The second half of the hike takes you through a forest of Redwood, Ponderosa, and other pine trees. This part is more gradual and about a mile of the trail takes you alongside the beautiful Merced River. We happened to be walking by just as some morning steam was lifting from the water.
Once you exit the forest, Half Dome is directly above you. It looks so close you could almost touch it. But you’re far from that yet. The last part of the hike takes you up more stone steps on an unprotected rock face. Then come the cables: the last and final push to the top. Metal poles, cables, and wooden planks were drilled into the east side of Half Dome years ago to allow hikers the summit they came all the way to the top for. It’s a scary hike straight up, but the view from the top is well worth the effort.
Three other guys and I made it a goal to summit in three and a half hours. After our buddy David, who powered ahead and finished in three hours flat, reached the top, we came in next. That gave us a good two hours to relax, take in the view, eat some sandwiches, drink water, take pictures, and converse with the other dozens of hikers who made the ascent that day.
As the rest of the APU students and faculty arrived to the top, we cheered as each person made the final step past the cables. The feeling of accomplishment when you arrive on the top of Half Dome is like nothing else.
Then you realize you still have to hike down.
The descent always seems to take longer. The stairs, a difficult task to climb up, now take a toll on your knees as you descend down. I was fortunate to have some great company on my way down, though. A couple guys and I met up with Woody, APU’s campus pastor, and his wife, who joined us for the hike that day, later on down the trail. We shared some great conversation and enjoyed the beautiful afternoon. We met up with some more APU kids near Vernal Falls and decided it was time to do some cliff jumping. We hiked down from the trail to the pool below the falls and found a great spot. The water was absolutely freezing but it felt great to wash off the dirt and sweat from the day’s work.
After drying off and hiking the last mile of the trail we arrived in Curry Village and were welcomed by a stack of hot pizzas. As everyone slumped into their chairs around the table, we told stories of the day’s hike and enjoyed the warm, crackling fireplace nearby.
I’ve been trying to really cherish our days in the park this semester. I’m pretty positive that I’ll never be able to say again, for the rest of my life, that I lived 14 miles from Yosemite National Park. The Half Dome hike is something I will absolutely remember for the rest of my life.