More on saving Half Dome

Half Dome – Yosemite Musing

To request, trade or give permits, Click HERE.

FREE Half Dome Hike app <HERE>


     Front page story in the SF Chronicle? Gee, what about the Debt Ceiling, Health care, Afghanistan? Iraq? One guy starts a website and suddenly it’s a “Citizen’s Group” calling for more cables?  Come on. This article by Jon Carroll appeared on page E – 10 of the July 13, 2011 San Francisco Chronicle. Tomorrow we move on to other topics.


There’s something not quite right here. Over my years in Northern California, I have known of or been affiliated with numerous groups that had the word “save” in their names. Usually, the word meant “leave it alone,” as in: Don’t build a road through it, don’t put a golf course next to it, don’t divert water from it, don’t mess with its spawning grounds, or don’t dynamite it so a road can be built.

Environmentalists everywhere are concerned with saving stuff. They are conservationists; they want to conserve things, like mountains and peaches. They are true conservatives, battling with an overreaching government and its allies in private business in an effort to keep the land the way it was. Talk about original intent! Environmentalists are all over it.

But now along comes this organization called SaveHalfDome, and it wants to save Half Dome by anchoring another cable into its bare and lovely flanks. In what sense does that save Half Dome? It makes it easier for more people to daily flock to the summit, each person degrading the experience of all the other people.

Or such is my experience. When I want to go out into the wilderness, I do not want to do it with seven tour buses full of strangers. I want a few close friends, maybe just one close friend, and a lot of quiet hiking and gazing. It ain’t no movie premiere, if you know what I mean. Environmentalists, in my experience, wish to be far from the madding crowd, particularly when that crowd is, in addition to being as crazy as a rabid Jack Russell terrier, mad.

Half Dome is, as I understand it, a schlep. Were it an ordinary sort of place, you’d go there to see the view and to say that you had done it. But there are two cables in the mountain already. People swarm up and down those cables. It’s a 17-mile round trip, and people are often tired, thirsty and questioning their decision-making ability before they even reach the rock. Reports have reached me of snappish behavior. Snappish behavior and wilderness appreciation – not a great combo.

Plus: Death lurks on every side. The drop-offs on either side of the cables are sheer in places, and the number of useful handholds smaller than would be ideal. In other words, it’s a place where fewer people, not more, should be encouraged to spend their leisure time.

And yet, according to a story by Peter Fimrite in this very newspaper, SaveHalfDome exists in order to lobby for a third cable, which would, as it sees it, permit more people on the dome every day.

The problem here, I think, is frustration with the reservation system. You have to buy a spot on the mountain – I think that’s where the whole wilderness-experience thing begins to break down – and the ticketing mechanism is subject to manipulation by the unscrupulous. Buy in bunches, sell on Craigslist, good old American capitalism at work. It’s unfair, of course, but most things involving tickets in this country are unfair. If you’re a regular person and you don’t know any rich people and you can’t afford those what-the-market-will-bear prices, then probably you’re going to see your favorite entertainer from row QQQ – unless your favorite entertainer works Tuesday nights at Freight & Salvage.

But here’s the thing about Half Dome – it’s sort of like star-boffing. Yosemite is a big place, and it’s surrounded by the Sierra, which has miles of unoccupied trails and mountain peaks for every taste. Why do Half Dome? Yes, in the abstract, it’s a great climb and a great view, but we don’t live in the abstract. We live in a world where mobs of people attempt to ascend the summit of Half Dome every day.

It’s like Everest, in a way. Everest has lots of ladders and bridges made of ladders and rope lines and everything to help the traveler along, plus Sherpas who are on hand with advice and drayage, and people still die every year. Put more people on Half Dome, even with a third line, and more people will die. Make it easier for the marginally fit to attempt a climb way above their pay grade; bad things will happen. This is not a particularly arcane prediction.

Anyway, it’s not going to happen. The Park Service won’t even consider a third cable. Part of its job is to preserve and maintain wilderness areas, and a third cable is more like a tourist value. There are plenty of perfectly lovely places in the Sierra for people to go without endangering themselves or others. Half Dome has been saved. Let’s save Mount Rushmore by putting an elevator up Lincoln’s nose.

The sea, which such a storm as his bare head, in hell-black night endured, would have buoy’d up and quencht.



Unrelated thought worth quoting: “Dear Sir or Madam, will you read my book?  It took me years to write, will you take a look? Based on a novel by a man named Lear and I need a job, so I want to be a paperback writer, Paperback writer. “ – The Beatles

 *MrHalfDome – Rick Deutsch –


30 Responses to “More on saving Half Dome”

  1. Dean Says:

    This is why I think Mason’s campaign is misguided and has the potential to do more harm than good.

