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Re: Climbing Half-Dome with Cables Down

PostPosted: Tue Oct 18, 2011 11:07 am
by BKinSJ
After climbing with cables up and cables down I will only ever do it with them down from now on. There are almost no crowds (we didn't see anyone on the trail until we got to the sub dome) and there were only a hand full of people at the cables. Most were campers from Little Yosemite campground.

I was, however, very surprised at the "safety" rigs that everyone else was using. They had proper climbing harnesses but were using ropes with carabiners to clip onto the cables. In my opinion, all that will do is keep your body close to the cable while you fall to the next anchor point. At which time, you will likely suffer injury from the stop, or worse, the biner fails from lateral load on the anchor and you continue to the bottom and experience sudden deceleration injury (splat) on the granite below. I have good confidence in my physical abilities but I don't like putting my life literally in my hands (grip to the cables). A wife, two kids and a mortgage makes one think a little harder about that.

The rig I use, which works very well, is the following:
1. About 6m of a thick climbing rope tied into a swiss seat (there are many videos online showing how to tie one) - I like to wrap the rope an extra time around the waist for comfort, the thicker rope is for comfort too. You can use a climbing harness but the rope is cheaper (~ $3.50/meter) and perfectly adequate for this purpose (I am a cheapskate).

2. Two prussic loops of about 2.5 - 3 meters each ( thinner climbing rope ~ $1.25/meter at your climbing store - USE CLIMBING ROPE NOT HOME DEPOT ROPE). (instructions for tying a prussic loop using double fisherman's bend at: also look here to learn to tie the prussic knot on the cable:

3. Two large locking carabiners (~ $8 - $10 each). You can do it with one (I do) but two will allow you to dedicate a prussic loop to each biner so you are not removing one loop from the same open biner that is holding your active loop (lifeline).

4. Gloves - latex palmed gloves ($3.00 @ Home Depot) for the ascent, leather gloves for decent (optional) - the latex tends to get grabbed by the prussic knot on the way down as you slide it. You want gloves because there are some wicked "spurs" of wire at some spots that will do a number on your hands if you slide over them ungloved.

Tie your first prussic loop to the cables and proceed up, keeping the knot loose and ahead of you.

Test the knot, the rope, and your confidence early on the cables. Plant your feet on the rock and lean back letting the rope hold you. This rest position will save your arms and calves as you proceed up.
Keep your 2nd loop over your head and shoulder so it doesn't drag and become a trip hazard. As you get to an anchor point tie your 2nd loop above it with a prussic, clip it into your 2nd biner (or on your one binder and carefully pull the first loop BETWEEN the 2nd loop and remove it from the biner). Remove the 1st loop from the cable and head on up. At no time were you detached from the cables so your momma will be happy.

With this method it is almost impossible to fall. I took two complete beginners up the other day and they were never afraid with this rig and were able to enjoy the view and experience vs. being concerned if they could do it. There were others who had the harness/biner rigs who got part way up and "froze" when they realized how bad things could get and came back down.

Coming down is easy, you can back down as you slide the knot along the cable or (my preference) you can face down and slide the knot along with one hand behind you - more fun but takes a little more "guts".

Bottom line, and I hesitate to post this for fear of more crowds when the cables are down, it is very doable but do it smart. I enjoy risks, but calculated risks with the right equipment.

Here is a picture of the rig:

Swiss Seat and Prussic on Cables
P1010558.JPG (78.88 KiB) Viewed 52797 times

Re: Climbing Half-Dome with Cables Down

PostPosted: Sat Feb 25, 2012 5:08 pm
by Bill C
Dude! (BKinSJ)
You just made my day. Our family will be visiting Yosemite in mid-May and the cables will likely be down which is the only time the 4 of us can get the time off.
My son and I want to summit HD using the cables even if they are down. After weeks of research and finally reading your note, I’m ready. We’re borrowing harnesses (I’m thrifty also) but I was planning on using a Klemheist knot. It seems easier to loop on and off.
The guy I’m borrowing the harnesses from suggested climbing helmets. I’m wondering now it that’s overkill. Your thoughts?

Re: Climbing Half-Dome with Cables Down

PostPosted: Mon Feb 27, 2012 11:54 am
by BKinSJ

Glad to hear it was helpful. You were my target audience. I hope you and your son have a great climb in May. The weather will most likely be beautiful with the mild winter we've been having.

As for helmets. In my opinion they would be overkill. There's really nothing peeling off and falling unless the guy in front of you is clumsy. It's just another thing to have to pack to the top. I would recommend, however, that you figure out a way to take some video and/or pictures of the ascent and decent to share the experience with others.

