Hiking to the top of Half Dome is one of the most popular hikes in Yosemite National Park. The iconic granite monolith, at 8,842 feet above sea level, attracts people from all over the world who attempt to climb to the summit. Most visitors ascend Half Dome via the cables, which are in place from mid-May through mid-October.
Approximately 84,000 people climbed to the top of Half Dome in 2008. Although there are several trailheads leading to the cables on Half Dome, the majority of visitors start their hike at the Happy Isles Trailhead in Yosemite Valley.
The increase in popularity of the hike has resulted in large numbers of visitors using the cables, particularly on weekends and holidays. During last summer, Saturdays and holidays averaged 840 visitors per day. On peak days, visitor numbers were estimated at 1100 to 1200. This increase has resulted in significant safety concerns. Specifically, there was both a visitor fatality and a visitor who sustained serious injuries on the cables during two consecutive crowded weekends last summer. This increase in use has also impacted the resources and has negatively affected the visitor experience. For example, visitors have had to wait up to an hour to ascend the cables on a busy day.
In an effort to address these issues, the park will institute an interim program that will require a Day Use Permit to hike the cables on Half Dome on Fridays, Saturdays, Sundays, and holidays starting in May, 2010. Four hundred permits will be issued per day, 300 of these will be Day Use Permits and 100 will be included in wilderness permits. These permits are required for the use of the trail from the base of the Subdome to the summit of Half Dome and include the Half Dome cable route.
The Half Dome Day Use Permits will be available starting March 1, 2010 through www.recreation.gov or by calling 1-877-444-6777. Each person climbing the Half Dome cables will be required to have their own permit. Up to four permits may be obtained under one reservation. The permits are free, however, there is a non-refundable $1.50 service charge for each permit obtained.
During this interim program, visitor use and impacts to the park will be monitored. Yosemite National Park Rangers will be studying visitor use and safety, assessing the visitor experience, and compiling data that will be analyzed by park managers. At this point, the interim program will be in effect for the 2010 visitor season, as well as the 2011 visitor season. An Environmental Assessment process for a long-term plan for the Half Dome Cables will begin public scoping in spring 2010.