    In the same way that building more roads doesn’t solve traffic congestion, adding a third cable and allowing unrestricted access to Half Dome would result in intolerable numbers.

    Mason’s campaign is fast becoming ammunition for groups who advocate complete removal of the historic cables. They will point to articles like the one above and say that Half Dome and the surrounding wilderness is unsafe in the hands of these selfish hikers and only by removing the cables can the area be restored and protected for future generations.

    If I was a group keen to see the cables removed, now would be a good time to raise a challenge in court.

  2. Mason Harrison Says:

    In other news, the Fresno Bee agrees with me.



    • Sönke Says:

      Don’t you care about nature?! As much as I HATE regulations: limiting the numbers of hikers is the right thing to do. Don’t you want that future generations can enjoy Half Dome too?! Why not pick a different hike when HD is not “available”?! There are tons of other options including.

      One word stands out for me in Dean’s comment: selfish. I couldn’t agree more.

      How come some people including myself didn’t have trouble getting permits?!

      And how many permits have been scooped up by scalpers?! We don’t know. Probably a small percentage. Way too much fuzz about that although I admit the system is not perfect (minor tweaking could change that).

      Generally speaking I have a lot of praise for people like you but forgive me if I have very little sympathy for your HD effort.

    • mrhalfdome Says:


      I read the article and don’t see why you think they agreed with you. Did you I see the SF Chronicle?? Below is yesterday’s editorial and I already posted the column by Jon Carroll. But you are free to do what you are doing. How many constitute this “Citzen’s Group?” I commend you for snagging the publicity you are getting. But it ends on this blog today.

      Anyway, I will PM you and offer to chat with a peace pipe.


      This editorial appeared on page A – 9 of the San Francisco Chronicle on July 13, 2011

      Backers of a proposal to allow an unlimited number of people to hike to the top of Yosemite National Park’s iconic Half Dome seem to ignore the obvious: This is nuts. Because permits from the National Park Service can be hard to come by, a citizens group wants to abolish the permits and remove the limit on the number of hikers and backpackers who can scale the trail to the top of the mammoth granite knob.

      Before the limits, enacted last summer, up to 1,200 people jammed the precarious trail on a single weekend day. Controlling the surging crowd was a sensible idea – the climb is dangerous enough without having to squeeze along a narrow path jammed with hundreds of hikers. Four people have fallen to their deaths since 1996, and dozens have needed rescuing.

      The route to the summit – elevation 8,842 feet – stretches 8.6 miles, but it’s the last harrowing, 400-foot stretch that requires a permit. Sheer drops lurk on both sides of the sloping trail, and the only safety devices are two spindly cables – installed in 1919.

      “It’s an incredible hike – it’s a huge feeling of accomplishment and an unbelievable 360-degree view of the Yosemite Valley below you,” said ranger Scott Gediman. “For many people, it’s a life experience.”

      But the crowds led to gridlock on the top section of the trail – “waiting in line for an hour and a half in the hot sun just to get on the cables,” Gediman said. “It detracted from the wilderness experience. People get nervous and freeze up. … People are yelling at each other. … People just weren’t having a good experience.”

      Today, “I can’t stress the difference. It’s overwhelmingly positive. It works.” Limiting the crowds makes the hike much safer and less of a nail-biter, he said.

      The key words: “It works.” Given that, the Park Service is unlikely to change its permit policy, he said.

      And that’s wise. The trail, like the park itself, is a victim of its own popularity. Allowing unlimited access is unsafe and destroys the very experience that makes it popular.

  3. Dean Says:

    I have to agree with Rick I don’t see where the Fresno Bee agrees with you…they do seem to agree about your question regarding “…since when did American become a country…” but I’m interested about the 70% statistic.

    Ignoring May and influence of the weather there are 132days made available by the NPS to grab a permit for Half Dome. At 400 permits a day that’s a capacity of 52800.

    If, as you claim, this number is down 70% that means that normal unrestricted use would be 176000.

    That seems high to me, wasn’t it more like 70-80000per annum prior to the permit system?

    • mrhalfdome Says:

      Bingo Dean.

      If you do all the math including May…. In December when they announced the permit program, the park planned on approx 60,000 people who could go up. And I’d stil like to see an actual “petition.” All I see from the one-man “Citizen’s Group” is a place to enter your name and data. Let’s get all out today. Tomorrow we move on to stuff like mice eating thru my pack and an Open House at Yosem where they will talk about the permit process.

