Summiting Yosemite’s Half Dome

About to climb the cables at Half Dome.  If you look closely you can see the faint line down the right center going up with a few climbers near the top half.  That is the cable route up.


Day 5!  rise at 5 a.m.!  Today is the today to make the push up Half Dome and all the way back to camp!  We all arise from our cocoons and gather ourselves in the darkness of the woods.   I make some oatmeal and then Scott and I pack our bags before heading to the river to fetch some water.

Scott filtering water in the dark before the days summit.

He is only carrying a hip sack since we will summit and then return to base camp to pack out tents before heading back.  I have a full pack, to accommodate my cameras and lenses along with a small sack of water and some food.  Its about a 3.5 mile hike to the top and then another back to base camp.  We should be able to do it in 4 hours.  We all head off with our headlights on, up the John Muir trail to the peak at about 6 a.m.

The group spread out going up.

With a couple breaks along the way, we made it fairly quickly, getting to see the sunrise and morning appear.  Hiking into a sunrise is pretty awesome!

Nate stopping to reflect for a moment.

The crew minus me, before conquering the last of the trail up to the top.

Luckily there were breaks, as I was able to stop and shoot a few times.  The reason for leaving so early: 1) We have a long day and need to also hike all the way back down, over 8 miles after summiting.  2)  Half Dome is very popular and many people come to summit everyday.  Passing people on the cables is not easy and somewhat dangerous.  So we avoided both of those and got up to the summit about 8 ish.

Nearing the top.



Sierra Nevada range atop Half Dome.

Rested, ate some food and scoped out the top of a peak we have been en route to for over 6 days.  Of course there was the usual take a pic of me at the cliff pictures to be had!

Take my pic!

Sara in our group is afraid of heights, so summiting was a huge accomplishment!  She did awesome.  The last 500 or so feet of Half Dome is only climbed with the assist of cables as it is a 45 degree angled slate of granite.  You slip or lose grip and you fall to your death.  We are not clipped in or have any harness on.  This made the hike a bit more interesting to say the least.  We all made it though!  Leather gloves were recommended, but I would say they were mandatory, as even with gloves my hands slipped slightly here and there.  Once summited and then back down the cables we hiked back to base camp on a very quick pace.  Scott and I took our time and chose not to race down, as there was no reward that I had been aware of?  We all rested a bit and packed up, loading our packs back up to their capacity.  Everyone was carrying anywhere between 26-46 lbs on there back.  Mine was about 31 lbs and that was with a camera, tripod and 3 lenses plus everything else.  I was not exactly sure why we weren’t gonna hang out at the awesome campground a bit longer since we only had about a 3 hour hike down and would have plenty of daylight left to drive to our eventual destination that night at a hotel in Mammouth.  We started hiking down but this time went down the mist trail which went along the water falls.

Nevada Falls.

It was pretty awesome!  I stopped twice in the beginning to take some pics and was quickly left behind.  The “race” down had begun.  Scott and I enjoyed the nice hike down, while it seemed everyone else was in a rush to get down and leave.  Of course I realize later, they had all wanted a beer.  We are in Yosemite!  So I enjoyed everything going down except my calves and broken toe but it wasn’t too bad.  Scott and Nate also hung back eventually and we explored as we went down the mountain.  The tourists got thicker and thicker as we descended since after all it was a Saturday.  Once at the bottom arriving at our cars we pack them and started the drive back to Mammouth for a nights rest.  On the way our driver Michelle shared some pretty cool pull over sites she had been to before.

