Study Claims the Introduction of Half Dome Permits Has Not Made the Hike Safer

Photo by Arnaud STECKLE

Following a string of deaths between 2005 and 2009, Yosemite National Park initiated a permit system for anybody that wants to hike to the top of the world-famous Half Dome. Following more than 10 years of the permit system in place, a study has concluded that it’s failed to make the hike safer.

Wilderness and Environmental Medicine published the study exploring the case-and-effect of the permit system to hike Half Dome, citing a broader range of less experienced hikers as the reason for the incidents increasing. Although the hike received approximately 66 percent less visitors than before the permits were implemented, the number of incidents and fatalities stayed relatively the same.

Between 2005 and 2009, the trail saw 85 SAR incidents, 134 victims, 8 fatalities, 38 major incidents. From 2011 to 2015, the same area saw 54 SAR incidents, 156 victims, 4 fatalities, 35 major incidents, despite the major reduction in crowds.

The study concluded:

SAR incidents, victims, fatalities, or costs above LYV did not decrease after cable handrail permitting. Parkwide SAR activity decreased during the same intervals. This strongly suggests that overcrowding is not the key factor influencing safety on Half Dome.

Wilderness and Environmental Medicine

Although the permit system for Half Dome hasn’t reduced incidents on the famed rock formation, it certainly has improved the experience for hikers. On a typical summer weekend before the permit system, the Half Dome may have seen up to 1,000 hikers on a given day. Now, the crowd is typically limited to 400 people a day.

Rising nearly 5,000 feet above Yosemite Valley and 8,800 feet above sea level, Half Dome is a Yosemite National Park icon and a great challenge to many hikers. Despite an 1865 report declaring that it was perfectly inaccessible, being probably the only one of the prominent points about the Yosemite which never has been, and never will be, trodden by human foot,George Anderson reached the summit in 1875, in the process laying the predecessor to today’s cable route.

The permit system has become a competitive race for people attempting to complete the coveted hike. For the daily permits, you can apply on this website and will know the same day if you scored a coveted permit. That will give you two days to plan for the day-long hike.

Active NorCal

Telling the Stories of Northern California


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