For the ascent I did a poor man's head cam by drilling a hole in the bill of an old baseball cap near the forehead. Then I found a short bolt that fit the tripod screw hole in my digital camera. I put the ball cap under my wide brimmed hat with a draw string. Instant point of view hands free video while you're climbing (some day I'll get a Hero cam). Yes, it looked a little dorky but I'm in my 40's now so I'm allowed. On the way down I hung the camera around my neck with a long loop. With the prusik loops you have the freedom to stop and use both hands to take some amazing shots.

Regarding the knots. I didn't use the klemheist because it appears to have more of a tendency to deform as you're pushing it up the cable. The prusik keeps it's shape well when you keep it loose then instantly binds when tension is applied. As they say: "your mileage may vary". I suggest you learn both knots well in case you have troubles with the klemheist.

Not sure how old your son is but I will be taking my 14 year old daughter up in October for her first trip. I am going to give her one prusik loop and two biners. One biner will be dedicated to a safety line to me on a dedicated biner. This way she only has to worry about one prusik loop and biner and I will work two loops & two biners so I am ALWAYS tied on and she is ALWAYS tied to me. Gotta make sure she doesn't get scared and I also need to be able to look Mom in the eye when we're all done.

Have fun!

Re: Climbing Half-Dome with Cables Down

PostPosted: Mon Feb 27, 2012 7:09 pm
by Bill C
Thanks so much. I appreciate the helmet insight and I love the drilling the cap idea. I have been looking at ways to take pics and videos and now I have it. My son is 20 and in great shape so I think he can manage the process himself. We are planning to practice both knots for the reason you mentioned. I have been watching the weather closely and it does appear that mid May will be good (warn and not much snow) . I'm more psyched than ever and I'll be sure to update here. Thanks again. Bill

Re: Climbing Half-Dome with Cables Down

PostPosted: Fri May 11, 2012 8:40 am
by klee4321
I completed the Half Dome hike on Monday, May 7th with my friend and it wasn't that bad. I wanted to do the hike before the permit system took full effect so this meant I would have to hike while the cables were ‘down’ and with less snow this season, it was now or never!
The hike was definitely a strenuous and when you see the cables on top of the sub-dome before the saddle, the dome looks really steep but once you get to the base of the dome where the cable starts, it's not that bad. Hike up to the dome is a joy. Diverse scenery and great views, especially by the falls. Also note TAKE THE TRAIL NEAR THE FALL. It’s much more scenic and will shave time and distance to the top. The subdome hike up the granite is steep and exposed but built in steps really make it straight forward.
Honestly, if you're in decent shape and have some climbing experience, you can probably shimmy up the final dome cable but best to have a harness and clip in. There was a patch of snow at the top of the peak but no snow on the trail. The peak of the dome is not very exciting. It’s actually a letdown when you first arrive at the top but once you get to the edge and see the valley and surrounding, it’s magnificent and well worth the trip up. It’s similar to the Glacier point outlook without the half dome 
So answers to few questions on the hike with cables down which i didn't see on this forum:
1. there are two steel braided cable, ~1" thick, that run from the base to the top. You can lift the cables off the rock pretty easily and it actually helps you add additional weight to get a good grip on the rock. The rock is not as slick as some people make it sound. I had no issues with traction with my heavy duty leather hiking boots. You can hold the rope on the side or even straddle between legs.
2. each cable has around 4-5 bomber anchor points with few more cable stays. I recall one cable having less anchor points so it was easier and faster to clip but not exactly sure if it was the right or left cable. Just look up and see which one. If you’re worried about falling, then use the one with more anchor points but seriously, if you’re thinking you’re going to fall, then you should be doing this!
3. i wore a harness and clipped in and transferred the clip at each anchor point. if you really want to be safe, you can double up so you're always clipped and also prussic to arrest your fall. my friend did it but it just slowed him down and nowhere during the climb up and down the roped section, were we ever close to being in danger of falling. With that said, if you do have a freak misstep and lose your grip, then you’ll fall 20-40 feet on the cable and the anchor point will arrest your fall. Basically, you won’t fall off the dome.
4. wear leather gloves PERIOD. I saw some rubber gloves (ones you wear for construction or gardening with latex coating) which are silly and stupid to wear on this climb. On the way down, if you come down at a brisk pace, the gloves heat up so take few breaks and enjoy the view.
5. I’m in decent shape but still needed to rest few times on the way up and down to give my forearm a break. I was also carrying 20 lbs sack so that didn’t help. There are nice, big cracks along the way and even on the anchor points to take a breather.
6. on top, there is no shelter so wear a hat so you don’t get burnt to a crisp. There is a small depression in the rock at the top where you can probably make a small shelter but better to wear sun protection.
7. make sure you have a locking carabiner (twist or auto-locking) that’s pear shaped because oval shaped clip WILL NOT clip into the steel braided cable. You want it locked because it’ll get knocked around a bit on the rock. Lift the cable up and you’ll prevent grinding up the clip.
I think that’s pretty much it. On Monday, May 7th, 9 people got up to the dome. My friend and myself, a hiker ahead of us, one hiker before us, and 5 rock climbers.
Provisions. We had 6 liters of water each and it was more than sufficient. Weather was around 70 degrees and perfect. We had plenty of snacks and food. We stayed in Curry Village and had a great breakfast at 7AM (when they opened) and was on the trail exactly at 7:45AM. This is definitely a late start but we were up by the cables by 1PM and at the top half hour later and took another half hour break so by the time we headed down, it was 2PM and we were down in the valley by 7PM. Manage your time carefully and if you want to be on the safe side, I would start the hike at 6AM as many guidebooks and others recommend. Note there is also an overnight camp area probably half way up but I think you need a permit for that. I wanted to avoid permits but by resting overnight, this would be a much easier hike.
I think that’s about it. Good luck and l’ll try to answer any question if you have any but I think I had most of my questions covered.

