Permits will shrink crowds on Half Dome

In an effort to better regulate the number of hikers using the cable system to the top of Half Dome, Yosemite National Park will begin requiring day-use permits for the popular climb when the cables are restrung in May.

This interim program, implemented by the National Park Service, is designed to address safety issues caused by crowding, which also has created long waits.

The Half Dome day-use permits will be required only on weekends, Fridays and holidays. Four hundred will be issued per day, with 100 of those to be included in wilderness permits. The 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 hike has become extremely popular. About 84,000 people climbed to the top of Half Dome in 2008. Last summer, daily visitor numbers on peak days were estimated to be 1,100 to 1,200.

This overcrowding on the cables has led to unsafe conditions. Last year, Manoj Kumar, 40, of San Ramon, Calif., fell to his death from the cables. The following weekend, a woman fell during a rainstorm and was seriously injured.

Permits are available by advance reservation only, and can be purchased online or by calling 1-877-444-6777. Up to four may be obtained per reservation, with each person required to have his or her own.

Permits are technically free, but there will be a $1.50 nonrefundable service charge for each one.

The permits for May and June will be available beginning March 1; July and August permits will be available for reservation April 1, and on May 1, the permits for September and October will be released.

Here are a few of the frequently asked questions and answers regarding the interim system:

What is the penalty for not having a permit?

If you attempt to hike beyond the subdome or up the cables without a valid permit, a ranger will turn you away at or near the subdome. Additionally, you could face misdemeanor charges – up to a $5,000 fine and/or six months in jail.

How long will this interim program continue?

This program is being implemented as an emergency safety measure for 2010. If significant crowding or other major issues are observed, modifications will be made.

Why is the quota 400 people per day?

Free-flowing conditions prevent additional fatigue to hikers waiting on the cables and allow an orderly evacuation down the cables if a fast-moving storm approaches. Free-flowing conditions generally occur on weekdays, during which time, an average of 390 people per day use the cables. The quota includes 300 day hikers and 100 backpackers.

Why aren’t permits available in Yosemite on a first-come, first-served basis?

The very high demand the park service would expect for the relatively few first-come, first-served permits available would lead to a frustrating experience for visitors and would be difficult to manage.

Can I stay at the base of the cables and wait for other members of my group to hike to the top of the cables and back?

No. Hikers without a permit cannot go beyond the base of the subdome.

Why not redesign the cables to accommodate more people?

Any long-term solutions or permanent changes will be addressed in the planning process that will start this spring.