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Restricted permit-only access to Yosemite National Park's Half Dome summit, anticipated to improve hiker safety, did not

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According to a new study, implementation in 2010 of permit-only access to Yosemite National Park's Half Dome cable handrails along the final ascent of this iconic landmark reduced the number of people on the summit at one time, but this did not result in a significant reduction in the overall toll of associated human suffering and mortality, or search and rescue (SAR) activity and costs.

https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2019/06/190626133726.htm
From the article:

From 2005 to 2009, there were 85 SAR incidents, 134 victims, eight fatalities, and 38 major incidents.
After the permits were required, from 2011 to 2015, the same area saw 54 SAR incidents, 156 victims, four fatalities, and 35 major incidents.

Statistically speaking, especially when considering incidents fell in the park overall during the same time period, that's no difference at all.


Hmm...they don't define what "victims" are but fatalities dropped in half, SAR incidents dropped by more than a third and there was a slight decrease in "major incidents." Perhaps the actual study goes into more detail than this brief newspaper summary but I'm not sure how that constitutes "no difference at all."

Lots more I could say about this (including my rant about NP concessionaires turning highly demanding endeavors into what I call "I got the tee-shirt" hikes) but I'll leave it at the above for now.
Article is behind a paywall but l have a pdf. PM me if you would like to see it. I don't know how they can say that the reduced cost of SAR is insignificant, or the reduced numbers of SAR incidents on the HD trail above LYV, is insignificant. Most people, myself included, would consider a 30-40% reduction in the number of incidents or the money spent dealing with those incidents to be signficant.



Edited 1 time(s). Last edit at 07/01/2019 07:47AM by Not quite The Geezer, but getting there.
If fewer people are climbing HD, it stands to reason there would be fewer SAR calls, etc. But did the PERCENTAGE of SAR calls, etc go down, or stay about the same?
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The Other Tom
If fewer people are climbing HD, it stands to reason there would be fewer SAR calls, etc. But did the PERCENTAGE of SAR calls, etc go down, or stay about the same?

The actual number of SAR calls does indeed matter to the SAR teams...



Balzaccom

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balzaccom
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The Other Tom
If fewer people are climbing HD, it stands to reason there would be fewer SAR calls, etc. But did the PERCENTAGE of SAR calls, etc go down, or stay about the same?

The actual number of SAR calls does indeed matter to the SAR teams...
I agree that the number of SAR calls matter. The question was...is the permit system effective? In order to answer that question, you have to look at the data properly, or you might draw the wrong conclusion.
I have a number of issues with this study. The first is that the primary purpose of the permit system was to improve the wilderness character and then the visitor experience. Safety is the 4th objective, but even then it is more specifically for the cables section, the actual permit required area, so that people can freely move up/down the cables if needed, say in a thunderstorm. Safety along the rest of the trail is obviously an added benefit, but not the primary one.

The other part is that the study is using SAR calls as a proxy for safety. That makes sense, but that assumes that all medical & safety issues have and do result in a SAR call or that the rate in which those incidents result in a SAR call has been constant. What the study is really tracking is the number of SAR calls in that area and more specifically the per capita SAR calls in that area per Half Dome hiker. There could be any number of other factors influencing the number of SAR calls that are not related to the number of needs for a SAR call. Some initial ideas would be the increased prevalence of cell phones, people carrying cell phones while hiking and increased cell coverage area. (The study goes back to 2005) There are likely more rangers patrolling the area, so more chances for a SAR. Other factors could be general increase in park visitation, general fitness of the population or something else that I can't think of right now.

Otherwise the study also included SAR's not related to the permit system like technical climbing accidents, illegal activity like base jumping, suicides and helicopter rescue because of a fire. The study area includes the section of the JMT from LYV to the Half Dome Trail junction where many incidents may not be related to Half Dome hikers.

Of course there could be an increase of incidents on the trail, due to 'summit fever' or because of implicit pressure to complete the hike on the permit date as permits are difficult to obtain or other factors, but this study has too many holes in it to determine that.

The line that best sums up the quality of this study to me is this line:
"Since the conclusion of this study period, YNP reduced by 100 the number of available daily permits. The rationale for this additional reduction was not provided."

This happened in 2012, and there is a document on the Yosemite webpage in the Half Dome Plan Information page explaining it and is clearly and prominently linked.
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