Jul 12, 2007

Hikers swarming Yosemite's Half Dome

I was reading this article in the SF Chronicle and reminiscing about my last hike up Half Dome.

If you're not familiar with it, Half Dome is a peak within Yosemite National Park that requires a 17-mile round-trip hike to access. The hike has a 4,800 ft elevation gain, and it is supposed to take 10-12 hours round trip, according to the National Park Service. A couple years ago I went by myself and maintained a relatively brisk hiking pace up to the top. I made it there in less than three and a half hours, and did the round trip in about seven hours. As I recall, I needed to bring about a gallon of water with me to drink, and hiking boots were a must.

The important thing to remember is that Half Dome is one of the highest peaks around in Yosemite Valley. What means that when you climb up and down the summit, you hold on to what is essentially a giant lightning rod, the steel cables anchored to the rock. You would not want to be holding onto that cable during an afternoon lightening storm.

Since Yosemite Valley tends to have thunderstorms in the mid-afternoon in the summer, I made sure to get up and down with my hike well before then. I remember that I set off sometime between five and six in the morning, and I had the trail pretty much to myself. It was so desolate that I was glad to have brought along some pepper spray, should any cougars try to make a meal out of me.

From the looks of the Chronicle article, there's way too many weekend warriors on that particular trail these days. So far they've had a few tourists tumble to their deaths off the final ascent. The whole thing looks dangerously crowded.

After seeing the crowds on the final ascent cables and the tourists wearing Teva sandals for a 17-mile hike, I thought to myself, gee, this reminds me of some places I've been before. It looks like a scene out of any hiking trail in China, where you've got Chinese women wearing skirts and high heels climbing up precipitous trails, and men wearing leather soled dress shoes and their Sunday best clothes trying to do the same. This is the typical scene at mountains like Huang Shan, Tai Shan, and Hua Shan in China. I've been to all of those, and unfortunately there's not much opportunity to really get in touch with nature like you can in our national parks in America.

Has the outdoors culture in America regressed so much in the past couple years that we're now a bunch of ill-prepared hikers, crowded and pushing against each other? I had a blast on my last hike up Half Dome, mostly because I had the place all to myself, especially on the hike up. It's disappointing to see this new problem with every weekend warrior in central California trying to push and shove their way up the trail.


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