Why you shouldn’t go up the Half Dome cables

I’m not afraid of much. Not spiders, or snakes, or heights, or being lost, or getting punched in the face.

I realize this makes me sound like a hard, emotionless dude, which isn’t the case. I have been known to eat the occasional cupcake or two.

So when you’re planning a trip to Half Dome, one consistent theme you’ll encounter throughout is the dreaded cable discussion. Will you go?  Will you stay back/chicken out, wishing you could muster the courage?

The hike up is beautiful, no doubt.

Behold! The sacred Half Dome cables!

To the left of the cables? Death. To the right? Death.

My wife and I sat at the base of the cables for a good hour, watching one dehydrated moron after another tackle these bad boys like pros.

Little old ladies, children, fanny pack foreigners, jocks—you name it, they approached us with kind words of encouragement.

“Oh, come on, you must go up!  You came all this way for nothing?”

Thing is, we didn’t.  Getting there was awe-inspiring. This portion seemed like an amusement park ride.

We saw people walking on the outside of the cables, people slipping on the rickety 2x4s they have “bolted” into the rock, people gripping the cables for dear life.

At this point, I can officially say I was scared.  The manly man in me wanted to saddle up and conquer those cables.  The not-so-manly man in me said “you know Eric, this is a fantastic spot to have lunch with your wife, or eat cupcakes.”

After much debate, we finally decided to give it a shot. I went up first, with my wife right behind me.

Blood pumping, head spinning, muscles acting funny.  A board slips out of the rock, and I’m thinking “to hell with this” but I press on.

Then a petrified foreign lady is working her way down the cables when she clamps onto me for support. Am I to die here on this blasted rock because Ms. Fanny Pack is convinced I’m a cable post? I am now officially freaking out.

That’s it. We’re done.

If you have conquered the Half Dome cables, I want to hear from you. How did you find it in yourself to risk it all? Was it worse going up, or coming down? Do you value your life? Do you think I’m overreacting?

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16 comments

  1. Amazing experience! I think I’d have been hanging out at the bottom with the cupcakes too…….weird that you should post this because I’m having a bizarre idea today about trying to arrange a trip to Yosemite over Christmas. We’ll see if it all pans out, or if I have to leave it until another time since it’s such short notice.

  2. I’m getting ready to head up there myself next summer. I’ve been hiking all over California and I’ve yet to do Half Dome, so I think I am going to have to scramble up the cables. When I climbed Whitney, the cables on that trail had an 800-ft drop on one side and the trail was covered with snow so the path was at a 45 degree angle… it can’t be as bad as that, right? Do you do a lot of hiking?

    1. Really, the biggest challenge has to be the people. Sure, the cables aren’t installed so great, the rock can get slick, and the fall would be horrendous. But I’m sure I could conquer the fear associated with all of that if I had the cables to myself.

      But when you have people grabbing onto you for support, that changes everything! There are so many petrified people on those cables.

      With that said, you’ll do great if you already have experience with the Whitney cables.

      And yes, we hike whenever we get the chance. We actually applied for a Whitney permit this past spring, but got denied. Boo.

      1. We got denied the first time, too, so we ended up postponing for a year then reapplied and got denied again. We called the station everyday until we got a date, which was luckily only a few days after our first choice. Just gotta be persistent.

      2. I hiked up to Half Dome from curry village yesterday! Yosemite is absolutely beautiful.

        After subdome I really started to see the cables in the distance. We saw like you all sorts of people go up from a pregnant lady to little old men.

        So we put on gloves and headed on up! Well about 15 2×4’s up I got absolutely petrified! I have never ever experienced what I was feeling before. I felt a spike of adrenaline from fear and immediately had acute senses. I started to tremble and thought if I fall I might cause others to fall as well. I noticed my tight grip on the cables, how vertical I was standing in the scorching heat and how heavy my day pack was.

        I had to go back down the cables I did not feel safe at all, simple as that.

        I am an avid hiker and trail runner since childhood, We have hiked Mount Whitney in a day during Winter of 2010 and Summer of 2011 but never have I been stricken with fear. The root of my intense fear was because at a certain moment from observing others and my situation I did not feel safe and once I didn’t, I headed back down.

      3. Hey, thanks for stopping by Jeanelle! I know exactly what you’re talking about when you say you “did not feel safe at all.” I’m confident in my outdoor ability too, but when you have 100 knuckleheads scrambling on the same slick rock, gripping tightly to the same tenuous cable, the chance of something bad happening seems to multiply. I would go up the cables if I had them to myself. Would you?

  3. Damn. That looks like a hell of an adventure! I haven’t climbed it but I’d sure want to! Muscles acting funny? Yea, I recognize the symptoms! Ahah.

  4. I loved the ending of this post =] I made it up to the top right before the cables once, but I was just too tired to go up and didn’t feel like it was really worth it. Wasn’t too scared though… saw all those people going up and figured I’d be fine.

    Tell me, how do you find the time to go on all these adventures!

  5. Oh it’s far worse going up. Coming down is a treat. The traffic was horrendous going up and I got stuck in a number of traffic jams where I had to just hang on and hold tight for five minutes or so. I appreciate that people need to be safe and take their time but the pace going up was just WAY too slow. I traveled all the way from Pennsylvania to visit Yosemite and hike Half Dome so there was no freaking way that I was going to be deterred from going up those cables. It was definitely worth it! It’s not as dangerous as it looks and the view from the top is amazing.

    1. I’m glad you went up! The people factor kept us from going up. Otherwise, I’d have no problem giving it a go. Did you get to do anything else in the area while you were in Yosemite?

      1. Oh yeah man, I spent a whole week in the area. Hiked Hetch Hetchy, spent some time at Mono Lake, hiked up to Lembert Dome in the high country, and spent a little time at Olmsted Point. I would have loved to do the Cathedral Lakes hike but it was late May and the trail was covered in snow. I’d love to come back someday and spend some more time in the high country as well as hike part of the John Muir Trail.

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