Tenaya Lake

We all would get out of our car and hobble over to check it out, hobbleing….from being so sore.  There are some many cool places to see in Yosemite and we only saw a fraction!  Reflecting back on the day driving, I was lucky to get to go on this awesome trip and see some pretty amazing pieces of nature.  We had previously booked a room for each carload at the Motel 6 and with 5 people in our car our room was going to be a tight fit!  We arrived at about 6 pm and traded out showering getting the scum off.  They all went out afterwards and got hammered.  I stayed back to download photos and do some work.  Fell asleep and woke up to them all coming back drunk waking me up, not fun.  They eventually took their party elsewhere and I went back to sleep.  Scott and I woke up the next morning to just 3 people sleeping in the room where there was suppose to be 5?  What?  Yeah!  So we found out Michelle and Brian got in a little “discussion” and she went to sleep in the car.  Nate was MIA?  Was this Hangover relived?  Almost.  We waited for a while and then went to check to see if he had gotten another room.  Nope.  Then started to redirect our thoughts.  Did something happen?  We call the police, hospital and then were kinda up on ideas.  His phone was off and have left the group to go to another bar the night before so no one had any clues.  About 8:30 am Scott gets a random text, be there in 20.  WTF?  Yeah, so long story short…. he had passed out on some random couch at some dudes he was hanging with the night before.  Woke up and had no idea how he had gotten there?  Pretty classic Nate, just glad he was ok.  We collected Nate into the car and started south back to San Diego.  Michelle has a bit of a lead foot and was handed the lead foot award early on in the drive today by a young California Patrol officer.  An omen of driving the speed limit and not making all the passengers in the back nervous at high speeds on narrow mountain roads with no guard rails.  We made it back to San Diego about 3 p.m. exhausted and ready for a nap.  Unpacked and went to get some food and then headed to the ocean for a sunset check out.  What a trip!

Sunset Yoga in Southern California

Everyone enjoys a sunset session.

© 2012 Ben Hicks

Day 4: Up up and away we go

Stars and Half Dome.

Day 4:  As we all start to emerge from our tents the cool air and mental realization that today we start our hike bring emotions high.  After a quick pack up of the tents and reorganization of our packs things get moving.  As I joked yesterday about doing our nails….. I really did this morning!  The day before I left Florida for this trip I rammed my toe into a stairway and was pretty sure I fractured it from being purple ever since.  To reduce the pain on this 3 day hike I trimmed my toe nail on that toe down to nothing.  Half the crew go after the permits at the ranger station for our hike up to Half Dome and the other start another official breakfast.  We drive out of our campsite about 10:30 and park at the hiker parking area.  Everyone is ready and we start at 11 a.m.  Not bad but with 9 people things take time. The hike up to the Little Yosemite Valley base camp is about 4.5 miles and gain about 2,000+ ft.

About 1.5 hours into day one with Half Dome far off in the distance.

We start at a pretty fast pace through the traffic of tourists and everyone does pretty well at keeping up.  The first part goes up quick but is actually a paved path because of all the foot traffic.  We take the one of two routes up to camp that is a little longer but less steep and less stairs.

Nate stopping to record a memory with his trusty phone.

Stopping and enjoying the scenery on the way I start to realize is not a high priority with this crew at certain times.  Once everyone starts to tire out the pace stays steady  and the enjoyment of taking in the scenery gets reduced.  Kinda backwards but mentally it is better to just keep going…. but for me, I really like to enjoy it all and take a couple pics, which means stopping and getting my camera out along with taking off my pack.  We reach Nevada falls in great time and eat a late lunch while taking in the impressive view and courageous squirrels trying to get into our packs.

Everyone checking out Nevada falls.

The campground is only about a mile from here, so its a quick little hike on relatively flat ground to enjoy the rest of our day.  We grab a spot in the back of the primitive designated tent area and start calling out our areas to put up the tents.  It already has about 8 cut stumps for chairs and huge sliced wood saucer for a rugged but useful “kitchen table.”

Scott contemplating his next move.

As we are all drinking up our water supply its time to find some more, which means locating the nearby river and filtering out some fresh water.  The first thing Scott and I think of is putting some boardshorts on and jumping in the frigid mountain water while we also get some water.  I bring my camera to more or less cherish the kodak moment rather that get a cool pic.  First up is Scott and he sits there taking forever getting up the motivation to get in.  With everyone waiting, I couldn’t anymore and told him, ” I am putting the cam down and jumping in myself!”  Belly flopped into the river for a nice refreshing wake up call and shock to my body…..but boy did it feel great!  Filled up our water containers and head back to camp for a relax and to build the tents.

Setting up camp at Little Yosemite Valley.  On the right is our mansion.

Oh, he did eventually get in, but reduced his man card points.  While they all play cards I head out on a hike to scope out the nights spot to shoot a landscape and the stars.

Researching where to shoot at night.

