Hiking Half Dome – a family adventure

2012 has been a year of mother-child trips in our house; in April, I took kid #2 on a big adventure over the pond. This last weekend, I took our oldest to Yosemite National Park for a hike up Half Dome. Both adventures were outstanding, and my children amazed me in different ways, and we hope to continue these singular adventures as they grow older.

While on our 13 hour, 18.4 mile hike this weekend (with 4400 feet of vertical climb), we observed 3 stupid mistakes that were more common than not. If you are planning a similar trip, we share these with you in the hopes that you will plan accordingly for your ascent on Half Dome:

1. Not enough water

We frequently saw hikers out for a 10+ hour hike, armed only with a 12 ounce plastic water bottle. Our group used 3.0L Platypus water bladders, which we refilled during the hike in the Merced River. Total water used per person was 5.5L. And we did not even have a really hot day! On a hot day, expect much greater water consumption. Staying hydrated at altitude is crucial.

2. Inadequate shoes

Our group all wore hiking shoes or boots, and we observed several hikers without proper foot attire. The Vibram shoes were not the problem; those tend to fit well and have good grip. The ill fitting athletic shoes without good support were the problematic shoes. Going up and down the rock of Half Dome can be slippery and slick, especially with a little moisture in the air. And most of the hike up there is along rock paths and trails. Shoes with good soles and solid support are a much better option for this hike.

3. No harness for the climb up Half Dome

Not everyone will agree with this statement, but I believe the safest route up Half Dome uses rock climbing harnesses and and carabiners to clip into the cables. Mountaineering gear can be rented from many REI stores, or borrowed from a friend, or purchased from the Village Sport Shop in Yosemite Valley. Besides feeling safer on the rock, the harness allowed us to rest between stakes, as we were able to clip in and sit back into the harness. On the way down, the harness helped me feel less out of control on the slippery rock and better able to manage the descent.

Since this is a (kitchen) gadget blog, I thought I would highlight the 3 essential gadgets from our trip this weekend. The most important gadget is not really a gadget at all. If you can find a friend who is experienced with this kind of trip, that is your best resource. Marsha agreed to be our guide, having completed this trek 4 times before, in addition to many other backpacking trips. We learned a lot from her this weekend, and because she was so prepared and experienced, she paved the way in many areas that we were unprepared. Education is a valuable tool!

1. SteriPEN

Marsha brought along her new SteriPEN water purifier, which uses UV light to destroy viruses, bacteria and protozoa, such as giardia. Since water weighs about 2.2lbs per liter, we were unable to carry all the water we needed for this trip (5.5L, see above). We all started out with close to 3L, and stopped at the Merced River in Little Yosemite Valley to refill for the trip back to the bottom. Once you leave Happy Valley, there are no water fountains or potable water sources on the hike, so you need to bring a water filtration system to refill your containers.

2. Walking Sticks

I originally thought these were for old people who like to hike, then I realized that a) I am an old person, and b) everyone benefits from good hiking poles. A group of young European men fast packing passed us on the trail, all three of them in their early 20s, and their hiking poles were an essential part of their equipment, enabling them to move faster on the trail. I used a pair of REI Traverse PowerLock Trekking Poles, and pretty much saved my knees on the descent of the Mist Trail. Towards the end, they came in very handy and kept me upright all the way to bottom.

3. Krave Jerky

Not quite a gadget, but definitely food related! Another thing Marsha introduced to us is this great tasting Krave Jerky. Nice and soft, not like shoe leather, with great flavors, it was enjoyed by our whole group and provided lots of solid protein for the trip. Available at Safeway in our area, I also see that Amazon carries a good selection. Favorite flavors include Citrus Basil and Chili Lime.

If there ever is a next time for this trip (and after finishing Sunday night, I am not so sure) I would definitely look into making this a multi-day trip, backpacking into Little Yosemite Valley the first day, making the trek to Half Dome on the second day, and returning to the valley floor on day three. The Backpacker’s Camp was a nice, restful spot and would have been a nice place to celebrate the achievement of climbing Half Dome. Of course, a trip like that will involve more gadgets and lots more adventure. Bears, anyone?

This post is published on September 8, in honor of my mother who would have been 80 today. I remember her as a great adventurer and instigator of family trips. She would have been thrilled to know that her grandchildren are as adventurous and interested in the world around them as she was. 


  1. What a wonderful family memory and a great tribute to your mom. And I am impressed with your fitness!
    Kalyn recently posted…Recipe for Garlic-Lover’s Vegetable Stir Fry with Eggplant, Zucchini, and Yellow SquashMy Profile

  2. Kitchen Gadget Girl

    my fitness is nothing to be impressed by – it has taken me almost a week to recover! And it was painful coming down the last mile or so of trail. But I am thrilled to have finished the climb and it is a fun family memory. Thanks for visiting, nice to hear from you Kalyn!

  3. Seems you have really adventurous hiking session with your family. Hiking is a very good outdoor activity , by which we can lose extra calories with very ease. It offers great fun and makes us strong enough to face challenges in life.
    Ireland hiking recently posted…HomeMy Profile

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