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The falls on the way down from Half Dome.

By Melissa Fuller

It happened a lot like this. I get a call from my best mate Jackie at 3 p.m. on a Thursday. “I have a plan,” she says. “I have three days left over on this week-long pass that I bought to enter Yosemite Valley. I think we should do Half Dome — I think we should do it at night. I read a bunch of articles about it; this could be seriously legit.”

This is standard Jackie.

“I’m in,” I reply. “What do I need to know?”

JD was at my door that night armed with carabiners, freeze-dried lasagna, Mylar blankets, extra headlamp batteries and enough hype to overkill the mellow wine buzz I was trying to offer her as compensation for her efforts. She unpacked her bag, spreading out a plethora of magazine tears and topo maps, nearly covering the surface of my kitchen counter, and over the next 45 minutes we scheduled our plan.

JD, our friend Rob and I departed at dawn from the Bay Area and made it to Yosemite family camp by 8 p.m.  — just in time for a quick stretch session, slice of pizza, cup of coffee and a glass of Heff to keep our blood warm. We hit the seven-mile mist trail at 10 p.m. and headed straight up the steep path through the falls. The 500 stone steps on the first mile of the hike were enough to get the burn started. We perched at the top of the rocky falls and watched another pack of hikers zigzag their way up to us; their headlamps looked like a string of fireflies cutting through the darkness. From here I snapped photos of an ominous looking rock face, illuminated by the moon.


A beautiful mountain, illuminated by the moon.

Who the heck knows what we talked about the whole way up. But talk we did — chatting and bonding the way that good friends do when they are left to themselves in adventurous places. It was 4 a.m. by the time we reached the bottom sub-dome of the mountain. We scarfed down some bars and took a big break until dawn threatened to hit; then we made the push for the last hour and a half of hiking. Hiking the sub-dome was the most strenuous part of the climb. The rocky base and jagged terrain were just hard enough to challenge my athleticism and make me ask myself, “Is this ever going to end?”

The glove pile at the base of the steel cables, and the last light of the moon.

The glove pile at the base of the steel cables, and the last light of the moon.


JD breaks over the crest of the dome.

The trail flattens out a bit right before you approach Half Dome’s famous cables. The steel behemoths are anchored at the top of the dome and also at the bottom, with a set of wooden planks in between to give your thighs a rest as you pull yourself up the 425-foot sheer granite dome. Once you reach the top, however, the payoff becomes apparent. Especially when you time it just right and watch the sunrise over Yosemite Valley with only a handful of other people. There is nothing, NOTHING, like seeing the world at 9,000 feet above sea level — it is one of those times in my life where I truly understood how very tiny I amin this whole operation, if you know what I mean. This was one of my favorite trips, and it just took one day of traveling to make it happen.


Blurry-eyed hikers take in the first morning light.


Half Dome’s shadow over Yosemite Valley.

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Melissa Fuller earned her bachelor of science from the University of California, Berkeley, where she studied word and image theory with an emphasis in photography. Her work has been featured in National Geographic’s “There and Back” readers series and for TOMS shoes for tomorrow blog. Melissa has traveled around the United States and abroad as production staff for several networks, including, A&E, VH1, MTV and ABC. See more of her work on her blog.

Tagged: California, Photo essay

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