Reading the previous post, I see someone had recommended the prussic already. I think this is the safest way to go when the cables are down and as I mentioned, my friend went up with the prussic but I assessed the risk and I felt completely comfortable with just clipping onto the cable. Note if the support poles are up, it will probably add a substantial amount of time clipping in. Bottom line, assess the risk, your ability, and comfort level before doing such a serious hike, otherwise, you risk serious injury or death.
Also note, don't leave ANY food unattended. The squirrels are very aggressive everywhere on the dome.

Re: Climbing Half-Dome with Cables Down

PostPosted: Mon Jun 11, 2012 2:46 pm
by Bill C
Here's one more opinion.

My son and I did the day hike summit of Half Dome on May 18th with the cables down. We had planned to do it on the 17th but it was very windy. Since the cables were down, there was no permit needed we were able to wait a day when the wind was calm. That said, I’m sure it’s easier to go up and down with the cables up (not factoring in crowds).

We had harnesses and used Prusik loops with Klemheist knots which worked great. I had two lengths of Prusik loops. Longer ones work better because they give you more flexibility to stand and switch cables. I would suggest 6 feet of rope per Prusik loop giving you nearly 3 feet to work with. I was surprised at how may cable change overs there were due to cable overlaps and guide wires attached to the cables. I didn’t count them but it seems like there were 7 or 8.

There were a couple of people free climbing (no safety gear) with only gloves. I would describe them as young, in shape and fearless (stupid does come to mind but I guess it’s relative). We used the rubberized glove and thought they were great because they grip the cable really well.

I would describe the Half Dome ascent as being in 3 different sections of difficulty.The 1st and 3rd are fairly easy and could be done without friction knots. The middle third is steep and I would not climb it without safety equipment or the cables being up. Being tied in with a friction knot is GREAT because you can simply lean back and rest as needed (see BKinSJ’s pic in this thread) . There are a couple of ledges that allow you to stand and rest on the steep part if you are not tied in. I noticed on a higher ledge that the Park Service had stuffed some of the steel poles and 2x4’s into the crack (maybe for winter storage?). We were tied in all the way up. On the way down we only tied in during the middle 3rd. We clipped a carabineer on the top 3rd and the bottom 3rd because it’s pretty easy to free climb it. As we were descending we met 2 Ausies that had clothesline rope fashioned into Swiss Harnesses. They were using ¾” leather dress belts to loop through the harness and loop the cable (fearless?).

For what it’s worth, there is a ¼” steel splinter sticking out of the left cable (looking up) around the half way mark. Also the right cable seems to have a bit more slack in the middle which helps you to stand upright at the crest and maybe one less guide wire.