      Ipso facto sunt Glorium, Nobis – nobis.


  4. Mason Harrison Says:

    Folks, NPS numbers, not mine. Here is the algebra:

    1,200 per day used to climb.

    Only 300 allowed now (even less actually do it)

    900 missing out every day.

    That’s up to a 75% decrease.

    Happy hiking.


    • mrhalfdome Says:

      No no no…Read the HD Stewardship plan … 1200 was the PEAK (MAX) on a Saturday during the summer when the survey team was there. NOT the daily count all summer. Sunday was next – again on a given Sunday – not a typical day. Weekdays were WAY less…like 400.That’s where the 400 number for the daily number of permits came from. So it’s now 400 daily permits – 300 for hikers and 100 for people with Wilderness Permits that include the HD trail.

      Modern math has it’s flaws. Now for your homework read:

      RSG study

      HD project PEPC overview = HD Stewardship Plan

      HD Stewardship document =

      NPS master link to cables studies

    • Dean Says:

      Cheers Mason,

      You’re using the peak figure of 1200 a day that only occurred a few times in the season.

      2008 figures tell us that average Saturday/Holiday numbers were 800, peaking at over 1000. It doesn’t say what average use was Sun-Fri but I’m thinking 500 would be a decent guess.

      So roughly, that works out at close to 60000 intrepid folk who hiked Half Dome in 2008. Seems a bit low, and factor in popularity, I’d say 70000 in 2009, the last year before any permits, and you wouldn’t be far off.

      So if we use your 300 per day allowed by the permit system (you forgot the 100 allocated to back country hikers but we will ignore this for the moment), spread across say 132days you get about 40000 permitted to hike Half Dome. Let’s say 25% of back country hikers do it too that brings the total up to about 43000.

      That’s a reduction of about 39% which suggests the 70% figure you are quoting is a bit misleading.

      If my arithmetic is wrong I apologise.

    • Dean Says:

      Rick you ninja you beat me to it… :o)

    • Matt Says:

      Flawed info you posted there guy. The estimated number of hikers doing the HD hike prior to the permit system was 800 during the week and 1,200 on weekends and the total of daily permits is 400 (including backpackers). No matter the number your idea isn’t the answer. Addition by subtraction in this particular case is a good idea. I mean really, crowded cables aren’t good for anyone. Its proven to be safer with the currently imposed limits. A third won’t thin the crowds out nor do anything to preserve the wilderness, it will hurt it.

      I also have to agree with the others. I don’t see why you think they agreed with you? Either way, a third cable isn’t coming nor is it an actual option. I suggest you start getting up early on the 1st of the month next year and get yourself some permits. You could also hunt some down here if you were so inclined. As a third option you can just do the hike and hope to find some extras from the number of kind and generous hikers already on the trail, or perhaps even some extras given to the Ranger at Sub Dome. Anybody can give up after crapping out at, but getting permits isn’t impossible. The only thing that assures impossibility in this case is a lack of effort and motivation. Happy permit hunting 🙂

      I’d like to close with the words of a wonderful man and author, Hunter S. Thompson,

      So long and Mahalo

    • Maureen L Says:


      it’s 400 a day with permits, not the 300 you keep using.

      why don’t you want to count the 100 folks who get a Half Dome permit with their wilderness permit for the area?

  5. Mason Harrison Says:

    None of our figures are exact, which is partly the fault of the NPS.

    For all of the hundreds of thousands of dollars that have been spent studying this matter none has factored in the opportunity cost of denying thousands of hikers the experience of hiking the trail. It’s a major factor that has been COMPLETELY absent from all studies. So I was left to use NPS figures to calculate this decline (I’m confident they are close to accurate).

    Agree with my position or not, we should all agree that there should be an official NPS estimate. The NPS loves to brag about the improved hiking experience under the new rules. I wonder if they have asked anyone who was denied the experience because of their flawed and non-functional permit system. Likely not.


  6. Dean Says:

    “We need to keep the trail open and accessible.”

    Absolutely, agree 100%.

    Do you really think moaning about permits, advocating mass congestion on the cables, breaching of the Wilderness Act and making up statistics are the best way to go about it?

    I believe the cables, if they are not already, should be protected under the Historic Sites Act.

    They are a living link to a pioneering past and are as much a part of Yosemite as any chunk of granite, tree or lake. Removing the cables would be like removing The Nose from El Cap.

    This is just my opinion, I’m no legal eagle but if there has to be a campaign it should be based on fact and strong legal arguments not misplaced emotion, poorly thought out ideas and the desire to make headlines in the press.

