National Park Service Puts Permanent Caps On Half Dome Hikers

Half Dome Hikers will now require a permit Yosemite’s Half Dome is one of the most popular and iconic sites in the entire U.S. National Park system. It is so popular in fact that in 2010 the Park Service was forced to institute a provisional set of guidelines that required hikers to have a permit before attempting to make the long trek to the top. Last week the NPS announced that the temporary system would now become permanent, limiting the number of hikers to just 300 per day.

Prior to the permit system being instituted in 2010, the number of hikers on the Half Dome trail were often excessive. During the peak season the 14-mile route would often average more than 400 hikers on weekdays and as many as 1200 on holidays and weekends. This caused overcrowding, particularly on the 400-foot ascent to the summit, which employs a series of cables to help hikers safely climb to the top. Traffic jams were not uncommon on that stretch of the hike due to the steep and physically demanding nature of the trail. Those delays could often prove dangerous as long lines of people waited for hours for their chance to climb the granite dome.

In an effort to improve safety on the trail and preserve the natural environment around Half Dome, the NPS decided that a permit system would be a wise choice. When they launched the system nearly three years ago the daily limit was set to 450 hikers, but in their announcement last week, the Park Service has reduced that number to 300. About 225 of those would be day hikers while the remaining 75 would be allotted to backpackers.In addition to limiting the number of daily hikers, the Park Service is also using a lottery system to award most of the permits. The preseason application for the permits will open March 1 and run through March 31 and will be available at Recreation.gov. The winners of those permits will be alerted by email on April 15, so if you’re planning on hiking Half Dome this year, it may be wise to select your dates ahead of time and apply for your permits early. The cost of the permit is $4.50 for the application and an additional $8 per person if the permit is actually awarded. An additional 50 permits will be available in a daily lottery up to two days ahead of time throughout the rest of the year.

While this permanent permit system puts serious limitations on the number of people who get to enjoy Half Dome on any given day, I think it’s safe to say those limitations are for the best. Not only do they make the trail safer, they also provide a lot more solitude for those who get to walk it. That makes for a better experience in Yosemite, which is something I think we can all appreciate.

[Photo Credit: Av9 via WikiMedia]

Photo Of The Day: Stunning View Of Yosemite Valley

I may be in New York City today, but I’ve got the great outdoors on my mind. In my head I can almost see the towering mountains, smell the crisp scent of pine in the air and hear the faint whistle of birds off in the distance. So when I saw Flickr user oilfighter’s photo of clouds breaking over Yosemite National Park, I knew I had to pick it. This magnificent capture of one of the world’s most famous valleys makes me feel like I was there, nostrils full of fresh air, staring out at this impressive view.

Taken any great photos of our National Parks? Or perhaps just the park around the corner from your house? Why not add them to our Gadling group on Flickr? We might just pick one of yours as our Photo of the Day.

New Half Dome Permit System In Place For Yosemite

Yosemite's Half Dome permit system has changed slightly this year. This past Friday, just in time for the busy Memorial Day Weekend, the climbing cables were put in place on Half Dome in Yosemite National Park, opening the door for hikers and backpackers to hit the iconic trail. The 16-mile round-trip trek includes a challenging scramble up the side of Yosemite’s famous rock formation and eventually winds its way to the summit, some 8800 feet above sea level. When they reach the top, hikers are rewarded with an unbelievable view of Yosemite Valley, which is a large part of the trail’s appeal.

In the past, the Half Dome trail has gotten very crowded and traffic jams have occurred on the climbing cables where slower hikers have been known to cause delays. In 2010, in an effort to prevent those issues, the National Park Service instituted a permit system for anyone wanting to hike the trail. That permit system has been further refined this year and visitors hoping to make the hike should be aware of the changes before they arrive.

