We've been hiking in Yosemite National Park now for several days. Yosemite Falls, Bridalveil Falls and El Capitan have been world class. Today, my family and I are going to tackle Half Dome, one of the great granite rock formations in Yosemite Valley.
We appear to have lucked out with the weather-beautiful, sunny and low humidity. There is no need to dress in layers today. The visitor center has been consulted, the trail highlighted in green magic marker, sandwiches packed and camera batteries charged. We're ready to go.
After about 30 minutes on the trail, the Half Dome comes into view. This rock formation has a distinct shape, characterized by a sheer granite face on one side with 3 smooth, round sides, giving the appearance of a dome cut in half. This granite structure is huge, rising 4373 feet above the valley floor.
The geologic term for what we are seeing today is known as an arête, a structure formed when 2 glaciers erode parallel U-shaped valleys. What has remained is considered to be due to a master joint, a fracture of natural origin in a rock formation that lacks any visible or measurable movement parallel to its surface plane.
While the Yosemite Valley has taken millions of years to evolve, the most recent geologic event to have shaped this area occurred on March 28, 2009 when a rock slide emanated from Awiyah Point. Registering 2.5 on the Richter Scale, a small earthquake resulted in a slide that damaged a large area under the dome, burying a sizable portion of the Mirror Lake Trail.
Climbing to the top of Half Dome is possible, but not for the faint of heart. The first ascent occurred in 1875 at which time George Anderson drilled iron bolts into the smooth granite surface on his way up. Since then, modern day climbers can use more than one route. One popular ascent involves climbing the Mist trail. This 8.2 mile climb has 8400 feet of elevation gain and requires the use of steel hand holds for the last 400 feet. I was happy staying at the bottom, looking up and taking photos.
The Half Dome became a mainstay of popular culture in 1988 when it was featured on a 25 cent U.S. postage stamp. More recently in 2005, the Half dome, together with an image of John Muir and the California Condor, were placed on the California State Quarter.
We complete our hike and head back to our bungalow in preparation for our departure from Yosemite. Despite a patch of inclement weather earlier in the week, the majority of this trip had clear skies with mostly dry trails. I won't be forgetting Half Dome and the rest of the Yosemite Valley anytime soon.