  7. AL Says:

    If we are going to remove the HD cables, I say remove the damn DAM in Hetch Hetchy also. I opposed a 3rd cable but as long as we have that Hetch Hetchy dam installed, adding a 3rd cable is not unreasonable to ask.

    • Matt Says:

      There are ongoing efforts in favor of removing the dam. Its not moving along to swiftly. Water politics are messy. Read up on it. Its rather interesting 🙂

  8. Chris Says:

    Okay Mason go get your permit available tomorrow morning at 7!


    Half Dome Permits

    Permits to hike to the top of Half Dome are now required seven days per week when the cables are up. This is an interim measure to increase safety along the cables while the park develops a long-term plan to manage use on the Half Dome Trail.

    A maximum of 400 permits will be issued each of these days (300 of these permits are available to day hikers). (Before the permit system was implemented in 2010, about 400 people used this trail on weekdays, while about 800 people used this trail on weekends and holidays, on average.)

    Updated July 14, 2011
    Initial hiker counts for this season indicate that there are numerous no shows among Half Dome permit holders. In an effort to make up for these no shows, the National Park Service (NPS) will manually release additional Half Dome permits each day, at 7 am PDT on the day before the permit date. For instance, at 7 am on Friday, additional permits will become available online (recommended) and through the call center at for use on Saturday. This will continue throughout the summer until further notice.

    NPS will initially release an additional 50 Half Dome permits each day and then adjust these numbers, either up or down, throughout the season based upon ongoing hiker counts.These additional permits will have $1.50 processing fee and be limited to purchases of four at a time. Unlike the earlier Half Dome permits, these are non transferable. To counter the illegal resale of Half Dome permits, the group leader, whose name is recorded at the time of transaction, must accompany his or her group on their Half Dome hike. Once the permit transaction is completed, the group leader’s name cannot be changed.

    The day-before-release method was chosen to counter both illegal resale of permits and speculative buying by the general public. While purchasing a permit the day before does not allow as much advance notice as many people may wish, it should put permits in the hands of hikers who will use them.

    While permits are not available in the park or on a first-come, first-served basis, canceled permits may be available until midnight the evening before the hiking day through If you have a permit that you won’t use, please cancel it so others may use it. (You may cancel your permit as late as midnight the evening before the hiking day.)

  9. Mason Harrison Says:

    Wow. Yosemite NPS, under increasing public pressure and media scrutiny, revises their permit policy. Will now distribute 50 extra permits per day and adjust from there starting at 7 AM every morning.

    It’s at least an admission that the policy is flawed, but the 50 extra permits can be reserved online. Haven’t we already all agreed that online reservations don’t work for things like this?

  10. J.J. Says:

    The root cause of growing pressure on wilderness is human population growth, which is still far too high at 75,000,000 per year, globally. Nature needs to be saved from human excess, not vice versa.

    The idea that a finite, formerly pristine place like Yosemite should accommodate even MORE visitors is mindless. The petitioner shows little respect for the wilderness aspect of the park. He treats it like Disneyland or Six Flags.

    Additional construction of any kind in National Parks goes against their original purpose. More effort should be spent on birth control, worldwide, if the parks are to truly be saved.

  11. J.J. Says:

    RE the author’s quote about environmentalists: “They are true conservatives, battling with an overreaching government and its allies in private business in an effort to keep the land the way it was.”

    That may be true in some cases, but I’m afraid it doesn’t match the reality of most modern conservatives who vote Republican. They want limited government for exactly the opposite reason; to open more wilderness for extractive pillaging and vehicular access. They hate the idea of government controlling their greed and their motives are generally ANTI-preservation. It should be self-evident to anyone who follows Congressional votes.

    I find it ironic that most people who now call themselves “conservatives” show little interest in conserving nature. A new name is needed for them, like Takers.

    Folks like Theodore Roosevelt, Tom McCall and Pete McCloskey were some rare exceptions. They actively fought to preserve nature, not tear it apart.

    But since the days of Reagan, especially, the Republican party has been hijacked by Creationists who take the “subdue” part of Genesis 1:28 very literally. Some would probably mine Half Dome for granite countertops if there was a shortage of granite elsewhere.

    • mrhalfdome Says:

      Welcome to my blog.

      Pretty heady stuff, J.J. Most of us here are just lovers of Half Dome.

      I don’t believe the park should be taken back to 1850. Half Dome is enjoyed by 60,000 people and the cables have been up since 1919 to allow more to enjoy the goal and the journey.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: