Lottery equalizes opportunities for hiking Half Dome, discourages ticket-scalping

MERCED, Calif. — When you think of the final 400-foot ascent of the Yosemite Valley's Half Dome Trail, what words come to mind? "Majestic?" "Breath-taking?" "Crowded?"

How about "expensive"?

Last year, visitors paid as much as $100 to hike the famous trail.

Officials have capped Half Dome hikes at 400 people a day, with some abusing a permit system by scalping the $4.50 tickets.

Now there is a lottery process to reduce scalping. It started in March, with people throwing in their name — and an application for up to six guests — in the digital hat for a nonrefundable fee of $4.50 online and $6.50 over the phone. Winners were notified in April.

Each person in the group is charged a $5 fee. The per-person fee is refundable if the trip is canceled two days in advance.

Under the new rules, the "trip leader" can't sell or give his ticket away.

Using a smartphone, park rangers, stationed at Subdome, are checking a trip leader's ID and the approved number of guests he has before allowing a group to proceed up the rock.

However, a limited number of permits will be available on short notice through an online application lottery, which will grant same-day results two days in advance of the hiking date.

Hikers applying for backcountry wilderness permits also can stipulate they would like to include the Half Dome hike on their trip. Up to a quarter of the total day-passes will be reserved for these multiday backpackers.

"You have to have an itinerary that reasonably includes Half Dome," said Kari Cobb, park spokeswoman.

In the meantime, park officials have released for public review an environmental analysis of the effects of allowing various numbers of daily hikers on the Half Dome trail.

Officials have endorsed a draft proposal to reduce the number of visitors to 300 per day, stating on the park's website that the stricter limit "provides the optimum visitor experience while protecting wilderness character along the trail."

However, officials are considering several options, including the current cap of 400 people a day, Cobb said. "The Half Dome hike is the most popular hike in the park," she said. "Because of its popularity, we've seen cases of concern for safety. By implementing a permitting program, we not only are providing for the safety of our visitors, but also providing a genuine wilderness experience."

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