March 31 is the deadline for reserving permits for one-day hikes up Half Dome for this season. If you’re thinking about trying this daunting route as a dayhike this year, now’s the time to invest some time on the park’s website, and invest some money in a chance at the lottery.
- On Half Dome’s Cables
Permits for dayhiking are required every day of the summer cable season. Depending on the snow conditions, the cables are usually installed by the park trail crew in mid- to late-May, and they’re generally de-rigged for the winter after Columbus Day weekend in October. In previous years there were no restrictions on dayhikers and the cables became an unpleasant bottleneck. The long wait and the human traffic jam in a hazardous spot made this the opposite of the inspiring wilderness experience everyone sought.
The crowding on the cables came with significant safety threats. Some people took to climbing outside the cables instead of in-between, adding danger to their travel. When lightning and rain came in, there was no way for the crowd to suddenly start flowing out of harm’s way, and hundreds of people at once could be exposed to impossibly slick rock and deadly bolts from above. The unregulated access was setting up conditions for an appalling disaster.
Since the dayhike permit system has been phased in over the past couple of seasons, this epic climb has become a far safer and more delightful experience for those few hundred people who got permits each day. In my many trips the past two years, I’ve never had a crowd, never worried about easy travel off the summit, and thoroughly enjoyed the company of a modest number of fellow hikers.
To be sure, there are thousands of would-be dayhikers each year who are denied what had been familiar access. No one is happy about removing this from peoples’ Yosemite options, but in the balance it makes so much sense. When the theater’s full you don’t keep selling tickets.
Go to www.nps.gov/yose
and follow the trip planning button to the Half Dome section. Read all the details and watch the useful videos. This year is slightly different in two ways: all permit applications are done now, rather than over several months, and there is a way to apply for a small number of permits two days before your hike. It will cost $4.50 to apply, then $5/person if you do get your permits. You can apply for several dates at once, but you must identify one or two trip leaders who will be on the trek.
The permit system for backpackers hasn’t changed; overnighting part of the way up helps split this demanding route over 2-3 days, meaning more time to enjoy being there.
Apply now and you’ll have your answer by April 13. If you luck out in the lottery, get started on your training soon: get comfortable footwear well broken-in, starting running or hiking, and find some hills (or the stairway in tall building) to go up and down. Your legs will thank you later.