Yosemite is incredible. From the top of Half Dome it’s hard to describe. If you’re interested check out my pics at:

Plan to spend some time on top. We were a bit rushed because we left our packs at the bottom since they were over packed and heavy. I was concerned about critters chewing into them which did happen. Open to questions…. -Bill

Re: Climbing Half-Dome with Cables Down

PostPosted: Fri Oct 11, 2013 12:14 pm
by trogman
Hello all!
I came upon this forum through a google search, looking for info about Half Dome. I had a couple of questions about the hike. First, a little background: my son and I did the hike about 10 years ago, and totally loved it. This was prior to the permit system. I am now contemplating a return trip with my wife, perhaps next year. However, I have no desire to fight over the permits, nor battle the crowds on the trail. So I was considering going when the cables are down. Question 1: Has anything changed since the last post about this topic? Do they still allow folks up the dome during this time period? Question 2 (slightly more technical): Some suggested using prussik knots to go up the cable; since I am experienced in SRT and have several full climbing systems, I have plenty of mechanical ascenders that I could use in conjunction with a climbing harness. Has anyone used this method? Is this a viable method, or would we be better off using the knots?



Re: Climbing Half-Dome with Cables Down

PostPosted: Tue Oct 15, 2013 4:51 am
by trogman
After a bit of research, I have answered at least the 2nd part of my own question. My primary SRT resource, On Rope, suggests that you only use Gibbs-type ascenders on steel cable. Standard toothed ascenders I assume would not work on the cable, and the teeth would likely be damaged by using them in this way.

Still waiting for an answer to the other part of my question. No big hurry, as I will likely not do this until spring of 2014 anyway.


Re: Climbing Half-Dome with Cables Down

PostPosted: Tue Oct 15, 2013 10:12 am
by dan
Yeah, they allow people up the dome, cables or no cables. Climbers do it all the time. Not that I would recommend it. I would still consider getting a permit and leaving at an early hour (say 4 am) to beat most of the crowds. Or backpack part way up--there's a great campsite at the junction of the CRT and JMT trails with shade, campsites and a nearby creek. Then you can go up and back in the morning.

Re: Climbing Half-Dome with Cables Down

PostPosted: Tue Oct 22, 2013 5:04 pm
by yosemite-love
Hi there -- my boyfriend and I are planning on hiking Half Dome at the end of November when the cables are down. We're both in good physical shape, but we've never done the hike before. We're wondering if there's a way we can buy one of these lovely harnesses you've created or if there are people we can pay to take us up to the top. Being inexperienced, we're a little wary about building and using the harnesses by ourselves.


Re: Climbing Half-Dome with Cables Down

PostPosted: Tue Oct 22, 2013 5:37 pm
by AlmostThere
If there is snow and ice (by then there usually is in a normal snow year) don't go at all.

Re: Climbing Half-Dome with Cables Down

PostPosted: Sat Jan 11, 2014 3:19 pm
by a321flyer
FIRST ATTEMPT - Dec 5th, 2013

I tried the Half Dome climb on December 5th 2013 - just after the first snow fall of this winter. A wonderful day, although I didn't reach the top, the granite slabs just below the subdome were just too dangereous. But for all of that, an incredible day and I was all on my own for the entire hike!!!

More pictures here (


I was back in Yosemite last week, on January 7th 2014. Most of the snow has melted and I finally got to the subdome and along the cables up to the top of this marvelous mountain. I was again completely on my own, no other hikers on or near the summit, just some backpackers lower at the Little Yosemite valley. The "cable down" section is steep and strenous, however not too long. I used a climbing harness with a via ferrata set (although the distances between the anchors of the cables are quite far...) and additionally a prusic. It worked quite well and the climb was not only fun, but also safe. I am used to climbing, both freeclimbing and alpine (including Matterhorn :-)), and felt that a protection for the "cable down" ascent is very adequate!

More pictures here

If you are prepared the Half Dome "cable down" hike makes a perfect day! Compared to what you can expect in summer with all the hikers (I did it with the cables up in June 2004), this is a way better experience - if you know how to handle the climbing gear to have a safe and secure climb along the cables.


Re: Climbing Half-Dome with Cables Down

PostPosted: Sun May 22, 2016 6:26 am
by DonfromNJ
Bumping this thread and wanted to say thanks to all that contributed here to climbing the cables when they're "down". I was in Yosemite this past week and hiked from Happy Isles on Wednesday, May 18th. Started about 5am and got to the sub dome about 3 1/2 hours later. No one on the cables or at the top, and it was perfect conditions. This was my first time and I agree with some others in that climbing with the cables down is the only way I'd ever do it again. I did it with just the hands on approach and while it was intense, I found it quite fun and exciting for the most part. (I hiked and climbed Longs Peak in Colorado back in August via the Keyhole to Homestretch route and I found that much more strenuous and terrifying at times.) Took me just under 13 mins. Here's my go pro capture of the full ascent.