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Half Dome from the Four Mile Trail to Glacier Point, Yosemite National Park

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Trip Report 10/06 - 10/08: Tenaya Lake -> Cloud's Rest -> Quarter Domes -> Half Dome -> Yosemite Valley

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For our first Yosemite backcountry trip we decided to do the Cloud's Rest and Half Dome thru-hike exiting through the Valley as a 2 day/1 night, camping near the summit of Cloud's Rest. Quite an ambitious first trip but completely worth the trek. We scrambled out of San Francisco at 03:30 Friday morning with an air of naive optimism, hoping to snag day-of Sunrise TH wilderness passes. When we got to Tuolomne Wilderness Center at 08:00, all of the Friday passes had been filled. Luckily, we were first in line for next-day passes! Plan B was now in effect. We had dear our friend who wasn't backpacking wait in line while we grabbed a walk-up campsite at Porcupine Flat. By the time we got back to the center at 10:00 there were about 8 people in line all waiting for Sunrise/Cathedral Lake TH passes. We grabbed our next-day Sunrise TH and HD passes and had a relaxing afternoon in preparation for the long 2 days ahead of us.

Saturday morning we cooked a hearty breakfast and set off for Tenaya Lake at 10:00. We reached Sunrise HSC junction at 11:15 and took a short detour to check out the first two Sunrise Lakes. Completely overlooking the fact that we dropped our packs by the first lake without proper food storage - we sprinted back and luckily they had not been ravaged by bears. We continued up the CR trail and stopped by the last creek before the summit and filled up on 6.5L of water to haul up for the night and the hike the next day, just in case the creek that Chick-On had mentioned near the summit was dry. We reached 0.5 miles before the summit at about 15:00 and started hunting for the campsite Chick-On had recommended. We found the perfect spot about 150 ft NW of the trail, right after it dips for the last time before the final ascent to the summit. It was close the the canyon edge and at about 9500 ft elevation with a few fire rings around the area. We set up our camp, filtered our water and set off for CR summit for sunset at about 16:00.

By this time, the summit was almost empty, with only a few people who were camping by the lake along the trail making their way down and one other trooper (who I had coincidentally met at my sister's wedding) camping out solo. The sight from here was breathtaking; expansive fields of valley floor, where smooth ashen cliffs met dense green forestry laid beneath our feet as our end destination - the monolithic Half Dome loomed ever so magnificently in the backdrop. We took in the views, snapped some photos, and in realizing it was about to get extremely cold, I rushed back to camp to grab a sleeping bag so we could watch the stars come out in warmth. We staked out a spot along the ridge and watched the sun creep over the horizon while the indigo sky turned into our own private planetarium. Infinite stars sprawled out above us while we discerned our favorite constellations and watched for shooting stars. The view was awe-inspiring but short-lived. As the windchill started to get the better of our fingers, we decided to head back down to camp, being very wary not to fall off the knife's edge in the dark. Looking for our camp with just one headlamp was disorientating to say the least. After half an hour of navigating through a morass of unfamiliar woods, we rejoiced at the sight of our familiar makeshift home. At camp, we were slow to start a fire and cooked our first freeze-dried dinner; Pad Thai from Backpacker's Pantry - a tangy, nutty flavor just familiar enough to barely keep our morale up through the night. Exhausted and defeated, we crawled into our tent and prepared for what we thought would be the coldest night of our lives.

We woke up at daybreak at 06:00, the night had not been as cold as excepted but our incommodious tent and pads had still made for a poor night's sleep. We packed up camp and dragged our selves back up the summit to catch the first rays of sun hit Half Dome and spill out on to the valley floor. As we climbed the knife's edge for the second time, we spotted a faint wave poking out in the distance and sighed in relief as we realized our friend had not been blown off the Canyon's edge. We hung around the summit until 08:00 and descended over Cloud's Rest and set off for Half Dome via the Quarter Domes cross-country short cut. As we reached the first switch-back on the way down where we were to veer off the beaten path, we stopped and stared down at the dauntingly steep slab of granite that was supposed to be our "shortcut". Not knowing what were getting ourselves into we carefully slid down the treacherous slope towards eastern Quarter Dome. Once we reached Quarter Dome we trekked into the unknown, bushwhacking through shrubs and dead ends, using only the edge of Tenaya Canyon and the sight of a growing Half Dome as a benchmark for direction. Without a clear path, our 2 hour shortcut felt like an eternity and our ambitious pursuit for solitude started to shift to a yearning for civilization. Just as we were about to lose hope, the sound of faint voices through the woods surfaced like whispers of angels. We rushed forward, finally, at 10:00, we were reunited with the Half Dome trail.

Half Dome had its usual crowds - we slowly made our way to the top as people, young and old, shuffled along the infamous cables. We reached the top at about 11:00 and celebrated in reaching our goal in once piece. Despite the grandiose lore behind the Half Dome, we felt slightly aloof to our crowning achievement. The promised views and congregation of starry-eyed day hikers made for an experience that paled in comparison to our transcendence on Clouds Rest the night before. In this case, the journey truly eclipsed the destination. We spent a good hour walking around and hanging our feet off the edge of King's Chair. After 18 long miles, we were finally ready to make our long descent back to the Valley where our friend was patiently waiting for us in our car. Back at the base of Half Dome, a squirrel had bitten through the front of my pack. We managed the entire trip without bear encounters but alas, was breached by a sneaky squirrel. The last 8 miles down felt like the longest leg of the trip as we passed hordes of tourists trekking up the Mist Trail. On our final stretch, a mile from the Happy Isles Trailhead, a family that was walking towards Vernal Falls oddly asked us to share the last of our filtered Merced River water. I felt the irony of the situation was a perfect way to sum up the bitter-sweetness of such an arduous but fulfilling trip. We laughed it off and limped our way to our dear friend. Seeing his cheeky smile and pizza in hand, we grinned from ear to ear and collapsed in relief.

Special thanks to Chick-On and everyone on this forum for all the helpful advice in making this an epic and successful trip. P.S. the twinkie trap didn't work.

Album of our journey: https://imgur.com/a/yoecu



Edited 10 time(s). Last edit at 10/04/2019 10:31AM by tsarles.
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