Once again, looking for an open area to see Half Dome.  A full moon is not easy to shoot stars in because it lights up the sky.  Not too far away is a huge open slab of rock that gives a great perspective on the backside of Half Dome.  After taking a few test shots, I head back to camp where everyone has there jetfoils ( a portable mini cup to heat up or boil liquid) going and cooking dehydrated dinner meals.  I get my Pad Thai….. yeah dehydrated, and get to boiling water to mix in with it.  I was impressed, pretty good!  Not a bad meal especially when your hungry!  After dinner, I showed everyone my spot for a nice view as the sun went down. We head back to camp and goof off for a bit while I wait for it to get dark.  Head back over in the complete darkness wondering constantly what is around each corner or cave.  Shoot some longer exposures and call it after about 20 mins. The slab of rock seemed a little unstable for me to be standing on without much vision so I decide to go back and get rest.  Well, no one was about to go to bed because it was only 630.

Getting water from the river via MSR filters.

We all had to go back in the dark to get more water for the next days 11.5 mile hike and then hang out listening to Nate and his stories with hiking water…. Jim Beam.


Day 3: Yosemite, the road to Half Dome

The road to half dome, well actually there isn’t one, as my legs will tell you.

Day 3 begins with another early rise but most likely because Scott had a two person tent, which for 2 guys was a tight fit, not to mention the sleeping pad I borrowed from his brother only went from my shoulders to my knees!  The combo made sleeping not entirely efficient!  Both cars were in two sites, so we packed up our tents and headed over to the other site.  The crew has a little higher standards than I would normally be used to, including cooking a full french toast breakfast that morning. I have no complaints about it and was pretty happy to have a nice breakfast, but we were only there one day before we head out on the hike the next day.  For me time is sunlight and eating is just about getting in calories on a trip like this when there is so much to see.

Cooking some morning grub.

So we don’t even get out on our planned day hike until about 11 a.m.  The weather is perfect at about 75 in the day and 50 at night which turns out to be pretty pleasant for just about anything outside.  Once breakfast is eaten, cleaned up and everyone gets their things situated and there nails done, we drive up the the trailed head to hike to Glacier Point.

“Mullet,” (yeah thats his nickname) and Michelle plan todays route.

L-R. Nate, Scott, Mullet, Giselle and Sara fresh out of the metropolis of San Diego.

Yosemite is an amazing place and today I realize just that.  The views of 3,000+ ft rock faces are not a common sight in this world.  On the hike, we see a few of the many bears that inhabit the area, a mom and two cubs.

Look at me, I can stand on a cliff.  Take my picture

Also are numerous points where we summit on a peak with cliffs and everyone has to go to the edge and get a photo of them close to it.  This always amazes me.  Its got to be a power trip.  Thus still people do it and die every year from getting too close to cliffs.  Such an easy way to avoid dying yet people still continuously do it.

The downside of Yosemite.  Semis pulling tourists.

The bears and people in Yosemite are a pretty ugly story.  Bears are very used to eating or trying to eat food in tents, cars, campsites and pretty much everywhere people are!  Its sad, same goes with all the other animals, including squirrels, birds and others.  There are warnings everywhere and fines given if you don’t store anything giving off an oder or scent into the bear steel storage containers.  Thus everything is always considered to be put into the bins.  This interaction gets the animals used to humans and our food with serious consequences down the road ending their lives in one way or another.  Don’t feed the animals, anywhere, not just Yosemite either!

Our ultimate goal two days from now, Half Dome.

We finished up our hike after a nice break at Glacier Point  about 3 pm and head back to camp.  The first day is all about getting our feet “wet” and adjusting to elevation and a little 5.5 mile hike.

Scott taking my favorite type of shot on top of Sentinel point.

Upper pines campground is about 4,000 ft  and half dome (our eventual summit) is over 8,000 ft.  Its not too bad but coming from sea level, it can get ya sometimes.  We cook up another feast for dinner that night, not really camping food, but it was good!  Hamburgers, hot dogs, etc.

