OldWestNewWest.com: History & Travel Magazine

Feb 18th
Text size
  • Increase font size
  • Default font size
  • Decrease font size
Home National & State Parks Yosemite Yosemite’s Half Dome Hiking Cables Too Popular; National Park Service Mandates Limits

Yosemite’s Half Dome Hiking Cables Too Popular; National Park Service Mandates Limits

Goal is for no more than 400 visitors a day to be using the steel cables to ascend Half Dome’s east face slope

Hits smaller text tool iconmedium text tool iconlarger text tool icon
Saying it's both a matter of public safety and ensuring a positive experience, the National Park Service will set limits for how many Yosemite National Park visitors can use the popular steel cables to hike to the top of Half Dome.

Starting in May 2010, the park will launch an interim program that will require a day use permit to use the Half Dome cables on Fridays, Saturdays, Sundays, and holidays, with the goal of limiting the number of visitors to 400 per day.

During summer 2009, Saturdays and holidays averaged 840 visitors per day for the Half Dome hike. On peak days, visitor numbers were estimated at 1,100 to 1,200 persons.

According to the NPS, this increase has resulted in significant safety concerns, including visitor injuries during crowded weekends. During 2009 there was a visitor fatality as well as one visitor who sustained serious injuries.

Additionally, the crowding has created a wait of up to an hour and a half for a chance to ascend Half Dome, and another hour to reach the summit. A park spokesperson said during the week, a hike up Half Dome using the cables might take only 15 to 20 minutes.

"Having visitors wait that long before they can begin their climb, and then an hour to reach the top is too long," the spokesperson said. "In that amount of time a storm might come up, or visitors can get too much sun."

The granite monolith rises 8,842 feet above sea level.

Four hundred permits will be issued per day; 300 of these will be day use permits and 100 will be included in wilderness permits. These permits are required for the use of the trail from the base of the sub-dome to the summit of Half Dome and include the Half Dome cable route.

The Half Dome day use permits will be available starting March 1, 2010 and the last day to make a reservation will be May 1 for an Oct. 11 hike.

Permits will not be available in the park or on a first-come, first-served basis. Reservations will be available through
www.recreation.gov or by calling (877) 444-6777. Each person climbing the Half Dome cables will be required to have his or her own permit. Up to four permits may be obtained under one reservation.

The permits are free, but there is a non-refundable $1.50 service charge for each permit obtained, which covers the cost of processing the permit by the National Recreation Reservation Service.

Backpackers with an appropriate wilderness permit can receive a Half Dome permit when they pick up their wilderness permit with no additional reservation required. Rock climbers who reach the top of Half Dome without entering the subdome area can descend on the Half Dome Trail without a permit.

If a visitor is unable to hike Half Dome for any reason (including weather, cables not available, illness, etc.) on the day they have a permit, the park service will not be able to provide a permit for a different date.

Once a visitor receives a day use permit, they will then have to watch a video about being safe when hiking Half Dome. Visitors can watch the video from home on the Web, the spokesperson said.

"We've seen people hiking Half Dome wearing flip-flops, or not taking bottled water with them, or not wearing a hat," the spokesperson said. "We want people to be safe and to enjoy their hike."

Approximately 84,000 persons climbed to the top of Half Dome in 2008. Although there are several trailheads leading to the cables on Half Dome, the majority of visitors start their hike at the Happy Isles Trailhead in Yosemite Valley.

The cables were put in place in 1919 by the Sierra Club and turned over to the National Park Service. Each year the cables are first inspected for structural soundness, then are put up in mid-May and taken down in mid-October.

During Yosemite's interim program, visitor use and impacts to the park will be monitored, the spokesperson said. Rangers will be studying visitor use and safety, assessing the visitor experience, and compiling data that will be analyzed by park managers.

At this point, the interim program will be in effect for the 2010 visitor season, as well as the 2011 visitor season. An environmental assessment process for a long-term plan for the Half Dome Cables will begin public scoping in spring 2010.

National & State Parks