About two months before the trip my friend told me he had a few extra permits for the hike, and he put the offer out to other friends as well so he could try to get a small group together. Two of my friends had four passes so they were trying to find another couple to go. Luckily for me, there was no other couple that was able to go so I joined them and the three of us spent the weekend together doing this amazing hike. One of the permits went unused unfortunately, but it was definitely better that we had too many than too few.
Hiking and Camping Permits
There are two types of permits that are needed to hike Half Dome hike and to camp overnight at the campgrounds. “Day-hike permits” are required to hike Sub Dome and to get to the top of Half Dome. The permit is required to do the cable hiking, which leads to the very top of Half Dome, and to hike Sub Dome (which in my opinion is more demanding than the cables). The reason Yosemite requires permits is to control traffic in certain areas. The approximately 600 foot cable portion is very steep and dangerous so not many people can use it at one time, so this area is crowd controlled. Everyone can hike about 90% of the trail without a permit but by requiring the permits for this portion they’re able to control traffic to 400 people per day.
The second type of permit is the “Wilderness permit” and it is required to camp anywhere in the park. In order to camp at Little “Yosemite Valley campground”, which is along the main hiking trail, a reservation is required which is tough to get because there is very limited space for campsites. With a general wilderness permit, camping is allowed almost anywhere in the park except within certain areas. In the case of hiking Half Dome, in order to camp freely it has to be done a minimum of more than 2 miles from the campgrounds. Because we failed to make a reservation at the Little Yosemite Valley campgrounds, which we thought the permits we had covered us for, we had to go out of the area and camp on our own which in my opinion was one of the best things about the whole hike (entire blog post to come about the camping).
My friends had four day-hike permits, but not a wilderness permit. Their intention was to make reservations at the Little Yosemite Valley campsite but the night before we started the hike, while finishing our packing, we realized we only had day-hike permits but that we’d likely need a wilderness permit to camp overnight. The next morning, when we set out to do our hike, we went to the park office and they gave us the information on where we could camp. So long as we were more than 2 miles away from Little Yosemite Valley campsite, we were ok. On the map, the ranger marked a small creek and told us to make sure to reach the creep. At that point would know for sure we were in the area where we were supposed to camp.
This sign is just past Little Yosemite Valley campgrounds as a final check to make sure you have the required permits if you’re planning to hike to the top.
Tuesday— Full day of school in Tampa, including an exam. Then a late night flight from Tampa to San Francisco, arriving into SF at 11:50pm. My friends rented a ZipCar and picked me up from the airport.
Wednesday— Spent the morning/afternoon in SF on my own, then when my friends got off work we headed to the mountains. We left SF about 6pm and arrived at our hotel near Yosemite around 11pm.
Thursday— Woke up early, went for a swim in the hot tub, checked out of hotel around 11am. It took a few hours to get situated, park our car, and start hiking. We began hiking at around 3pm which gave us about 4-5 hours of hiking before the sun went down. We camped overnight on the side of the mountain by our selves at a spot we found about 10 minutes before the sun set.
Friday— HALF DOME! We woke up at our camp site around 7am and set out on our full day of hiking. We had to make it to the top of half dome and all the way back to the bottom by time the sun went down so we had about 12 hours to do it all. After the hike, we checked into our hotel inside the park. We were exhausted so we had a quick pizza dinner at the nearby restaurant and called it an early night.
Saturday— Woke up, checked out of hotel room and had lunch in the park. We had lunch at the Ahwahnee Hotel which is the nicest hotel in the park. We couldn’t afford to pay the $500+ per night it costs to stay there but having lunch there was a good way to go see what we missed. After lunch we drove to another vantage point that overlooks the valley that we hiked in, and then we had to hit the road back to San Francisco because the car rental was due by 6pm.
Sunday— Spent the morning/afternoon in the city and at Dolores Park. Evening/overnight flight back to Tampa leaving SF at about 8:30pm. Due to missing my connecting flight in Phoenix, I arrived back in Tampa around noontime on Monday afternoon.
