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[Yosemite]

Wilderness Permit Strategies

Hiking, backpacking, running, biking, climbing, rafting, and other human-powered activities in Yosemite National Park

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Wilderness Permit Strategies

Postby caley89 » Mon Jan 25, 2016 2:57 pm

I've tried and failed for the past 2 years to get a permit for 6 people from Cathedral Lakes to Happy Isles w/ Half Dome permits.

I was considering sending a reservation for the same trip with 3 different starting dates as my 1st choice, 2nd choice, 3rd choice (for example, 1st choice starts 7/16, 2nd choice starts 7/15, etc).

But with how popular Cathedral Lakes is, 2nd and 3rd choice are going to be already full most likely which would be a waste.

Should I instead do Sunrise Lakes on the same start date as my 2nd choice? (I don't know of a 3rd alternate trailhead for that route).

Also, I was thinking of having more than one person in my group fax in the same request (with different payment info) to maximize the chance one of us gets it. The downside being we end up owing more if more than one person gets confirmed. I just don't want to get denied again.

Thoughts/advice are much appreciated.
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Re: Wilderness Permit Strategies

Postby AlmostThere » Tue Jan 26, 2016 9:15 am

My strategy is not to reserve permits. Tons of reserved permits are abandoned each season. Yes, you are likely traveling a ways to get there, and I am local, however, I have yet to turn around and go home, because I have backup plans.

Here is what the website says: First-come, first-served procedure for all wilderness permit stations (approximately May through October): Unreserved permits are available on a first-come, first-served basis beginning at 11 am on the day before the intended entry date. All reservations (same day and next day) and same-day unreserved permits may still be picked up when the wilderness center opens for the day.

So I show up the day BEFORE I want to start hiking, at 10 am. That gets a good position in line. Earlier if I am aiming to get a popular trailhead. I ask for permits for my ideal trip when it's my turn, and get them. They not only keep a percentage of the slots for each trailhead for walk ins, they release unclaimed reserved permits to the folks in line. You have to be in the wilderness office with precedence for the region you are attempting to start in - be at the Tuolumne Meadows office for any of the trailheads in that area, or in the valley for any of those trailheads, or in Wawona for any trailhead along Glacier Point Rd or Highway 41.

With a permit in hand I can stay in the backpacker camp -- there are three -- for 5/person, that night, and start hiking the following day I am scheduled to start per the permit.

If you absolutely must get a reservation -- consider starting outside the park, in Inyo NF or Sierra NF. The trailheads have higher quotas. Or, if planning to start out of the trailheads you list and wanting to attempt walk ins, have a backup plan of getting a permit for Saddlebag Lakes Basin - outside the park, on the east side, no quotas at all, and they hand out those permits right there at the Tuolumne office.

Yes, I know, you want to do Half Dome. Everyone does. It's why I go anywhere but Half Dome in the park - far too many people to be fun. Plenty of fantastic places to go instead, rather than not going to Yosemite at all if you don't get the permit you want. You can visit Hoffman (geographic center of the park), Dana (highest walk-up peak in the park, second highest peak), Clouds Rest (better views, higher peak, no permits, great view of Half Dome), Sentinel Dome (easy day hike), North Dome (fantastic view of the face of Half Dome), Mt Watkins (awesome views of the face of Clouds Rest and Half Dome) for far less suffering and better or equal scenery. All of these are must-do trips, either day hikes or possibly backpacking -- on a trip of 3-4 days you could start at the Old Big Oak Flat trailhead and visit El Capitan, the top of Yosemite Falls, North Dome, and descend to the valley floor via Snow Creek trail, soaking in views and avoiding crowds for the most part. You are missing out on a lot of things by honing in on Half Dome -- the rock will be there, if you don't get a permit for it go somewhere else and have a FANTASTIC time anyway. Plenty of rocks to climb that don't require enduring tourists to shove you off the cables.

In short -- my strategy is to ignore strategy and make a long list of trips of the same length/duration, and have backup plans. I have only had to go to second choice ONE time. I live here. We visit the park 10+ times a year, all year, not always to backpack -- but friends often want me to take them on backpacking trips in and around the park. I've never had to turn around and drive home.
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Re: Wilderness Permit Strategies

Postby caley89 » Tue Jan 26, 2016 9:31 am

Thanks, first come first serve is certainly the backup plan but I can't always get that extra day off work.

As for Half Dome, I've backpacked other routes in Yosemite before. I want to do Half Dome because it's one of those things I have to experience at least once, however crowded it may be. I'll try to mitigate that by starting at the corner of the Half Dome Split on my way down from Tuolumne and beginning before sunrise.

As for Cloud's Rest, I'm planning to do that on the same trip. Start at Cathedral Lakes, cut over the Sunrise Lakes, up and down Cloud's Rest and Half Dome on the last day.
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Re: Wilderness Permit Strategies

Postby AlmostThere » Tue Jan 26, 2016 9:35 am

So send someone else a day before to do it. I've done that, met everyone else at the trailhead the day after I got there. It's how I often do group trips. If for some reason you don't get exactly what you want, and your cell phone carrier is one that doesn't work in the valley, you can use the wifi in the Curry lounge to get messages back and forth just in case, so everyone knows what's going on.

You might also use Glacier Point -> Ilillouette or Mono Meadow as backup plans, and reverse the trip that way. The tour bus will allow you to purchase one way tickets to start up there.
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Re: Wilderness Permit Strategies

Postby DaleDoge » Tue Jan 26, 2016 10:35 am

If we were to take Glacier Point to Mono Meadow, to Half Dome, to Clouds Rest, and end at Sunrise Lakes - would it be possible to shuttle back to Glacier Point/Mono Meadow?
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Re: Wilderness Permit Strategies

Postby AlmostThere » Tue Jan 26, 2016 10:54 am

DaleDoge wrote:If we were to take Glacier Point to Mono Meadow, to Half Dome, to Clouds Rest, and end at Sunrise Lakes - would it be possible to shuttle back to Glacier Point/Mono Meadow?


No free shuttles to get there. Easier to do all the riding around before the trip -- leave the car at the Sunrise trailhead, ride the Tuolumne (free) shuttle back to Tuolumne Meadows, then ride YARTS back to the valley floor, stay in the backpacker camp, ride the tour bus to Glacier Point. The hiker bus (if the new concessionaire doesn't scuttle it) is an option to get to Tioga Road trailheads, the tour bus to the GLacier Point Road trailheads, and YARTS goes all over the park -- none are free. Shuttles are local to their area and will get you to the stops for the other busses.
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Re: Wilderness Permit Strategies

Postby Phil » Wed Jan 27, 2016 10:43 am

My strategy is not to reserve permits. Tons of reserved permits are abandoned each season. Yes, you are likely traveling a ways to get there, and I am local, however, I have yet to turn around and go home, because I have backup plans.


Absolutely! The whole reservation system has become an insane game. We never reserve anymore, and we've never not come away with either exactly what we want or some other way to get to where we wanted to go to begin with. And I've never gone home either, and I've never stood in line the morning I planned to start my hike. Right off the top, you have 40% of the permits that are walk-up, and as AT says, people abandon them like crazy. If I want Cathedral Lakes, I know I'm going, somehow, some way, but strategy isn't ever about hoping that something largely out of my control is going to fall into place and happen because I faxed my request in at 12:01am or something equally silly, it's because I adapted to what there was to work with. You can add theoretical choices 1-3 on a piece of paper, or you can get on the ground and do your best to make it happen. I'll take 40% odds just about any day.
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