How to Prepare for Half Dome
Half Dome. Arguably Yosemite National Park’s most iconic and dangerous hikes. My sight has been set of hiking Half Dome since I decided to visit Yosemite back in the spring. I was intrigued, determined, and terrified to take on the challenge. Initially I did a lot of research. What the hike entailed, how to prepare, how much water, etc. However, as the trip grew closer I stopped researching it. Why? I was convinced we would not be granted one (actually four) of the highly sought after permits. You can hike the Mist trail up until a point (~1 mile from the summit of Half Dome). At that point you must have a Half Dome Cable permit to ascend the last bit.
Our crew of four applied for daily lottery permits which has a success rate of <40% for most days. After two days worth of rejections, success came on the third try. We were only given 24 hours advance notice.
The day leading up, I was scared. Like, really scared. I had no idea what I was doing. Was I prepared? What time do we start? Wait, we don’t have gloves? I only have four liters of water, is that enough? Ah, I had endless questions and thoughts about this hike and the anticipation was horrible.
What is Half Dome?
A 14- to 16-mile (or 20) hike to the literal top of a half dome mountain in Yosemite National Park. The elevation gain is a whooping 4800 feet. The last 400 feet is only accessible by cables. A full review of the Half Dome hike is coming soon!
My biggest concern was if I was physically able to take on this challenge? Prior to the trip I worked out 3-4 times a week at the gym and took my dog on two walks a day, but that didn’t seem like enough. With the help of my Half Dome Crew, I have put together a workout that will help prepare you for the endurance challenge that is Half Dome.
Disclaimer: Hiking Half Dome, especially ascending the cables, is dangerous. It is tough, long, and physically difficult even if you are in good shape. Take all necessary steps to properly prepare.
Final Count (according to my iPhone): 24.2 miles, 50,000+ steps, 285 floors climbed, and approximately 8500 calories burned.
Half Dome Workouts
Stair Climber: I’m sure someone has counted, but there are a LOT of stairs on the Mist Trail and beyond. Some high Cathedral type stairs, other wide and shallow. What I feel like I should recommend is: doing the stair climber for 4-6 hours with ankle weights and a backpack for weeks leading up to the hike. Realistically, incorporating the stair climber into your regular workout routine and adding a weighted backpack or ankle weights will help substantially.
Cardio: Incline walking. Long, slow distances are key. At no point in the hike were we walking at a quick pace. We chose to walk at a slower pace to help us keep our endurance and energy in check. Introducing a backpack or ankle weights in the days leading up might not be a bad idea.
Pull-Ups: There are several tactics while ascending the cables. My legs were useless at that point in the hike so I was depending a LOT on my upper body strength. Prior to the trip I did daily arm workouts with 3lb weights and pull ups. If you are familiar with barre classes, my arm workouts were similar to those. If you are not familiar, I suggest googling it.
Stretching: Lower body stretching, including Achilles, calves, quads, IT band.
Core: My core really helped with stability on the cable ascent and the return downhill hike.
FULL DISCLOSURE: I did not do this workout prior to hiking Half Dome. Why? Because I had no idea what I was getting myself into. This is absolutely the workout I would do prior to hiking Half Dome if I were to do it again (and that is still unclear). I have created a handy dandy infographic that can help guide your weekly workouts leading up to the big hike.
Above all else, listen to your body, stay on the trail, away from waterfalls, and take breaks as needed.