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Yosemite will require permits for Half Dome hikes, starting in May

February 1, 2010 | 10:55 am

A view of Half Dome and climbers using the cables to get to the top.
In an effort to better regulate the number of hikers using the cable system to the top of Half Dome, Yosemite National Park will begin requiring day-use permits for the popular climb when the cables are put back up in May.

This interim program, implemented by the National Park Service, is being done in an effort to address safety issues that have arisen from crowding, which has led to unsafe conditions and long waits.

The Half Dome day-use permits will only be required on weekends, including Fridays, as well as holidays. Four hundred will be issued per day, with 100 of those to be included in wilderness permits. The permits are required for the use of the trail from the base of the subdome to the summit of Half Dome and include the Half Dome cable route.

The hike has become extremely popular, and crowded. About 84,000 people climbed to the top of Half Dome in 2008. Last summer, daily visitor numbers on peak days were estimated to be 1,100 to 1,200.

This overcrowding on the cables has led to unsafe conditions and long waits. Last year, Manoj Kumar, 40, of San Ramon, Calif., fell to his death from the cables. The previous weekend, a woman fell during a rainstorm and sustained serious injury.

Permits are available by advance reservation only, and can be purchased online or by calling (877) 444-6777. Up to four may be obtained per reservation, with each person required to have his or her own.

Permits are free, but there will be a $1.50 non-refundable service charge for each one.

The cables to ascend and descend Half Dome have become so crowded on some days that waits can be up to an hour. The permits for May and June will be available beginning March 1; July and August permits will be available for reservation April 1, and on May 1, the permits for September and October will be released.

Here are a few of the frequently asked questions, and answers, on the Yosemite National Park website regarding the interim system:

Question: What is the penalty for not having a permit?

Answer: If you attempt to hike beyond the subdome or up the cables without a valid permit, a ranger will turn you away at or near the subdome. Additionally, you could face misdemeanor charges -- up to a $5,000 fine and/or six months in jail. 

Q: How long will this interim program continue?

A: This program is being implemented as an emergency safety measure for 2010. If significant crowding or other major issues are observed, modifications to the program will be effected during the 2010 and 2011 seasons.

Q: Why is the quota 400 people per day?

A: Free-flowing conditions prevent additional fatigue to hikers waiting on the cables and allow an orderly evacuation down the cables if a fast-moving storm approaches. Free-flowing conditions generally occur on weekdays, during which time, an average of 390 people per day use the cables. The quota includes 300 day hikers and 100 backpackers.

Q: Why aren’t permits available in Yosemite on a first-come, first-served basis?

A: The very high demand we would expect for the relatively few first-come, first-served permits available would lead to a frustrating experience for visitors and would be difficult to manage. However, we may consider offering some permits on a first-come, first-served basis (one day in advance) in the future, as well as other changes to the permit system, based on our experiences this year.

Q: Can I stay at the base of the cables and wait for other members of my group to hike to the top of the cables and back?

A: No -- hikers without a permit cannot go beyond the base of the subdome.

Q: Why not redesign the cables to accommodate more people?

A: Any long-term solutions or permanent changes will be addressed in the planning process that will be initiated in spring 2010 and all reasonable and feasible options will be evaluated in the environmental assessment.

-- Kelly Burgess

Photos:

(top) A view of Half Dome and climbers using the cable. Credit: Scott Gediman

(bottom) The cables to ascend and descend Half Dome have become so crowded on some days that waits can be up to an hour. Credit: National Park Service

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