Rising nearly 5,000 feet above Yosemite Valley and 8,800 feet above sea level, Half Dome is a Yosemite icon and a great challenge to many hikers. Despite an 1865 report declaring it was "perfectly inaccessible, being probably the only one of the prominent points about the Yosemite which never has been, and never will be, trodden by human foot," George Anderson reached the summit in 1875, and in the process created the predecessor for today's cable route.
Today, thousands of people reach the summit. For most, it is an exciting, arduous hike; for a few, it becomes more adventure than they bargained for. Every summer park rangers must assist hundreds of people on the Half Dome trail.
The most famous--or infamous--part of the hike is the ascent up the cables. The two metal cables allow hikers to climb the last 400 feet to the summit without rock climbing equipment. Since 1919, relatively few people have fallen and died on the cables. However, injuries are not uncommon for those acting irresponsibly.
The 14 to 16-mile round-trip hike to Half Dome is not for the out of shape or unprepared visitor. Hikers gain an elevation of 4,800 feet on their way to the top of Half Dome, but the reward is worth the effort. Along the way, you'll encounter outstanding views of Vernal and Nevada Falls, Liberty Cap, Half Dome, and - from the subdome and summit - panoramic views of Yosemite Valley and the High Sierra.
It takes most people 10 to 12 hours to hike to Half Dome and back. If you plan on hiking during the day, it's smart to leave before or at sunrise, with a non-negotiable turn-around time. Check sunrise and sunset times before you embark on your hike, and always bring a flashlight or headlamp with good batteries. Although the trail is well marked, you should be prepared with a good topographic map and compass, with the ability to use them.
Much of the hike to Half Dome is an unpredictable adventure into Wilderness, but preparation is paramount. Use the links in the Know Before You Go section and Information from Associated Websites (on the right-hand side of the page), for tips to help reduce your risk of injury.
Two lotteries will be held this year to distribute Half Dome Day Use Permits. A single preseason lottery application period will occur from March 1 to March 31, 2013, with results announced in early April. This lottery will cover all dates the cables are expected to be up this year. Permits for 225 people per day will be available through this lottery.
An additional daily lottery held throughout the Half Dome hiking season will allow for more spontaneous trip planning. This lottery will have an application period two days in advance of the hiking date with lottery results announced one day in advance. The application period will be from midnight to 1 pm Pacific time with results announced by email or phone the next morning (one day before the permit is valid). Based on previous experience, the National Park Service estimates that permits for approximately 50 people will be available each day. The actual number will be based on the observed rate of cancelations and under-use of permits, allowing the park to manage daily permit numbers such that as close as possible to 300 permits are used each day.
Each person may apply as a trip leader only once per lottery. People applying multiple times as trip leader will have all their lottery applications canceled. Each lottery application allows for up to seven date choices. A permit request may be made for up to 6 people. A trip leader and alternate trip leader must be added at time of purchase. Permits for the Cables on Half Dome are not transferrable. Any resale or auction of permits will make the permit/contract null and void.