Outdoors: Start your Half Dome hike early

05/16/2012 12:46 AM

05/16/2012 1:05 AM

If Yosemite's iconic Half Dome is on your "bucket list," there's still a chance to get a permit this year. Although the majority of permits were distributed via lottery in March (300 per day), approximately 50 will be available on a daily basis throughout the summer.

To apply through the daily lottery, go to www.recreation.gov or call (877) 444-6777 two nights before the day you hope to make the hike. For instance, if you hope to hike on a Friday, you would enter the lottery on Wednesday anytime between midnight and 1 p.m. Because this is a lottery -- not first come, first serve -- you have an equal chance with all other applicants as long as your application is submitted by the deadline. The application fee is $4.50 (Internet) or $6.50 (phone). Up to six people can apply on one application.

You will be able to find out whether your application was selected by checking the website late on the night of the day you applied or by phone the next morning. If your application is selected, you will be charged a $5/person fee for each hiker. In order to avoid some of the fraud that occurred last year, permits can only be used if the hiking group includes the trip leader or alternate trip leader specified on the application. They cannot be transferred.

Your best chance to get a permit will be on a weekday. Additional information about the application process can be found at www.nps.gov/yose or by calling (209) 372-0200. Next year's access to the summit may be granted in the same way or it may be significantly different as the park continues to develop a long-term plan to address safety and overcrowding issues.

If you plan to make the hike, a useful guide is "One Best Hike: Yosemite's Half Dome" by Rick Deutsch. It covers everything you could possibly need or want to know about Half Dome and how plan a successful hike.

If you've wanted to do the hike by don't want to deal with the hassle and uncertainty of the permit process, consider one of the following no less spectacular Yosemite alternatives:

Clouds Rest: The trail from Tenaya Lake to Cloud's Rest involves less elevation gain and a bit less distance than the ascent of Half Dome and views that are arguably more impressive. Half Dome will be one of the features you see among the summits and valleys of a grand 360-degree panorama stretching out around and below you. You'll climb 2,300 feet in seven miles to reach the 9,926-foot summit.

Panorama Trail: This mostly downhill trail is named for the views you will enjoy of Yosemite Valley as you follow the valley rim from Glacier Point eastward and descend along the John Muir and Mist Trails to happy Isles. Along the way you'll also enjoy Illilouette, Vernal, Nevada upper and lower Yosemite Falls. The easiest way to do this hike is to buy a bus ticket from Yosemite Lodge to Glacier Point and leave your car at the Lodge. The busses leave at 8:30 and 10 a.m. daily. You can ride the Valley Shuttle from the end of the trail at Happy Isles back to the Lodge when you complete your 8.5-mile hike.

Taft Point and Sentinel Dome: The payoff for this surprisingly easy 4.5-mile loop is a series of grand views of Yosemite Valley and an exhilarating climb up the back of Sentinel Dome. It may remind you a bit of the cable section of Half Dome, but it's nowhere near as steep. Park at the Taft/Sentinel Trailhead along the Glacier Point Road and head north on the trail. When the trail splits, turn right toward Sentinel Dome. After a mile you'll turn left and climb up the back of the dome for unforgettable views. If you're tired, you can turn back. Your total hike will be just over two miles. If you're ready for more, return to the main trail and follow the sign toward Glacier Point. Before you get there you'll find another junction and turn left along the rim of Yosemite Valley. The next junction will indicate that Taft Point is less than half mile away. After visiting the point, take the short route back to the trailhead, slightly more than a mile.

Adam Blauert is an avid outdoorsman and local historian who enjoys fishing, backpacking and exploring the western states. He can be reached at adamblauert@yahoo.com.

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