Half Dome is arguably the most iconic feature in Yosemite National Park. The 5,000 foot granite peak rises above the Valley floor in one dramatic sweep of sheer rock and the climb to the top is a goal for many people from all walks of life, from beginning climbers whose first wilderness experience is on Half Dome to the most experienced climbers in the world. The climb has been popular since 1919 when the Sierra Club developed a cable system that allows visitors without technical rock climbing ability to reach the summit and has only increased in popularity since. In 1984 Congress designated Half Dome as Wilderness, meaning that there is an expectation to maintain certain levels of "solitude" and "natural conditions."
The extreme popularity of the climb over the years has meant that these wilderness conditions have not been upheld. Indeed with so many climbers each day visitor safety is threatened. As a result Yosemite National Park has been studying ways to allow safe visitor access to Half Dome while preserving the natural conditions and lowering high encounter rates on the trail. cAfter years of scientific study, Yosemite has released the Half Dome Trail Stewardship Plan and Environmental Assessment which includes five alternatives that specifically provide a plan for the trail. NPCA supports Alternative C, the park’s preferred alternative, which allows for 300 daily permits for climbers to be allocated fairly between advance reservations and day-before allocation for both wilderness and day-use climbers. The public also has the opportunity to weigh in on the plan until March 15, 2012. Once we have word about which plan has been selected, we will post the news here.
NPS has a interactive tool that uses pictures to show the trail in use and helps show how the different plans would influence the use of the trail. http://www.nps.gov/yose/parkmgmt/hdp_flash.htm.
If You Go
Hetch Hetchy is an often overlooked portion of Yosemite. Perhaps that is due the interesting combination of features: wilderness with spectacular views, great trails, and waterfalls. Once considered a twin to Yosemite Valley, Hetch Hetchy is regarded both as beautiful and controversial. After the erection of O'Shaughnessy Dam in 1923, Hetch Hetchy valley has since been submerged under water. The dam provides drinking water and hydroelectric power to the City of San Francisco.
Despite this, visitors should make the trip to Hetch Hetchy, which offers several hikes for people of all abilities. The shortest hike is to Wapama Falls, which comes highly recommended by a former NPCA employee, Laura Whitehouse. "The hike to Wapama Falls is fun, especially in the early spring after a wet winter," Whitehouse said. "You will experience a very invigorating shower from the mist of the falls." Hetch Hetchy's low elevation offers the longest hiking season in the park. In addition to hiking, Hetch Hetchy offers fishing, camping and swimming at nearby Lake Eleanor.
Glacier Point is one of the most spectacular views of the park. You can sit in the amphitheater and eat your lunch while admiring spectacular views of waterfalls and granite peaks. Be sure to bring binoculars: birders will enjoy the avian views while “looky-loos” will stare in awe at the brave rock climbers clinging to Half Dome.
Tuolumne Meadows offers a different view of Yosemite. Located in the heart of Yosemite's high country, Tuolumne Meadows is the largest subalpine meadow in the Sierra Nevada. Its spectacular domes and peaks attract rock climbers from around the world. Tuolumne also offers several day hikes for various abilities at much cooler temperatures than Yosemite Valley.
The Yosemite Museum
A trip to Yosemite would not be complete without experiencing the cultural and historical features of the park. The Yosemite Museum showcases the cultural history of the Miwok and Paiute Native American tribes who once inhabited Yosemite. Be sure to visit Julia Parker inside the museum, a Kashaya Pomo and Coast Miwok American Indian and Cultural Specialist who practices traditional Paiute and Miwok basket weaving in the museum, while sharing stores and information on Native history and traditions. Seeing Julia's basket weaving work is worth the trip itself, as many of her pieces are housed in many collections, including that of the Queen of England.
America's national parks suffer from a chronic, system-wide funding shortfall in excess of $800 million annually and Yosemite is no exception. Though this “crown jewel” offers a fantastic visitor experience, a lack of staff-power is waning Yosemite's ability to manage facilities and the natural resources within the 1,200 square mile park boundary. NPCA is working with federal legislators to provide Yosemite with the resources it needs to properly restore damaged habitats, repair trails, provide search and rescue, and look after campgrounds and facilities. In addition, NPCA is working to restore Yosemite's diminishing staff, which reduces the number of educational hikes and campfire programs offered by rangers-an essential part of the visitor experience.
Air pollution is among the most serious threats to national parks. The National Park Service has established the NPS air quality webcam network to show “live” digital images of more than a dozen parks. Click here to see current air conditions at Yosemite National Park.