Yosemite's Half Dome cables nationally historic

Associated Press Modified: September 12, 2012 at 12:33 pm •  Published: September 12, 2012
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YOSEMITE NATIONAL PARK, Calif. (AP) — A rocky trail and hundreds of feet of twisted metal cables might not immediately conjure an image of something worthy of historical preservation.

But when the trail leads to the iconic Half Dome in Yosemite National Park and the cables allow armchair wilderness lovers to ascend the once-inaccessible granite monolith, the significance was enough for a spot on the list of National Register of Historic Places.

The designation at the end of August went virtually unnoticed, but the Half Dome was still on the minds of hikers and wilderness advocates, who are awaiting the park's final assessment of a plan to permanently limit access to a place on many outdoor lovers' bucket lists.

The park is weighing the hike's incredible popularity — one of the busiest of any trail in the National Park's federally designated wilderness areas — against the protections from the intrusion of man in wild areas. One option under consideration is removing the cables that assist climbers up and down the steep granite.

"Clearly handrails and other aids aren't appropriate in the wilderness," said George Nickas, executive director of Wilderness Watch, which has threatened to sue to have the cables removed and argued against them during the plan's comment period.

On the other side of the argument are those who point to the 45-degree angle of the slick granite dome, once described in the mid-1800s by geologist Josiah Whitney as "perfectly inaccessible."

"I'm ecstatic about the listing," said Rick Deutsch, who has written a book about the climb and will make his 35th ascent this weekend. "It's recognition for the cables and another chit on the list of reasons to keep them up."

The "Half Dome Cables and Trail" join the Fullerton, Calif., post office, the Island City, Mich., historic district, and the shipwrecks of many Minnesota inland lakes and rivers that were successfully nominated this go-round to the National Register maintained by the National Park Service.

"Historic preservation is like managed change," said Edson Beall, a historian with the park service. "It doesn't stop change, but in this case it definitely offers protections. So the short answer is yes, it offers protections."

Some protections, but not complete protection. In fact, three nationally listed stone-faced bridges spanning the Merced River in Yosemite Valley are being considered for removal because they impede the flow of the waterway designated by Congress as "wild and scenic."

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