Half Dome Permits for Day Hiking
Wilderness Permit Information
Camping Information at Little Yosemite Valley
Ahwahnee Hotel in Yosemite Park
The fourth city on my visit to China was Dunhuang which is a desert paradise in western China. I was particularly looking forward to this part of the trip because I did a little research and the pictures and videos I found looked nothing short of amazing.
We arrived in the late afternoon on Friday, June 17th and our first night was spent camping at the base of the sand dunes. First we dropped our luggage off at our hotel where we would be staying the following night and we were met by a group of camels which we rode to our campsite. Unfortunately my camera battery died shortly after getting on the camel so I don’t have any pictures of the campsite or sand dunes myself but I’m going to get copies of pictures that my friends took and post those when I get home.
Our campsite was at the base of the sand dunes. There wasn’t much else to do except hike around and so far this was one of my favorite parts of the trip. Right now I’m sitting in the airport in Dunhuang waiting to fly to Beijing where we’ll be visiting the Great Wall, Tiananmen Square and the Forbidden City so there’s still a chance that I’ll enjoy one of those sites more but we will have to see.
Initially our whole group climbed the first sand dune where the view was amazing but then after realizing we had the whole night to explore and do nothing else except relax and be in the dunes, myself and four others picked a peak far away to hike to. I forgot my bottle of water down at the campsite which was a brutal mistake but I wasn’t going to let that stop me from hiking around. The peak we set out to climb ended up being much further away than it looked, probably about 1.5 miles or so but it only looked to be .5 mile away. I thought the view from the first dune was amazing and now at the top of this second peak we were about 800 feet higher and the view was beyond spectacular.
Standing on the top of the peak was one of the best feelings in the whole world. We were utterly exhausted after making the hike, especially without any water, but once we reached the peak it was a big feeling of accomplishment. When none of us were speaking, it was a very peaceful silence except for the occasional wind and there would be a bit of sand blowing around from time to time. I wished I had been at the peak by myself and been able to sit there for a few hours and taken it all in. I considered making the hike again by myself in the morning but it was too much. To do it the way I would’ve liked, I would’ve needed 4 to 5 hours and there just wasn’t that much time unfortunately.
At this point, being well over a mile away from the others in our group we all looked like ants to each other. They were still standing on the top of the first dune that we all climbed and all we could see were small pecks of color. I’m surprised they all waited there for us as we climbed because it took us a good 45 minutes to reach the peak. When we were nearing the top of the peak they started to yell towards us, we’re pretty sure they were yelling for us to come back but we were in no rush at all and it was going to take us a really long time to make it back over there. Eventually they all disappeared because they went back down to the campsite.
We finally made our way back down to the campsite but the five of us who climbed the extra peak quickly realized we would prefer to sleep on the sand dune up at the top. It would be too much to hike back to the large peak and sleep there so instead we took our sleeping bags up to the first sand dune and all found a decently comfortable spot. The moon was rising over the dunes as we were getting back up to the dune and it looked unbelievable. A friend of mine has an Ansel Adams photograph titled Moonrise which is what this view reminded me a lot of. The sand dunes in the distance were black and the moon lite up the sky as it emerged over the mountains.
Our wake up time for the next morning was 5:30 so we could be packed and ready to leave at 6am. We were having an early breakfast at our hotel, which was only a few miles away, and then we were starting our day at 9am to tour the city. The few of us up at the top of the sand dune woke up around 4:30/4:45 and we made our way down to the campsite.
Experiencing the sun set from the top of the peak far up into the sand dunes and then waking up and seeing the sun rise from the opposite direction at about 5:00am was one of my favorite experiences of the trip. Climbing back down the sand dune in the early morning when the sand was cool and a little damp is one of the vivid memories I won’t soon forget!!
The next pictures aren’t photos that I took but they’re photos by a few other students who went on the trip. Credit to Blake Wheeler and Robert Dox. These pictures are from the overnight camping portion of the trip to Dunhuang, at which time my camera battery was dead so I wasn’t able to take any pictures myself.