A longstanding controversy over what to do about hiking and climbing Yosemite’s Half Dome appears to have come to a conclusion that is bound to leave a lot of people miffed.
In 2010, the National Park Service approved limits as to how many people could ascend the iconic peak every day. Upwards of 1,200 people were attempting it daily, creating logjams and leaving people at risk when trying to descend during bad weather. NPS decided to try limiting it to 300 a day on an interim basis.
NPS also considered whether or not it should allow the cables installed to help hikers up the mountain remain. Half Dome is in a wilderness area, and things like the cables are forbidden by law (the 1964 Wilderness Act) from being built. The cables predate the passage of the law by several decades, however, and the cables have been allowed to stay.
Wilderness advocates have been calling for their removal. Hiking enthusiasts counter by saying the cables’ removal would halt access to Half Dome’s summit to everyone except expert climbers, as its 45-degree, slick granite slopes would make ascending it too difficult for the average day hiker.
NPS has decided to make to 300-person daily limit permanent and to keep the cables. You can read more about that story here.
One way you can look at this is that both sides lost. Fewer people will have access to Half Dome while a section of California’s most famous wilderness area will be marked by a man-made safety device that doesn’t exist in other wild places.
But if you think about it, NPS’ decisions have a degree of consistency. Yosemite National Park is not like most other wild areas in the country. It receives far more visitors because of its location (in the most populous state in the nation) and its popularity outside California. Deaths have occurred on Half Dome because of a confluence of overcrowding on the route and bad weather.
I’m all for keeping wild places wild, and I’m in favor of keeping outdoor spaces accessible. But I understand what NPS has done. Half Dome is a unique place, and these two issues requires unique solutions that won’t apply to other wilderness areas. In order to accommodate visitors, NPS had to thin the crowds while also making sure that some degree of safety remained on a route that people had become accustomed to climbing over several decades.
The only real alternative would have been much harsher: Remove the cables and institute even stricter rules on how many people could ascend. That surely would have made the chorus of discontent a lot louder, with only a few purist wilderness advocates happy.
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