Yosemite National Park’s popular Half Dome will have fewer crowds on it this summer, with the institution of a permit system for day use hikers. Plan ahead and be rewarded with a quicker trip up and down the cables, and a more pleasant (and safe) trip overall.
The National Park Service has the important challenge of balancing resource protection and the positive experience of the visitors, and in this case, they’ve made a good decision in favor of risk management.
The need for day use permits only applies to Friday, Saturday, Sunday and holiday hikers. They’ll be needed the whole season, from late May to mid-October. For now, anyway, you can just show up and go on Monday through Thursday. Backpackers who are spending the night along the trail are already required to get a permit for their trips. Current weekend crowds average about 800 people, with some days maxing up to over 1100. The permit system will restrict travel to 400 day hikers per day – so much nicer!
Part of the excitement of summiting Half Dome is the last few hundred feet to the top of the peak: the climax of the legendary cables. These are two parallel steel cables anchored to the rock, held up by steel posts every 10-15 feet. (You can still hike this far without a permit.) Going up and down the exposed side of the dome is slow and scary. When it’s busy, it’s extra slow. Last summer there were several accidents (including one fatality) that were exacerbated by too many day hikers clogging this bottleneck.
This summer’s experiment in limiting day use paves the way for a fuller examination of the possibilities for mitigating Half Dome’s great popularity; the park is seeking public comments for an Environmental Assessment for longer term management. Half Dome is an extremely challenging 16-mile round-trip hike, with an elevation gain of 4800’ from bottom to top – a trek only for the committed. Now there’s one more layer of commitment needed to make the attempt, but it’ll be worth it.
Permits become available starting on March 1 at www.recreation.gov and cost $1.50.