Talk with an Expert:
Mr. Half Dome, also known as Rick Deutsch is the president of Carpe Diem Experience LLC. He has written the how-to-guide for hiking Half-Dome called “One Best Hike: Yosemite’s Half Dome.” He frequently gives talks at REI about his book and hiking Half Dome. His book has sold over 13,000 copies, and he has been called a modern-day Muir. Mr. Half Dome has completed the Half Dome hike over 42 times.
Around 1990 he moved from the East coast and did Half Dome without any preparation or training. “It knocked me over, and I said, I am going to do this once a year. I wrote a bucket list, and I kept it going every year.”
“For the first timer there are three things I say, 1) education, learn about this hike. Learn about the water. Shoes or boots, noncotton. You need to know how much food and electrolytes you need. Also, have head lights. 2) preparation- Start by hiking hills. These are different muscles. Get hiking poles; a water filter is mandatory. A Stairmaster is great but only does uphill muscles. You go downhill for 6 hours. 3) Motivation- Do it because you want to do it. Anybody can do this with those three things.” Mr. Half Dome goes on to note that most people focus on the cables, but the switchbacks of sub dome are much more challenging than the cables. He says he usually completes the hike in 11 hours and not to rush.
When it comes to training Mr. Half Dome says, “A lot of people underestimate the upper body strength going up the cables. Don’t grab both sides of the cables. Just grab one side.” He then advises the proper gear, “Use body glide on your feet then a thin liner sock. No cotton. I believe in a good hiking boot with tread. The problem with running shoes is that they are not as rigid (see my comments on this in the Things to Bring section) and there is no ankle protection, high top boots offer more protection.” He stresses the importance of NO SMOOTH SOLES. He and I cannot impress this upon the reader enough. The rock is often smooth and wet. Smooth soles shoes, in my opinion, would be the worst gear mistake you can make. He goes on to suggest a hat, sunscreen, and a fanny pack. He says, “backpacks get hot and cause lower back pain. In your pack, you want water bottles, food, power bars, lifesavers, flashlights or headlamps. It gets pitch black up there.”
Many first-timers find the permit system intimidating. “The best day to get a permit is June 21, you get the longest daylight, fewer crowds, less chance of lightning and best waterfalls,” he says. “August has more chances of lightning. About 5,000 people request for 250 daily permits.”
“If you have good boots, hydration and rubber sticky gloves you can do this. About 40,000 people a year do this. Anyone that is physically able can accomplish this. A guy with a prosthetic leg came up to me proudly exclaiming that he had just completed the hike the day before.”
Permit: Hiking half dome starts with obtaining a permit. You can do most of the hike without a permit, but you need permits to ascend the cables. The way a permit works is one named person is the ‘applicant’ who can request for several other people to be included on the permit. Those people are unnamed. If an applicant reaches the permit checkpoint and has a permit allowing for example 5 people but only has a party of 4, then you can politely ask them to include you on their permit. The applicant must be present, and the entire party must be present to move forward. Another way is entering the lottery. Check out the parks and rec website for specific dates. The most straightforward option is with a tour group or a guide. They often obtain the permits for you in advance. Though this is a more costly option, it is easier.
Trail running shoes with Gortex- Regarding a person of average fitness, high top hiking boots might be overload. I liked the waterproof aspect of my shoes as they helped me stay warm throughout the hike.
Food- Endurance activities are not meant for weight loss. You need to fuel your body to ensure you have the energy needed to complete your hike. Bring protein bars, sandwiches and whatever else you need to sustain your body for the intense physical activity required.
Layers- It is cold then hot, and if you aren’t dressed appropriately for each you will be very uncomfortable. I am a fan of synthetic fabrics.
Gloves-The cables will tear your hands up.
Safety rope and clip- In the group, I was the only one that used the safety rope and clip. Almost everyone else decided to go without. Perhaps it was the stories of how people had died going up/down the cables that set my mind on the safety rope. It is not required. I will say this, by the halfway point, people were looking with envy at my safety rope. I was comfortably scaling the cables.