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Half Dome - Yosemite

In 1870, California's top geologist described Half Dome as "perfectly inaccessible, being probably the only one of all the prominent points about the Yosemite which has never been and never will be trodden by human foot."

Josiah D. Whitney underestimated man's ingenuity. Five years after he authored those words a Scottish carpenter named George Anderson spent a week drilling eyebolts into the rock and setting fixed ropes on Half Dome's east face, the one hidden from the valley floor.

Today, Half Dome is nothing less than the signature Yosemite hike and one of the most famous in the world. On virtually every sunny day in summer and fall hundreds of people reach the summit, grasping a cable handrail near the original ascent route to pull themselves up the treacherous final section.

Because of its extreme length, difficulty and exposure, this hike isn't for everyone. But for those who do make it, the scenic and personal rewards are plentiful.

Because no one wants to be turned back by afternoon thunderstorms, make sure to get an early start — no later than 7a.m. From Happy Isles, ascend the broad footpath to the Vernal Fall bridge and continue past the bathrooms and water fountain to an important junction.

Both the Mist Trail and John Muir Trail reach the top of Nevada Fall but go about it in different ways. The Mist Trail is shorter but ascends a steep stone staircase that is often wet and slippery. The Muir Trail is 1.2miles longer but offers better views and climbs well-graded switchbacks. (Friendly advice: Take the Mist Trail up and the Muir Trail down. Your knees will thank you.)

The two trails join up above Nevada Fall and continue climbing gentle switchbacks to Little Yosemite Valley. This crowded camping spot is a favorite of backpackers and food-marauding bears alike.

Stay left at trail junctions in Little Yosemite Valley and pass near a solar toilet before resuming the ascent. After 11/2miles, you'll leave the Muir Trail and pass through red firs and Jeffrey pines, occasionally getting a glimpse of Half Dome's east face. More climbing along a broad, lightly forested slope reveals breathtaking views of Clouds Rest, Mount Hoffman and Tenaya Canyon.

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