Half Dome Hike

Yosemite National Park

Image credit: D____ and friends

How it began

It began as an idea. On a whim, Anthony and I applied for the Half Dome Cable climb permits for Sunday, July 18th, 2021. This 10-14hr hike is considered one of the hardest hikes Yosemite has to offer. Word on the street was that the acceptance rate for permits is very low. To our surprise, one of our two lottery entries won! I had planned to exercise more in preparation for the hike… seems that wasn’t going to happen.

Wow! Won a slot on the first try.
Wow! Won a slot on the first try.

We proceeded to make plans for the drive. We would depart from the Bay Area around 1AM, arrive at the trailhead at 5AM, and proceed with the hike. However, hours before departure, we found out that there was a high likelihood of thunderstorms during our permit window.

That's a lot of thunder...
That’s a lot of thunder…

Faced with the prospect of missing our chance to hike to the top of Half Dome, Anthony and I decided to up the ante. We figured that if we moved up the departure to 9PM (i.e. an hour later at the time), we could make it to the trailhead by 1AM and have just enough time to speed hike before the thunderstorm arrived.

And so it began! The trek to the top of Half Dome, starting around 2AM (due to some permit confusion)

Night Lights

Turns out red lights illuminate while preserving your night vision. The more you know!
Turns out red lights illuminate while preserving your night vision. The more you know!
Can you hear the roar? There's a water fall somewhere nearby.
Can you hear the roar? There’s a water fall somewhere nearby.

An actual paraphrased exchange between Anthony and I:

A: Is that the waterfall?

Edwin gets out his large handheld flashlight and illuminates the source of the sound, finding water hitting rock.

E: Yea. That’s it.
A: Where’s the top?

Gradually points the light higher.

E: oh.

and higher

E: Ohh.

and higher

E: Ohhh…

We were right next to Vernal Falls, and it’s really really tall.

Top of Vernal Falls
Top of Vernal Falls

And onwards we went, through the night,

Mist Trail > Yosemite Valley > Sub-Dome > …

Pre-Dawn Stillness

First light! The iPhone certainly trying hard to compensate for the Poisson-distributed low-photon noise. Perhaps using TV prior? Algorithm seemed to think it was a lot brighter than it actually was at the time. Also, Half Dome sighted!
First light! The iPhone certainly trying hard to compensate for the Poisson-distributed low-photon noise. Perhaps using TV prior? Algorithm seemed to think it was a lot brighter than it actually was at the time. Also, Half Dome sighted!
Every minute it gets ever so gradually lighter!
Every minute it gets ever so gradually lighter!
I think I'm at the point where you're not supposed to look too far down.
I think I’m at the point where you’re not supposed to look too far down.

Summit

Target in sight! Final stretch (then we can start heading home)
Target in sight! Final stretch (then we can start heading home)
I aspire to be like this tree. It's growing on near-solid granite. Somehow, it found a way.
I aspire to be like this tree. It’s growing on near-solid granite. Somehow, it found a way.
Perk of hiking during ungodly hours: no people!
Perk of hiking during ungodly hours: no people!
Even a panoramic shot doesn't do the sweeping view justice. Hello sunrise!
Even a panoramic shot doesn’t do the sweeping view justice. Hello sunrise!
The granite really is beautiful up close.
The granite really is beautiful up close.

Return

This is the only photo I bothered to edit and filter. The way the cables aren't in line with the horizon... quick reminder we're on the top of a giant rock.
This is the only photo I bothered to edit and filter. The way the cables aren’t in line with the horizon… quick reminder we’re on the top of a giant rock.
Found a little redwood on the way back! Missed all the little ones in the darkness.
Found a little redwood on the way back! Missed all the little ones in the darkness.
Nevada Falls, during daytime. We took John Muir Trail (JMT) back. Few extra miles never hurt nobody.
Nevada Falls, during daytime. We took John Muir Trail (JMT) back. Few extra miles never hurt nobody.
20 miles, 10+hr later, all done! Photo doesn't capture how tired I was very well
20 miles, 10+hr later, all done! Photo doesn’t capture how tired I was very well

Summary

Summary graphic I made using good old Powerpoint.
Summary graphic I made using good old Powerpoint.

And that’s a wrap!

Edwin Pan 🌲
Edwin Pan 🌲
Master’s Student in Electrical Engineering

My research interests include computer vision, machine learning, robotics, and the ways these areas can improve human lives.