Yosemite National Park has moved to a permit system for hikers going up Half Dome on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays and holidays while the cables are up. Rockclimbers going up a technical route and not entering the subdome area will not need permits to descend. Backpackers will receive a permit as part of their Wilderness Permit if their itinerary includes Half Dome.
“In 2010, permits are available up to about four months in advance to one week in advance only through the National Recreation Reservation Service. Permits are not available in the park or on a first-come, first-served basis. Reservation procedures and timing for 2011 may be different.”
A maximum of 400 permits (300 Day Use and 100 for Wilderness Permits) will be allowed on each of the days. This was done as an interim measure while the YNPS is developing a long-term plan and I’m sure it was spurred by the accidents on Half Dome and the resulting media attention it received last year. Enforcement of the permit system is unknown at this point, but it should be a fairly easy thing for the park service to check permits at the bottom of the cables.
Is It Worth It?
I’ve summited Half Dome four times. Twice up the regular route: once on a Friday and once on a Saturday. I also went up when the cables were down (forgot what day of the week that was but it was obviously off-season). And I’ve also climbed it via a technical rockclimbing route (Snake Dike) on a Friday. Going up on a Friday I think it was as crowded on top as Whitney was the time I did the regular route up to that summit, though the way up was more crowded than going up Whitney (hikers are more spread out over the Whitney trail since it’s longer).
Each trip was worth it though I did enjoy the cables down ascent and the technical route more than the others. If however I’d only done the most crowded hike up, I still would’ve liked it. My enjoyment of the Half Dome summit is probably partly because it is an icon of childhood for me, so being able to see the view from its top is a reward unto itself. I also enjoyed the interaction with other outdoor lovers. For pure solitude it’s best to go to other locations (or just get on some technical climbing routes of course), or if doing Half Dome aim for sunrise at the top or do it in the off-season. But if you only have a weekend to do it, I’d say it’s definitely worth doing and I think this permit system will help lessen the weekend crowds though it may be an initial hassle at first.
More Half Dome Permit information: http://www.nps.gov/yose/planyourvisit/hdpermits.htm
Update: YNPS put up more information on the “why”, essentially it is as I guessed, increased popularity and fatality and serious accidents spurred the change: http://www.nps.gov/yose/parknews/hdpermits1.htm