20170918: Breathing wildfire air atop Half Dome (Yosemite NP)

I passed into Yosemite National Park via the John Muir Trail (JMT). (See Half Dome permit info and trip report posted here.)

  • Get to the Tuolumne Meadows Wilderness Office tomorrow morning, a Ranger on the trail by Donahue Pass told me. You’ll have to see if there are cancellations. There might be some flexibility with permits…

I positioned my camp site strategically and hiked in to Tuolumne the next morning perfectly timed at 9:30AM for the 11AM permit session.

  • Hmm, the woman at the Wilderness Office desk said, scanning a list of reservations. Wait in the line and if you don’t get a spot you can come back tomorrow to try again.
  • Hmm, the Office head said as he went down the line to get an idea of what routes hikers were requesting permits for. Should be okay… Nobody else is asking about Half Dome today…

By the time I got to the front of the line the woman was preparing my permit, and I felt like I’d won the lottery. (I did try applying to hike through the day-use lotto; Bert went through the online process for me from home, but I wasn’t successful in getting a spot.)

I couldn’t stop smiling as I set up camp at the Backpackers Campsite ($6, self-registration). I had planned to forgo a pricy bought meal at The Grill but ended up with a burger, salad, and iced tea and having a buoyant conversation with a staff member. I couldn’t contain my energy as I ran up Lembert Dome.

The weather looked best for September 18 so I camped the next night about a mile and a half from the JMT Half Dome junction and planned to summit the next day. The air was smoky from a wildfire burning not 4 miles away, but my campsite was otherwise perfect – actually my favorite of the whole JMT.

I hiked down from Tuolumne on the JMT and camped on a rock outcrop, hidden a ways from the trail, facing the sunset and a great view of Half Dome. It was a view in which I could see enough of the mountain to get a bit nervous. Look, I told myself. Lots of hikers do it. It can’t be that bad.

The next morning opened with a bright pink wildfire-fueled sky. I opted to leave camp and hike down the 1.5 miles to the Half Dome junction with a small daypack so that I wouldn’t have to take time to break up camp and then have to stash my valuable gear in a high traffic area.

There were few other hikers at 8AM and I made quick work of the summit. Wow, people said, Did you already go up and down? Or, oh you stormed up that! Or, oh you have a good pace going!

Well, I dunno. I just felt good, and strong. I didn’t want to run though, to get my only remaining “good” set of clothes sweaty (I had a 2.5 hr bus ride ahead of me tomorrow and didn’t want to be too stinky…) Nonetheless the 4 mile round trip back to the junction took me less than 2 hrs.

I hiked back up to my campsite, enjoyed a leisurely picnic, and packed up to hike out. What a nice finish to the JMT.

Lembert Dome summit, in the Tuolumne area, a nice warmup for Half Dome a couple days later.
Lembert Dome summit, in the Tuolumne area, a good warmup or preview for Half Dome a couple days later.
Morning, on the slabs at the start of the rock "staircase"
Morning sky, on the slabs at the start of the rock “staircase” up to the summit of Half Dome
Summit block pano.
Summit block pano.
You can see the cable route.
Cable aids, with a few tiny people at the top of the cable. I was glad there was little traffic and got into a good rhythm going up and down.
I was surprised by how much I had to literally pull myself up. Was a welcome change to engage my upper body a bit.
View looking down. I did a one cable hand-over-hand side step and found that technique very effective for descending. You can see the lingering smog from the fires. The valley view was quite hazy.
Heading down to Yosemite Valley. Nevada Falls via Mist Trail. Oh so busy with people!
Another Yosemite classic: Vernal Falls. See the tiny people at the lookout on the left side of the top of the falls.
My finish line after 15 days of backpacking! Great times on trail. I was sorry it was over, so soon.

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