Half Dome – Yosemite Musing
As the Half Dome hiking season starts to wane – the cables will be down in a few weeks – there will be a lot of contemplation on how the Park will handle this overused trail. Currently there are no announced plans to start a permit system or other measures. Over a year ago, the Social Science Dept at the park did a Half Dome study (actually done by Virginia Tech) that was to provide data on the route. In August, 2008, they counted the number of cable hikers, asked subjective opinions of the hike and timed how long it took people to do the hike. It’s over one year later and the data are not publically available. I’ve asked. Did any of you participate in this study? Here is the cable situation: The cable system is 90 years old. Multi-stranded steel is strong – and they were replaced in 1933 and 1983, but just what is the load it can handle? I’ve guessed at a maximum weekend capacity of about 300 at one time. A busy weekend shows 800-1000 all day so 300 seems reasonable for a snapshot. Also there are 68 pairs of support poles placed about 10 feet apart. I can imagine 4-5 people between poles, so it’s a ballpark SWAG. At 130 lbs each, that’s a lot of weight tugging. The cable use is accelerating each year. Crowding is the norm after 11 am on a weekend and is starting to spread to shoulder days as well. Despite signage and common sense, people are going up in bad and marginal weather. And falling. Since Nov 2006 there have been 4 deaths off the cables (I don’t count the 2 suicides). 2 of the 4 were during the “winter” months when the cables are down (no support poles and 2″x4” boards attached). Those 2 deaths are tragic, but since 1919 (cable installation) only 2 deaths during the summer related to the cables (heart attacks don’t count either). One was weather related and the other dehydration and fatigue were factors. So the statistics do not reflect a truly dangerous situation. 50,000 go up annually. More die in the water at the park. Yet there is no clamor to put a fence around the river. I contend that most anyone can do this hike with Education, Preparation and Motivation. My gut says there may be changes in the wind. The Half Dome trail is in the wilderness (and under the tenants of the “Wilderness Act” of 1964). But it is also in the Merced River Corridor. That river is a designated “Wild and Scenic River” and subject to those guidelines for care. The NPS is under an injunction from doing any rebuilding after the 1990 flood. A lawsuit has stopped the replacement of lost assets. The plaintiffs claim that the Park is not complying with the Wild and Scenic River act – Yosemite has appealed twice and has lost 2 times in appellate courts and must come up with a way to manage the human impact on the Merced. For us that means the ¼ mile corridor around the river – i.e. parts of the route up to Half Dome. That may involve changes of some sort on the hike. If I hear I’ll let you know. On the lighter side, reader Duane S. sent in this solution to the cable crowding situation.
This has been around the block before but it still gives me a grin. A freebie – In celebration of National Public Lands Day, Yosemite National Park, and all other National Park sites, will offer free admission this Saturday, September 26.
Unrelated thought worth quoting: “Pepsi Cola hits the spot. 12 Full ounces – that’s a lot. Twice as much for a nickel too. Pepsi Cola is the drink for you.” – 1940’s tag line to combat the smaller Coke.
*Mr. Half Dome – Rick Deutsch – www.HikeHalfDome.com