Well the Park Service generally closes the the Half Dome hike mid-October and opens mid-May, but since the forecast is so nice let’s talk about the other Domes. Just a reminder when you begin to look at conquering Half Dome after about May 15th, know that you will need to plan for a whole day, get a Permit and make beeline to the Spa’s hot tub when you return…
Many of you may not understand fully what a Dome is. It is a part of a large magma formation made underground generally near seismic subduction zones. When it slowly cools under pressure you get granite, usually mica(black), quartz(white) and feldspar(pink). The mica is usually identified down the watershed as fool’s gold. Anyway as that granite formation pushes up and/or eroded away on top. The pressure differences can help form Domes that bulb up and fracture like an onion peel. Think of the stone and ice layer pressure differencials causing this, also think of the steep Rio de Janiero domes that were under layers of salt and other stone.
Getting to the subject: the easiest Domes to reach for excellent views in summer and fall is Sentinel Dome off the Glacier Point Road & Lembert Dome off the Tioga Pass Road. The Turtleback Dome is the best for winter off Highway 41 Wawona Road up past the Tunnel View.
Sentinel Dome is the easiest way to get to a 360 degree view for the least effort. It’s still a mile in (unless you know the cheat parking area) and out. It’s worth giving yourself an extra two hours to see Taft Point as well on a loop. This is better than Glacier point in my mind, and less the crowds. Bring a lunch, dinner and a bottle of water and maybe wine. If a marmot eats through your unattended pack and takes your food, consider yourself lucky to see one. Any time of day really is great, but when there are cloud formations and a sunset looming don’t dawdle somwwhere else. You would swear you could see the entire park and every angle has something identifiable. And don’t forget the stars.
Lembert Dome is the largest Dome smack in the middle of Tuolumne Meadows. This four hour adventure has 600 foot gain. My fave route is parking below off highway in the Lembert lot in front and going left around to the top, then down the other side across the highway and follow trail along river back to car. That last section has Belding Ground Squirrel towns. They bark, whistle & stand like prairie dogs or meerkats. One day maybe I’ll be arrested for whistling back at them. Pop over to Dog Lake halfway through for a pristine alpine lake setting for a cost of 45 extra minutes. Do take your meal & water to the top and enjoy the elevated view over the Meadow and surrounding High Sierras. It is always amazing to me this part of Yosemite is taller and bigger than the Valley and the Sierras are still rising.
Lastly, when the snows close first the Tioga Road, then Glacier Point Road look for Turtleback. It is a diminutive cousin, but snow or no, worth the 2 hour trek and a few hundred feet gain for an elevated & super winter view of Yosemite Valley and west towards the Coast Range. Take good boots or snowshoes, a meal and a camera. Few others have this perspective of a shoot, and remember looking west is usually clear in the winter with the Central Valley under a white fog blanket. There is a weather/communications station atop all this but it’s gotta be somewhere. Park on the long curve just past the Tunnel View tunnel southbound and look for the gate at the far end of the curve. Follow the small road to the top.
Okay, lastly, let’s talk about Half Dome. I do love that rock, and enjoy watching those hikers clinging to the cables either shivering in fear, sobbing, or flying up the cables and 2×4’s while on that last stretch. Frankly, no one like permits, but when peer pressure puts hikers who freeze and cling to the cables and holds up 300 others it is much better of a hike. Those who take the trouble to get the permit mean it. It is much more pleasant now. Go in May, September or October if you need to bag the trophy.
My advice in summer is to bypass Half Dome and do a daytrip or overnight on top of Cloud’s Rest. Cloud’s Rest is a fantastically staggering blade looking around the High Sierra at almost 10k feet any time around the clock counting domes at your feet. Most importantly it looks down upon Half Dome like a Mama Bear over a Cub. Start at Tenaya Lake and take a dip in Sunset Lake or a take throughway to Yosemite Valley. On the way down you can amuse yourself counting all the hikers on the way up to to bag a peak for Cub Scouts.
As you know there are tons of places to stop and check out Dome formations but they are especially easy to find from other Domes. Remember the top of El Cap is a Dome so maybe you should alter your Half Dome trek schedule next year. Tuolumne Meadows & Tenaya Lake with Olmstead Point give you picturesque Domes to frolic about and stare at.
And lastly, my secret happy place is up past Mirror Lake and up Snow Creek trail to the tree-line or to the rim depending upon time of year and stare down a massive Half Dome up close & face to face staring contest. It brings a tear to my eye every time, so I have to blink.