Yosemite Prepares to Install Half Dome Cables to Reopen Summit Hike

Photo by Frank Kehren

Yosemite National Park has announced they plan to install the cables on Half Dome to allow hikers to summit the iconic rock formation on May 19. The announcement signals the official beginning of the summer season in Yosemite.

In order to complete the hike to the top of Half Dome, visitors must obtain a permit online in advance. Most permits are available via preseason lottery, but a limited number are available every day, two days in advance. Additionally, all permits for May 19–May 27 will become available two days in advance. For more information or to obtain a permit, go here.

The thrilling hike to the top of Half Dome in Yosemite National Park is a world-famous adventure. In fact, it’s become too famous, with crowds jamming up the cable-laden rock wall for visitors to get a beautiful 360 degree view of the park.

In order to shrink crowds, National Park officials enabled a mandatory permit to make the hike in 2010, which included a competitive application process that saw only 25 percent of applicants receiving a permit. With computer programmers rigging the system and snatching all of the permits within 5 minutes of their release, a change was needed to enable the common man to be able to make the hike.

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.

Photo by Jason Hogan

Today, thousands of people reach the summit. For most, it is an exciting, arduous hike; for a few, it becomes more of an adventure than they wanted.

The 14- to 16-mile round-trip hike to Half Dome is not for you if you’re out of shape or unprepared. You will be gaining elevation (for a total of 4,800 feet) most of your way to the top of Half Dome. Most would say the reward is worth the effort. Along the way, you’ll see outstanding views of Vernal and Nevada Falls, Liberty Cap, Half Dome, and–from the shoulder and summit–panoramic views of Yosemite Valley and the High Sierra.

Most hikers take 10 to 12 hours to hike to Half Dome and back; some take longer. If you plan on hiking during the day, it’s smart to leave around sunrise (or earlier) and then have a non-negotiable turn-around time. For instance, if you haven’t reached the top of Half Dome by 3:30 pm, you will turn around. Check for sunrise and sunset times before you hike. Regardless, each person should carry a flashlight or headlamp with good batteries (hikers commonly struggle down the trail after dark because they don’t have a flashlight). Although the trail is well marked, you should be prepared with a good topographic map and compass and know how to use them.

The most famous–or infamous–part of the hike is the ascent up the cables. The two metal cables allow hikers to climb the last 400 feet to the summit without rock climbing equipment. Since 1919, relatively few people have fallen and died on the cables. However, injuries are not uncommon for those acting irresponsibly.

Most people begin the hike from Happy Isles, which is about a half-mile from the trailhead parking lot or about 3/4 of a mile from Half Dome Village.

The nearest campgrounds are Upper, Lower, and North Pines Campgrounds, but reservations are very difficult to get in summer. Camp 4 walk-in campground is also busy. The nearest campgrounds outside Yosemite Valley that may have some first-come, first-served space are Bridalveil Creek and Tamarack Flat Campgrounds.

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