NPS opens up applications for Half Dome hiking permits

Half Dome in Yosemite National Park. (Wikpedia Commons photo)

Half Dome in Yosemite National Park. (Wikipedia Commons photo)

If you’re interested in hiking Half Dome in Yosemite National Park, here is a bit of news you might want to know.

A report from The Associated Press says you can start applying for permits now. Up to 300 hikers per day are allowed on the cables leading to the top of Half Dome. But you need reservations.

Restrictions on numbers began in 2011, with the National Park Service citing safety as the main reason for the new rule.

The lottery system will end March 31, the AP reported, but 50 additional permits per day will be issued through the hiking season.

For more information, go to this link.

Bob Doucette

The Weekly Stoke: Winter camping tips, 26 marathons in 26 days, extreme destinations and a petition on behalf of the Badwater 135


I hope everyone had a great Christmas, and hopefully you all have done better than me in terms of avoiding the holiday bloat. Yikes! Anyway, I found some more great links for your reading pleasure, and perhaps something there to inspire your next move. Time for the Weekly Stoke!

The weather outside might be frightful, but this post gives you six tips on how to keep warm when camping in the winter.

A Las Vegas man ran 26 marathons in 26 days to help raise awareness for the needy in his city. Behind the glitz of the Strip is some pretty desperate situations, apparently.

Speaking of marathons, this writer gives you a few tips on how to avoid “hitting the wall” during a 26.2-miler.

Backpacker Magazine throws down a list of extreme places to visit.

Finally, a follow-up on news from earlier this week about the NPS’ decision to temporarily halt all races through Death Valley. An online petition to the White House to lift the moratorium has been started, and you can check it out or sign on.

NPS puts the brakes on Badwater 135, other races in Death Valley

A competitor runs the Badwater 135. ( photo)

A competitor runs the Badwater 135. ( photo)

In a decision that could affect a number of endurance races that traverse Death Valley, the National Park Service has placed a moratorium on races that go through the area until NPS officials can determine how safe such events are, The Associated Press reported Tuesday.

Among the most famous: The Badwater 135, an ultramarathon that crosses the world’s hottest environment before finishing at more than 8,300 feet on the lower flanks of Mount Whitney in southern California’s Sierras.

The NPS says it will do a study on the issue which should be done by spring, and events could resume as early as Oct. 1, 2014, the AP reported.

“We want to make it clear, we’re not canceling or banning any events,” Death Valley National Park spokeswoman Cheryl Chipman told The AP. “At the moment, we’re just not taking any more applications for them until we finish our safety evaluation.”

What makes it odd: A lack of major problems associated with endurance races in the area, one organizer said.

Chris Kostman, whose AdventureCorps runs Badwater 135 and other events, told the AP that his organization has held 89 events since 1990 without serious issues crop up: No deaths, no serious crashes, and a smattering of ambulance transports during that time. Despite its rigors, Death Valley’s signature race has an 89-percent finish rate, he said. Entry is by invitation only, and competitors have to have at least three 100-milers under their belt to be considered.

But the NPS’s decision means that Kostman has had to reschedule or move a slate of 2014 competitions, he said.

Temperatures in Death Valley can reach 130 degrees, and the length of the race, plus its elevation gain (about 8,500 feet from its lowest point to its high-altitude finish) make it even more taxing.

Those reasons, as well as increasing popularity and numbers of competitors, make it time for the safety review, Chipman contends.

In the long-term, Badwater 135 could be back, and other races will continue elsewhere, the AP reports. But in the short-term, there won’t be a Badwater 135 next year.

So what do you think? Is this move due diligence on the part of NPS, or is it overreach? Let me know your thoughts.

Bob Doucette

The Weekly Stoke: Drones, elephant justice, tick phobia and what makes an elite mountaineer


Jam-packed with news this week, we’re looking at a whole slew of the funny, serious and weird in this edition of the Weekly Stoke. So let’s get started.

Drones are used to wipe out terrorists, and some fear they can spy on American citizens. The U.S. Geological Survey has found another use that’s a little more benign.

Chalk one up for wildlife! An elephant turns the tables on a poacher.

Here’s something we suspected: Hiking can actually make you smarter.

National Geographic takes an interesting look at the physiological attributes of elite high-altitude mountaineers.

It’s tick season now, and if this post doesn’t freak you out than maybe it will at least inspire a bug spray purchase or at least a thorough tick-check.

We’re redefining wild spaces again: The National Park Service will allow bolts on climbing routes in national parks.

Here’s a list of some of the world’s most dangerous travel destinations.

And finally, a video of when Whole Foods gets to people’s heads.

NPS makes daily hiker limits at Half Dome permanent, will keep cables

A conga line of hikers going up the cables on Half Dome. (NPS photo)

A conga line of hikers going up the cables on Half Dome. (NPS photo)

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.

Half Dome, Yosemite National Park. (NPS photo)

Half Dome, Yosemite National Park. (NPS photo)

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.

Drop your thoughts on this development in the comments below.

Bob Doucette

On Twitter @RMHigh7088

Four Japanese climbers feared dead on Denali after avalanche

Alaska’s Denali, North America’s highest peak. (Wikipedia Commons photo)

Some bad news from Alaska after authorities with the National Park Service said that four Japanese climbers are feared dead after an avalanche on Denali, also known as Mount McKinley.

Search and recovery efforts are under way near 11,800 feet, according to news reports.

Denali, at 20,327 feet, is North America’s highest mountain.

Here is a few details about the accident from CNN:

Hitoshi Ogi, 69, was unable to locate his fellow climbers and descended solo to the Kahiltna base camp and reported the event late Thursday afternoon.

The missing were identified as male climbers Yoshiaki Kato, 64, and Tamao Suzuki, 63, and female climbers Masako Suda, 50, and Michiko Suzuki, 56. All are from Miyagi Prefecture and are affiliated with the Miyagi Workers Alpine Federation.

You can read the full report from CNN here.

Search and rescue personnel work on recovery efforts for four Japanese climbers feared dead after an avalanche on Denali. (National Parks System photo)