Thursday, May 24, 2012
Yosemite's Half Dome (Part 1- Planning)
Memorial day is a busy travel weekend, so I was nervous when I decided that I will hike Yosemite's Half Dome the same weekend. Airfare was sure to be expensive and then there's the trouble of a obtaining Half Dome cables permit through the lottery, reserving a campground and packing for the long weekend survival trip in the wilderness... for six people..and oh yea.. looming in the back of our minds was the 14 hour treacherous hike up 5000 feet of elevation to the peak of Half Dome. However, it's my big 3-0 and I wanted to do it in a big way. Ansel Adams said it without words... Half Dome is the shizzy and needs to be on your bucket list. Check.
Half Dome Permit
Before you book ANYTHING. Make sure you are able to secure a Half Dome permit. The Half Dome cables are open May 25, 2012 to October 8, 2012 but the lottery for permits is only open in the month of March. I highly recommend that everyone that is traveling enter the lottery. Of the six lottery applicants in our group, only one person got it! Results are announced in mid April which only leaves you a little more than a month to plan the rest of the trip if you want to visit during Memorial day.
If you are already in Yosemite, then you can apply for daily lotteries for permits 3 days in advance. (IE: Thursday lottery for a Sunday hike). Not feasible for an East Coaster like myself but if you live on the West Coast.. by all means!
Ideally, you want to stay near Curry Village in the North Pines/Lower Pines campgrounds as these campgrounds are closest to the Half Dome trail head. However, these are also the most popular campgrounds and will be long gone by the time you find out that you have won the Half Dome lottery. Finding an alternative campground may seem like a daunting task but the website did a good job by allowing users to view available campgrounds via a map view. I was a little late in the game so was only able to secure a reservation at the Summerdale Campground about an hour away. Yelp gives it 4.5 stars so I bit. =)
The closest airport near Yosemite is Fresno Yosemite International Airport (FAT!). As much as I would've loved to fly into this airport... flights were close to $600 RT. What many people don't know is that it's possible to fly in and out of any of these airports SFO/OAK/SJC/FAT and save! It's like flying out of JFK and flying back in through LGA. Car rental companies support this practice by only charging an extra $20-30 for the convenience. The price disparity from being flexible saved me more than $300! I ended up flying JFK-OAK via Jetblue, then SJC-LGA via AA. 4 airports, 2 airlines! The trick is to use use ITA software for your search and click on the "nearby" button to select nearby airports you want to include in your search.
Shop around! I like using Carrentals.com, Priceline, Expedia, Travelocity.. the whole lot! I was searching for a Mini-van and most of the car companies were giving me outrageous quotes of $200-300/day or $900-1000 for the weekend. For some odd reason there was a pricing error on Expedia and I was able to secure a minivan from Enterprise for only $35/day. DON'T THINK.. BOOK! When I called to confirm the reservation they acknowledged that I received an amazing deal but would honor the reservation. Score!
Don't be intimidated by the costs of all the gear needed for camping. One amazing thing I learned while planning for this trip is that you can rent most of your gear through REI. Lifetime membership only costs $20 and there are many benefits that come along with being a member such as rental discounts, member only sales, year end cash back, etc. The only big items you will need to buy are hiking shoes and a good pack. Tents, poles, sleeping bags and even stoves can be rented at these REI stores. We rented all of our gear at the REI in Fresno, CA. This minimizes what we need to carry in our pack en route to our destination while also saving us rental fees (REI does not charge for the day you pick up or drop off gear). My friend Sam drafted this amazing checklist that we used when for packing.
Finally... plan out your itinerary to the hour! You will need to figure out when sunrise and sunset will occur on each day and plan your meals and activities around it accordingly. I will post my itinerary after my trip this weekend. Stay tuned!