I took a few less adventurous friends up the John Muir trail the other day just high enough to take in the great views of Vernal Fall, Nevada Fall, Liberty Cap and the backside of Half Dome. Liberty Cap is a beautiful rock formation that would be the center of attention if it wasn’t upstaged by Half Dome directly behind it. Seeing it through my friends eyes, I gained a new appreciation for how amazing Liberty Cap really is. At that moment, I knew that I had to stand on the summit.
There isn’t a lot of information about hiking Liberty Cap out there. Some technical climbing routes are outlined, but I was looking for a way to climb it travelling lightly on a day hike. With little concrete information, I decided to walk up and figure it out as I went.
The hike starts out on the heavily travelled John Muir trail (JMT) and takes in the classic views of Vernal Fall and Nevada Fall as well as plenty of opportunities to study Liberty Cap. The Mist Trail is another option but I decided to take the flatter, dryer JMT since I wasn’t sure of what I was getting myself into. I described those routes in an earlier post, check it out here. From the top of Nevada Fall I contoured around Liberty Cap to the saddle. There are some hints of trails in this area but they are a bit confused so I just made my way the best I could. There is an obvious gully that leads to the summit so I simply scrambled my way up. It isn’t technical climbing by any means, but none the less I could see that a careless slip could result in a bad situation so I took my time. I would not suggest doing this hike in wet weather as footing could be a big problem.
The summit was splendid! In addition to Half Dome’s brooding eminence behind, there are excellent views of Nevada Fall and the high country beyond from a totally unique vantage point. I had the summit all to myself even though there was quite a crowd at the top of Nevada Fall only a short distance, but another world, away. Unfortunately I got to the summit much quicker than anticipated so I was faced with uninspiring midday light for my photography. Oh well!
After snapping a few snap shots I carefully made my way back down to the trail. Being as it was a hot day and the hike up was not nearly as challenging as I had expected, I decided to take the Mist Trail back down and enjoy a good drenching. It felt wonderful!
The rest of the walk back to Happy Isles was spent enjoying the view and being amazed at the number of different languages I heard be spoken on the crowded trail. The entire trip totalled around 9 miles with an elevation gain of approximately 3,000 feet – a tiring, but totally manageable day hike. Technical climbers would call this route a cake walk, but be aware that you need to be comfortable on steep rock and there is exposure to dangerous falls once you leave the tourist trail. It would not be hard to get yourself in a lot of trouble very quickly so pay attention.
If you are seeking to go to a place that many have seen, but few have visited, the hike up Liberty Cap is a very worthy outdoor adventure.