out of the car, we were greeted by the Milky Way and a night sky full of stars. I immediately began taking long exposures of the night sky, watching climbers’ headlamps illuminate the trail up El Capitan.
Miles hiked: 0 // Trip morale: high
DAY 1 – TAKING IT EASY
It was so surreal to be in Yosemite again. As an avid hiker, I had been to Yosemite at least 10 times the year before. Back again, the goals of the day were to relax, but spend some time up in elevation, so that I could acclimate and prevent altitude sickness.
After roaming the meadows of the valley, we made our way up to Glacier Point and gazed over the trail of our hike the following day.
Then, we hiked to Sentinel Dome and Taft Point for sunset. Sunsets at Taft Point are amazing, because it’s less crowded than Glacier Point. You get to watch the light leave the valley below and the walls above. I happened to run into @Benjhaisch, who was making use of that sunset and shooting an elopement! After the sun had set, we made our way back down to the valley, set our alarms to 12:20am, and tried to catch some sleep in the car.
Miles hiked: 5 mi. // Trip Morale: still pretty high
DAY 2 – MILES, HOURS, ELEVATION
I got absolutely no sleep. So when the alarm finally went off, it was a huge relief to start getting ready for our hike.
We first went through our gear: water, trekking poles, headlamps, food, basically all things that you’d find in an REI catalog. I’ve had plenty of trips where I’ve overpacked, and by this point, I’ve learned from enough experience to lighten my load. Then we munched on some food, drank some super-early “morning” coffee, stashed everything into the bear boxes, and began our hike. By then, it was 2am, still dark out, but surprisingly warm.
The first 3 miles were a breeze. We crushed it all in under an hour – way faster than my average time. Small victories. Right after this point, the lack of sleep started to hit. We had just crossed a bridge to hike up Nevada Falls and were making our way up. At one point, the trail wasn’t so clear and we found a path that was clearly a “trail,” but it felt like we had just U-turned. While I didn’t think much of it, it felt odd that we were going downhill and not going back up switchbacks, which I knew we were supposed to do. It was so dark that we don’t get to see too many landmarks, so it was hard to tell if we were going the right or wrong way. That’s when we came to the bridge that we had crossed earlier. We had turned around and hiked our way back down to Vernal Falls. Our morale had taken a hit, because this put us on a tighter schedule to make it through the night and to Half Dome by sunrise.
We slowly made our way back up to Nevada Falls, making sure we stayed on trail. Soon, we passed Little Yosemite Valley and began our way up to the Sub Dome. By each minute, we were getting tired from the physical exertion and the lack of sleep. It also didn’t help that we both knew how tough the Sub Dome was going to be. If you hate working out and hate the StairMaster even more, the Sub Dome is StairMaster set at the max level. We were moving at the slowest pace ever, one step at a time and taking a break every minute. Then, the dome plateaued, and the cables (what cables) became visible. A momentary relief.
We were the 3rd party at the cables. The other two had just started their ascent up the cables. You can tell from the photo below that the sun was definitely getting ready to rise and there was no longer a need for headlamps. We fueled up with some energy jelly beans, put on our gloves and made our way up the cables. Honestly, the cables aren’t that scary, it’s just pretty damn exhausting. When I finally got to the top, a bit before the sunrise, I didn’t feel accomplished right away. I felt exhausted. I waited for the sun to come out behind the Sierras, and just as it did, my friend had finished the cables, just in time to begin his birthday celebration.
Photo taking ensued, and we were surprised to find out that there’s cell phone coverage at the top, which led to my friend FaceTiming his family, and me posting a pic on Insta. What was once an idea, finally became reality. A reality that had completely wrecked our bodies.
We pushed through the pain and the 7 miles down went by quickly. Soon we were back in the valley, at Half Dome village, devouring a pizza and beers.
Miles hiked: over 15 // trip morale: up and down, with mood swings.
By night time, I knew for sure that I had swelling in both my right hip and knee. Walking like a normal person was impossible. I hadn’t hiked all summer and it was good to know that my body was still capable of hiking something like the Half Dome, despite taking a huge toll (and at night!). It’s a special hike and we did it in a unique way that not many people get to do. This is definitely an experience that I highly recommend to everyone. If you have any questions for me about hiking Half Dome at night, or any other time, feel free to reach out!
Do you have an experience hiking at night? Tell us all about it on Twitter!