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. firstname.lastname@example.org