Yosemite National Park Will Limit Traffic Up Half Dome To 300 Per Day

Making the trek to the summit of Half Dome via cables the Park Service sets up in May and takes down in October. NPS photo.

Making the day-long trek to the summit of Half Dome in Yosemite National Park will be a bit trickier beginning this summer, as park officials have decided to limit to 300 the number of hikers allowed to reach the dome top each day.

And in a blow to wilderness proponents, the park declined to remove the cables that help hikers ascend the final 400 steep feet to the summit.

"The goal of the Selected Action is to best protect wilderness character while providing a range of wilderness experiences and enhancements to public safety," said the park's approved plan. "In the context of this popular, easily accessible wilderness area, solitude was considered to be an outdoor, recreational experience that was free from crowding. Reducing crowding will improve visitor experiences on the Trail and increase the public’s ability to more safely use the Trail by maintaining free-flowing travel conditions on the cable section of the Trail."

Half Dome long has attracted throngs of hikers -- some experienced, some not, some well-equipped for the task, some not -- and at times there have been accusations that the heavy, unregulated traffic to the top of the iconic dome has played a role in some accidents (some fatal) on the dome's steeply pitched shoulder.

To give you an idea of how crazy it has been reaching the top of Half Dome, in 2008 there were days when upwards of 1,200 people tried to summit the dome, according to Yosemite officials.

But traffic limits don't ensure the safety of hikers. During the summer of 2011, after the park had instituted a permit system to limit daily hiker numbers to 400, a 26-year-old California woman was killed by a 600-foot fall while working her way down the cables on Half Dome.

There had been calls for the Park Service to mothball the cables. The Wilderness Watch group had maintained that the cables don't serve a place in official wilderness. In arguing for the cables' removal, the group noted NPS policies that state, “Park visitors need to accept wilderness on its own unique terms….The National Park Service will not modify the wilderness area to eliminate risks that are normally associated with wilderness.”

"Though many current visitors to the top of Half Dome might not be able to reach the summit without the cables," Wilderness Watch officials added, "those visitors prepared for wilderness conditions and technical climbing could still do so. The crowding problems would be alleviated, and the wilderness character of Half Dome and its trail would be restored."

The plan taking effect this summer encompasses the two-mile section from the John Muir Trail to the summit of Half Dome.

Under the plan, tickets for the climb will be priced somewhere between $6 and $8 and be available through "a first-come, first-served reservation system, a lottery, or a combination of these options. Additionally, the NPS will reserve and distribute a portion of the day-use permits the day of or days before the hiking permit date to allow for more spontaneous use of the Trail."

Upwards of 30 tickets a day will be set aside for commercial trips.

Comments

I have been to the top of Half Dome three times (1962, 1970, and 1993). Each time was an exhilarating experience. But, the worse thing I discovered about being on top of Half Dome is that this great monolith is no longer part of the scenery!

I can understand the NPS decision to keep the cables and allow hiker access, as this has long been a part of the Yosemite tradition. But, I must side with wilderness advocates on this matter.

By removing the cables, the chance of future fatalities will be diminished. In addition, a new administrative burden will be eliminated (and there would be no need to charge a fee for climbing to the top), and the wilderness aesthetics of Half Dome would be enhanced significantly. Half Dome is so special, it should be managed as a "most sacred place." Take the cables down!

To get an idea what the experience of a hike to the top of Half Dome has become, see this excellent Yosemite Nature Note

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ihNpkUp5JdM

A good decision.

Hmmmm. Good points, Owen. I had not seen that video. When I made the trip back in 1969, there was not the incredible mass of people up there. Times have certainly changed.

But on the other hand, should the opportunity for the experience be eliminated completely? My earlier comment was based on the idea that access would be limited to only about 40 per hour in any given day. That is a great decision. But whether or not to remove the cables?

That decision is probably akin to the idea of eliminating winter access to Yellowstone via snowcoach and snowmobile. Perhaps efforts to seek good solutions need to be tried before eliminating it all.

Lee, given that Half Dome is located in officially designated wilderness, it seems to me highly inappropriate to charge a fee to climb the cables to the top. I envision that this will become an administrative nightmare, and nearly impossible to enforce. Too bad there hasn't been more organized opposition to the cables. Half Dome would be much better off without them.

This magical granite monolith can be enjoyed without having to summit the top of the dome. For those who absolutely "must" summit, they can register for a proper climb and go up using appropriate climbing equipment, or preferably climb to the top with the help of an experienced climbing and mountaineering guide. Under these conditions, summiting Half Dome would indeed become an experience that would last a lifetime, and it would benefit the local economy.

Owen, good points. Like the times many hundreds of years ago when I attempted and then finally summited the Grand Teton with help from Exum Guide Service. (A storm turned the first attempt back 400 feet from the summit.) Yours might be a much better solution. It is also in keeping with the current requirement that snowcoach and snowmobile excursions into Yellowstone be guided.

But I can only begin to imagine the political uproar the NPS will face if they make a proposal like that.