Post dinner stories around the fire

After cooking on the fire and the camp stove our stomachs are all happy and we top it off with some quality stories and even smores!  I wasn’t expecting that!  We get lucky on this trip and are given a full moon by chance.  As I waste no opportunities shooting in a place like this, after smores I head out to shoot some stars and possibly some rock faces.  Deep in the valley covered in trees makes it hard to find a clearing to shoot.  With my headlight on I find the Merced River and an opening I can cross the rocks to the middle.  Got a few 2-5 min exposures and I was done.

A peak in the distance from the bottom of Yosemite Valley.

Head back to camp and everyone seems to be ready for bed.   Scott and I set up camp and get cozy with our small tent and square footage for a midget couple, except I am over 6ft tall.  Oh, well beggars can’t be choosers as I was unable to pack all my gear from Florida!

© 2012 Ben Hicks

Day 2: Mornging surf shoot and drive up to Yosemite Valley

Jake boosting.

*The delay of 4 days of posting was lack on internet, let along any cell phone coverage……

Day 2 began early…. really early.  As many of you know traveling and adjusting to the time zone can really mess with your head.  So, I was up at 4 a.m.  Got some work done, ate some breakfast (oatmeal) and headed to the ocean about 5 mins away to Windansea as I did the night before.  I met up with Jake Kirshenbaum again along with another South florida ripper, Johnny turbo!  Shoot Jake launching into the atmosphere on his 5’3″ stick.  He wasn’t just punting but also landing them.

Even a couple barrels to be weaved through.

Seagulls and airs.

5 day camp trip and 3 days of hiking, most of which will be on my back except the laptop.

Scott showing of his first aid kit that fits everything in a sucrets container.

I finish up running up and down the rocks and cliffs about 9:30 a.m. and then head back to the house to grab Scott to do some last minute earns for the trip. We stock up with food, I pack, quickly send out photos from the mornings shoot and before you know it, 3 o’clock comes and everyone is at our place meeting up to leave.  We have 9 people on the trip, 5 in one car (my  ride) and 4 in the other.  We pack up and have a very snug fit in the car.  I pack very lightly as I need to take my cameras and still have the same amount of room in the car as everyone else.  Food consists of cliff bars, oatmeal, trail mixes, apples, bananas, granola bars and a dry mix pad tai for dinner on the hike.  We make our way north from San Diego to Yosemite, 7 hours away in Northern California.  We stop a few times, but are able to make good time and arrive at about 11:30 p.m. in the Yosemite Valley floor at Upper Pines campground.  Setup the tents in the pitch black dark and fall quickly asleep.

Day one of Hiking Half Dome….. First we must chase Tropical Storm Miriam!

Natures Camo over Iowa.

Canyons from above make it hard to see what is positive and what is negative on the surface.

Jake boosting into the night.

K-baum set up turn!

This comes with me everywhere!


I always get a window when flying, naturally for a photographer right?  Well, not exactly because I can sleep!  Shooting out of plane windows gets you somewhat blurred images because of the glass unless you shoot wide, which sometimes can be cool.  My flight out to Cali the weather was great and I was able to check out much of the west, Grand Canyon, Rockies, etc.  Upon arriving in San Diego, I made some calls, did some research and made sure I got the most out of my time here by getting right to it and shooting some of the surf hitting the coast from Tropical Storm Miriam.  Hooked up with Florida transplant and all around rad guy Jake Kirshenbaum for a sunset session out at Windansea.  Blowing huge airs out and landing em, he still is killing it!  He and Jake Halstead, punted while I ran around looking for a somewhat decent angle while the sun barely came out of the clouds.  Got totally wet in the process but got a couple keepers.  Finished out the day heading to the grocery store with my good friend Scott to stock up for our trip to Yosemite.  Oh, yeah so down to why I am actually out here.  Flew out to hook up with my long time friend and fellow world class mountain biker Scott Rempe along with 7 of his friends to make a trip up to Yosemite to hike up Half Dome.  We will load up two cars later today (wed) and drive up.  Do a day hike Thursday, camp that night in the park and get up early friday and start up to half dome.  We will sleep on the trail Friday night and rise ass crackish on Sat to summite the dome and hike all the way back down.  Saturday night we will be in Mamouth and then Sunday drive back to San Diego.  Sounds like an adventure to me.  Who knows when I will have internet, but the posts will all eventually come, just wait for my posts on facebook about when…..

All photos © 2012 Ben Hicks