This season the number of people on the trail is limited to just 400 per day – 300 of those being day hikers and the other 100 are backpackers intending to stay for a longer period of time. Applications are accepted at Recreation.gov and up to six permits can be requested on a single application. Furthermore, applicants can list up to seven dates that they would like to hike the trail and they’ll be eligible to receive their permits on one of those dates based on availability. Additionally, 50 permits will be made available through a daily lottery. In order to be eligible for those permits, hikers must apply online two days before their intended arrival in Yosemite. Permits cost $5 each and more details on the system can be found by clicking here.

Prior to instituting the permit system, the Half Dome trail would average more than 400 hikers per day during the week and twice that on the weekend. The system has made it more difficult for visitors to simply show up and hike the trail, but it has also made it safer all around. Additionally, by limiting the number of people on the trail on a daily basis, the environment is better protected. So far, the permit system has been a success and it appears that it will be come a permanent solution starting next year.

Number of permits for Yosemite’s Half Dome could be cut

Yosemite Half Dome permits could be reduced in number for 2013The number of permits available on a daily basis for Yosemite‘s popular Half Dome hike could be reduced in number starting next year – if a National Park Service proposal goes into effect. The move could be made in an effort to make the hike up the iconic mountain less crowded, and therefore safer, following the death of a hiker this past summer who fell while descending on the steep slopes.

The Half Dome hike is amongst the more popular attractions in Yosemite, despite its strenuous and daunting nature. The trail to the summit is 8 miles in length and wanders up the side of the massive rock slab, requiring hikers to use metal cables to help stabilize them both on the way up and down. It can be a treacherous walk, particularly if bad weather sets in, and traffic jams, like those seen in the photo to the right, are not uncommon along the way.

Last year, the Park Service began requiring a permit for the hike, limiting the number of people on the trail to just 400 per day. That was way down from the 1200 that it would sometimes see on busier days before the permit system went into effect. Under the new proposal, which is currently open for public comment, the number of permits issued would be reduced to 300, cutting crowds even further.

Cutting back on the number of people on Half Dome will have the added benefit of helping to protect the environment there as well. Large crowds can have a adverse effect on any ecosystem, and by reducing the number of visitors, the region is more likely to stay protected and viable for future hikers to enjoy as well.

We’ll have to wait and see if the number of permits available does indeed get cut for 2013, but it almost seems like a foregone conclusion at this point. All around, I think it’s a good move, although travelers will have to plan further ahead if they hope to hike Half Dome.

Hiker falls to her death in Yosemite National Park

Yosemite National Park has had 14 deaths this yearOver this past weekend, a hiker in Yosemite National Park fell to her death while descending from Half Dome, one of the park’s more iconic landmarks. This latest fatality is the 14th this year in Yosemite, a park that is amongst the most popular in the entire U.S. system.

According to this report from the Associated Press, early in the day Sunday, 26-year old Haley LaFlamme and three of her companions set out to hike the Half Dome trail, one of the best known treks in the entire park. As the morning progressed, a surprise thunderstorm moved into the area, bringing steady rains and dangerous lightning along with it. That treacherous combination of weather caused the group to turn back, and as they were making their way down the slick granite face of Half Dome, Haley slipped, falling 600 feet to her death on the rocks below. A 911 call was immediately placed to the ranger station, but by the time they reached the site of the accident it was too late.

When she fell, LaFlamme was negotiating the Half Dome cables, which are put in place each year to aid climbers with the steeper sections of the hike. That area of the trail can be challenging on a typical day, but when the rock becomes wet, it can be especially treacherous. Another hiker fell to his death on the same section back in 2009.

The high number of deaths in the park this year are due in no small part because of heavy snows that fell across the western United States this past winter. The region saw some of the highest accumulations of snow ever, and the powder stayed on the ground well into the spring. When it finally did begin to melt off, it caused Yosemite’s rivers and streams to rise dramatically, catching some visitors by surprise. Two weeks ago, three people were swept to their deaths over Vernal Falls, when they misjudged the depth and strength of the water there.

It is sometimes easy to forget just how dangerous the outdoors can be, especially when you’re in a national park that has so many great resources right at your fingertips. Stories like this one are a sobering reminder for us to be cautious and aware when we’re in these beautiful wilderness settings.