To limit the often large crowds that gather on the popular cables route on Half Dome, officials with Yosemite National Park plan to start a permit system in May.
Here in the Eastern Sierra, the ever popular Mt. Whitney went to a permit system years ago even for day hikers. Starting in May, those that want to hike up Half Dome will need to get a permit as well if they want to hike on weekends.
Every year, between mid-May and mid-October, thousands of people set out for the 8,842 foot summit of Half Dome. For the last stretch to the summit of Half Dome, hikers grab steel cables to help them ascend the slick, steep rock. Kari Cobb, with Yosemite National Park reports that about 84,000 people climbed the cables in 2008.
The permit system is set to both reduce the crowds and improve safety. Cobb explained that on Saturdays and holidays, an average of 840 people climbed the cables. Park officials estimate visitor numbers at 1100-1200 for peak summer days on Half Dome.
Cobb explained that these crowds often lead to hour long waits to ascend the cables, and have both impacted the resources and negatively affected the visitor experience.
There are safety concerns with the crowds as well, according to Cobb. Last summer, during a period of wet weather that led to treacherous conditions on the cables there was one fatality, and one near fatality in two separate instances.
While these accidents were related to the wet weather, park officials believe the crowds do make the trip less safe. Essentially its a timing issue. Cobb explained that people wait at the bottom of the cables for an hour or more, and then spend an hour in line on the cables, which in turn increases the time people spend on the route and increases chances of being caught in a thunderstorm.
For those that choose to hike Half Dome on Fridays, Saturdays, Sundays, and holidays starting in May, the park will issue 300 day hike permits and 100 overnight permits for the cables. Those that climb the rock-climbing routes to get to the summit wont need a permit to get down the cables.
This is a trial program, set to run through the summer of 2011, that will run in conjunction with studies for an Environmental Assessment process for a long-term plan for the Half Dome Cables that is expected to begin public scoping in spring 2010.
The Half Dome Day Use Permits will be available starting March 1, through www.recreation.gov or by calling 1-877-444-6777. The permits cost a $1.50 service charge