FRESNO, Calif. (AP) — The hike up the granite monolith Half Dome in Yosemite National Park is one of the most iconic in the nationwide system, but on Friday officials announced approval of a plan that permanently limits how many can do it.
National Park Service authorities will issue permits to limit the number of hikers to 400 a day, the target number since an interim plan was approved in 2010 to reduce congestion in a wilderness area and make the hike safer.
In a blow to environmental groups, the park also decided to keep in place the heavy metal cables drilled into the monolith that hikers use to steady themselves on the 45-degree final climb up slick granite. Some groups had argued that handrails do not belong in a federally designated wilderness area.
"With a place like Yosemite that is so dear and important to millions of people, everyone has ideas about what wilderness protection is. We tried to find a balance that allows people to still experience Yosemite while protecting Yosemite," said spokeswoman Kari Cobb.
Over the past decade the route had been inundated with up to 1,200 nature lovers a day seeking to experience the iconic mountain that is stamped on the California quarter, stitched on a line of outdoor clothing and painted on the side of the park's vehicles.
Congestion on the dome made it difficult for hikers to descend when inclement weather struck, as it often does on summer afternoons.
At least five people have died on the cables since 2006, nearly all with rain as a factor. Park officials want visitors to be able to descend the slick granite in 45 minutes if they have to escape the fast-forming storms, and limiting numbers is the only way to do that, they say.
As calls for rescues increased, park officials began looking for solutions in 2008.
Two years later an interim plan was introduced to allow 400 hikers a day to get permits through a lottery system that takes place in March. Authorities have tweaked the system since then to account for no-shows and to allow a secondary lottery two days in advance for those who travel more spontaneously.