Scalpers snap up Half Dome hiking permits

May 9, 2011 7:37:12 PM PDT
Yosemite National Park is one of California's most popular destinations. But this year, it will be nearly impossible to make the climb up Half Dome because ticket scalpers have snapped up the allotted permits.

This summer marks the first time when hiking up Half Dome will be limited on every day of the week to make it safer. With a limited supply of permits and big demand for hikes, scalpers are moving in on the national park.

The DeAlba family and friends remember fondly their midnight hike up Half Dome at Yosemite National Park two years ago.

"We got up there at 5:30 in the morning just in time to see the sunrise and when I saw the sunrise it was pretty spectacular," Marty DeAlba said.

Marty was only 15 at the time he climbed the nearly 5,000 feet up the famous monolith.

"It's an experience that everybody should at least do once," Fernando DeAlba said.

"I would have liked to do it again; it's pretty upsetting, you know, that we don't get to," Marty said.

But the group will not climb Half Dome in June as planned because the National Park Service now requires permits, with a limit of 400 per day, to reduce dangerous crowding on the cables at the final stretch. The permits are only $1.50 each, but like the hottest concert tickets, they are being snapped up within minutes when they go on sale each month. Many visitors are complaining they are being shut out.

"We can only buy four at a time so that's why we all synchronized our watches and tried to get our group of 25 to the top," Judy DeAlba said.

The permits go on sale at 7 a.m. on the first day of each month for dates two months later. They are sold by phone and online through a National Park Service website.

But the DeAlbas and friends could not get in fast enough. Permits for June were sold out in 12 minutes.

"It seems hard to believe that 400 permits can be gone within 5-10 minutes for one day let alone for 30 days," Julie Myers said.

7 On Your Side found the limit on permits has now created a black market for the popular Yosemite hike.

"They're buying Half Dome permits and turning around and selling them on the Internet on Craigslist and things like that for exorbitant prices and it really is just unfair," Yosemite park ranger Scott Gediman said.

Gediman says scalpers are using computer software to scoop up large numbers of permits before consumers can type their information and then selling them at hugely inflated prices.

7 On Your Side found Half Dome permits for sale on Craigslist for as much as $40.

"For a place that we feel is so magical and such a big part of the fabric of American society for people using our national parks, specifically Yosemite, to make money, it's infuriating," Gediman said.

Infuriating for this group of would be climbers too.

The DeAlbas complained they would have to pay a tour company hundreds of dollars to take them to the top, but it turns out the tour companies cannot get permits either.

"Ticket scalpers are getting hold of these tickets and there are dates that we've had confirmed for our clients for a year now who confirmed and booked in 2010 and we can't get the permits so we don't get any special treatment," John DeGrazio of Y Explore Yosemite Adventures said.

DeGrazio says he is taking half as many groups up Half Dome this year and fewer hikers in each group.

So will the iconic half dome sit tantalizingly out of reach even for those who can manage the strenuous climb? Gediman says the park service is hoping to stop the illicit sales.

"Scalping occurs for sporting events, for concerts, it's a fact of life but we feel that at Yosemite National Park it shouldn't' happen," Gediman said.

Scalpers are also re-selling scarce Yosemite campsite reservations for inflated prices. The National Park Service says permits are not transferrable and federal officials are investigating whether scalpers can be prosecuted. The National Park Service says the permits are temporary until it develops a long-range plan to manage traffic up Half Dome.


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