Permits required for Yosemite’s Half Dome, with a twist

Posted Jan. 25, 2012, at 7:19 p.m.

Permits will again be required to hike to the top of Half Dome this year, but a new lottery system should make the process more fair.

Yosemite National Park officials began limiting access to the iconic granite formation by the popular cables route in 2010 because of concerns about safety and overcrowding. As was the case last summer, permits will be required seven days a week.

A maximum of 400 people (300 day hikers and 100 backpackers) will be allowed each day on the Half Dome Trail beyond the subdome at the bottom of the cables, where a ranger will be checking permits.

One online lottery will be held in early April at recreation.gov to acquire permits for the 2012 season, scheduled for May 25 to Oct. 8. (Those dates could change depending on conditions.)

The lottery replaces a first-come, first-served system that was plagued by scalpers who created automated programs to snap up permits the instant they became available, then sold them on the Internet for several times their value.

Want to hike Half Dome this summer? Your best chance is by signing up in March for the preseason lottery in early April.

Only one lottery application per person will be accepted, but applicants are allowed to request up to six permits and for up to seven dates. Each application must specify a trip leader, and that name cannot be changed once the application is submitted. The permits are nontransferable.

“If people put in more than one application, it voids all of them,” Yosemite Ranger Kari Cobb said. “We’re hoping the lottery system makes the process more fair.”

Permits for 300 day-hikers for each day will be distributed through the lottery. The remaining 100 are reserved for overnight backpackers and will be available through Yosemite’s normal wilderness permit reservation system (60 percent first-come, first-served; 40 percent reservable online.)

Lottery applications will be accepted during March at recreation.gov or by phone at 877-444-6777. Applicants then will receive an email in early April notifying them of the lottery results, or they can get them online or by phone.

In addition to the April lottery, approximately 50 permits will be available each day from expected cancellations. The application period for the daily lottery will take place two days before the hiking date, also on recreation.gov. For example, people hoping to hike Saturday would apply Thursday from midnight to 1 p.m. and receive email notification of the results late Thursday night.

The hike from Happy Isles to the top of Half Dome is one of the most famous in Yosemite even though it requires some 17 miles and 4,870 feet of elevation gain. The final 440 feet to the broad, football field-sized summit is gained by grasping two parallel cables held up by poles drilled into the rock face, which, in places, reaches 45 degrees.

The cables are erected only during hiking season. During the winter and early spring, they lie flat on the granite.

Until permits were enacted in 2010, more than 800 people attempted to hike Half Dome on a typical weekday and even more on weekends. That led to a feeling of overcrowding on the cables. On some days, it took up to an hour to ascend and descend.

However, reducing the daily quota to 400 didn’t necessarily make the hike any safer. Two people plunged to their deaths last summer from Half Dome in what was one of the deadliest years in park history. (One fell off the sheer face; the other slipped while descending the cables after a rainstorm made the route extra slick.)

The Half Dome permit process involves two separate fees. The first, $4.50 per permit application (online) or $6.50 (by phone), is nonrefundable and covers processing costs. The second, $5 per person, is charged only when you receive a permit and covers the cost of the ranger stationed on subdome (with a Blackberry) checking permits. The $5 is fully refundable if you cancel more than two days in advance of the hike or if the cables are not up on the permitted date.

 

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