Half Dome stays crowded at the top


If climbing Yosemite’s majestic Half Dome is on your bucket list, well, get in line.

Of the millions drawn to the splendor of Yosemite Valley, many don’t consider the trip complete without a trek to the top of one of its famous granite cathedrals.

If you’re part of the Hoveround set, you could trundle up to Glacier Point in a bus or car. Of, if constant risk of death is your thing,  grab your best helmet and carabiners to conquer the sheer face of El Capitan.

Somewhere in the middle, though, lies the cables route up Half Dome. Its strenuous but not impossible difficulty, single-day duration and ego-fueling sense of accomplishment draws thousands each year to the 12-hour challenge.

The 17-mile round hike up the back of Half Dome has become so popular that the National Park Service has made permanent the permit requirements first launched in 2010.

A lottery in April will dole out a maximum of 300 daily hiking permits to access the final steeply pitched, chain-protected portion of the Half Dome trail. Another 100 each day are reserved for backpackers.

Extra permits may be made available through a secondary lottery held two days in advance, NPS spokesperson Kari Cobb told the Fresno Bee:

 “If we notice, for example, that every Tuesday only 200 people show up, we can release more permits to account for that. It provides more flexibility for more people to climb the cables.”

Congestion at the cables section during weekend and peak times has frustrated hikers for years. And though thousands scale the cables safely each year, deaths have occurred in many recent years, most blamed on poor weather.

An NPS study found as many as 63 people crowded onto the Half Dome cables during July 2011. 70 people is considered a threshold of perceived safety. The cables averaged 40 people at a time during the peak 1 p.m. hour.

Software Norbert Haupt described a harrowing yet typical ascent of the cables route last September:

“I could not have gone faster, since the traffic jam of people going up and going down slowed things considerably. There were some people, less than half my age, in complete panic and almost frozen with fear, clinging to a post, refusing to move.”

Jesse Garnier
Jesse Garnier is the editor and founder of SFBay. A Mission District native, he also teaches journalism as associate professor at San Francisco State University.

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