Historic Half Dome Cables Under Scrutiny

Are the popular hikers' aids compatible with wilderness?
Staff Writer

A listing on the National Register of Historic Places is a pretty big deal, intended to honor and protect sites such as the log cabin where Abe Lincoln grew up, the birthplace of Martin Luther King, Jr., and hundreds of other places of national historic interest.  In August, the National Park Service added the popular Half Dome hikers' cables in Yosemite National Park, first installed in 1919, to the list.

So it may seem odd that NPS officials are now considering removing the cables altogether from the steep backside of the mountain. The park is weighing the option in its effort to limit the intrusion of man in designated wilderness areas.  Earlier this year, officials created a lottery that gives out only 400 hiking permits to the area each day, primarily to enhance safety.  Previously, the route would become congested with crowds of up to 1,200 people, making it difficult for quick evacuations during lightning storms and bad weather.  

The removal of the cables would make climbing the 45-degree-angle slope virtually impossible for most tourists.  Even with cables, the route is no easy feat. The 14- to 16- mile round-trip hike gains 4,800 feet of elevation and normally takes 10 to 12 hours to complete, according to the National Park Service. Hikers are rewarded with views of Vernal and Nevada Falls, Liberty Cap, Half Dome and panoramic views of Yosemite Valley and the High Sierra.  Not surprisingly, it's one of the most popular trails in any national park wilderness area.

A park spokesman expressed support of the designation, and continued use of the cables, but there are also proponents for taking them down.

“Clearly handrails and other aids aren’t appropriate in the wilderness,” said George Nickas, executive director of Wilderness Watch in an interview with The AP. Wilderness Watch threatened to sue to have the cables removed and argued against them during a comment period for the plan to provide long-term stewardship of the route.

The cables join a few other nationally-listed, man-made Yosemite attractions that are being considered for removal. Three stone-faced bridges spanning the Merced River may also be taken down because they obstruct the flow of the waterway.

Via AP/The Washington Post

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