Sunrise Hiking, the Half Dome Adventure

(4 minutes read)

“Climb the mountains and get their good tiding. Nature’s peace will flow into you as sunshine into trees.” John Muir.

One of the ultimate experiences in Yosemite is to hike its iconic granite rock, Half Dome. Put your shoes on for a unique and challenging adventure.


A pinch of history

  • Since the Ice Age, glaciers and geology (earthquakes, rockfalls, volcano, erosion, etc.) have been shaping Yosemite’s cliffs.
  • According to the Ahwahnee legend, gods turned Tissayak into Half Dome and her husband Nangas into North Dome.
  • There never was another half to the Half Dome.
  • George Anderson was the 1st to reach the summit in 1875.
  • In 1967, Liz Robbins (Royal Robbins’s wife) became the 1st women to climb it.

The granite monarch stands 8,842 feet over the Yosemite Valley. Hiking the summit is 17 miles round trip (average of 10-12 hours) including 4,800 feet elevation change. Here is my journey:


  • 2:30 am, the Full Moon Adventure

The full moon was shining as we started our adventure by 2:30 am. Equipped with headlamps and backpacks, we followed the Mist trail (it’s one of the three routes leading to the Half Dome). Hiking in the heart of Yosemite under/with a full moon is a unique experience. Obscurity increases senses and exalts sensations.


As an example, mounting the series of stone steps to reach Vernal falls was remarkable.

Thanks to the contrast of colors and forms, I clearly identified the wild water running among the vagueness of the rocks. The sound of the falls filled the space with its regular and cadenced music. It felt like the Vernal Falls was singing the mountain’s force and energy. Beautiful!

Half Dome and the first light of the day.

For the anecdote, we were making noise in the forested areas to avoid black bears!



  • 6:30 am, the Ultimate Steps: Sub-Dome and Half Dome Challenge

Don’t be fool by the Sub-Dome appellation. Its climbing will quicken your pulse as the cut stone steps (different size and height) are a challenging cardio exercise.  I didn’t expect it to be as difficult and brutal but the first light of the day make it softer. By 6:30 am, the rising sun projected amazing colors on the environment. It was splendid. Taking pictures along the way was perfect to catch my breath and enjoy the moment.



Half Dome’s cables may be the most famous part of the hike, at least the most pictured. For a newbie like me, it was really impressive. From the sub-dome, people look like ants walking on a vertical rock. Getting closer increased apprehension and tension.


After 6 hours walking, that was it. The ultimate challenge to ascend the summit: 700-foot inclined between 45 and 60 degrees! I took a long breath, set my gloves (both for protection and for a better grip) and put my feet on the first step.


Climbing was not easy: vertical cable is rough, wood steps are spaced and sometimes unstable, the rock is slippery and there is no protection if you’re falling (except if you bring your own rock climbing equipment). Well, I didn’t look back, used my arms to pull (I can see now that burpees are paying off!), focus on one step at the time and communicate with walkers when passing one another (yes there is only one path to go up and down). Curiously, heading back was easier for me.



The top of Half Dome is a large granite surface (13-acres).



Should I mention that the 360* view over the valley is stunning?





  • 9:00 am, into the wild

Walking back was pleasant and…. downhill!

It was time to enjoy our surroundings with another set of eyes thanks to daylight.  During the miles of sceneries surrounding the granite peaks and a forested area, we appreciated landscapes filled with a large variety of plants, flowers, trees (ponderosa pine, incense cedar, lodgepole pine to name a few) and animals (birds, marmot, squirrels, etc.). It was peaceful and beautiful.



Quietude was interrupted by a multitude of hikers as we were getting closer to Yosemite Valley. Nevertheless, we delighted in the impressive 594-foot Nevada Falls and the 317-foot Vernal Falls.






To conclude, the Half Dome hike is a challenging hike, a unique experience where you will push yourself for a great accomplishment. The ultimate reward is the natural wonders: sublime granite domes, scenic vegetation, thundering waterfalls, and inspiring views.

In summary, it’s “as if into this one mountain mansion Nature has gathered her choicest treasures” John Muir.



Crazy or wonderful hiking destination? You can do it!



  • Location: Yosemite Valley, Yosemite National Park, California, USA.
  • Open from May-September.
  • Admission: $10 per permit
  • Permits are available by lottery in March. There is also a daily lottery during hiking season releasing ~50 permits per days. In total, 330 permits per days are distributed.
  • Duration: between 10 to 12 hours.
  • Safety 1st: check your equipment, meteorological conditions, and sunset and sunrise times before hiking.
  • Parking: Half Dome Village.
  • More information available at



If you enjoyed this post, please leave a comment and share with a hiker or traveler visiting California.



2 thoughts on “Sunrise Hiking, the Half Dome Adventure

  1. Thank you! The challenge worth it: pushing yourself through a 12 hours hike including the ascension of the Half Dome is an adventure! It was beautiful and unique, especially hiking during a full moon and the sunrise over the valley. Definitely another way to discover and explore the Yosemite.


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