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If you want to hike Half Dome, and you are a human being, you’ll have to jump through a couple of hoops. First, you’ll need to time your trip well: The cables are only up for about half the year, generally between the Friday before Memorial Day and the second Monday in October, and climbing the steep stone route without them can have deadly consequences. Second, you’ll need to snag a permit. Yosemite National Park only lets 300 people per day climb the cables, so you’ll need to either apply for permission with your wilderness permit or enter the competitive lottery, which only about 25% of entrants succeed at.
Bears, however, laugh at both safety guidelines and human law, as rangers at Yosemite discovered this week. In a post on its Facebook page, the park announced that it had found signs that one of the park’s black bears had climbed all the way to the summit of Half Dome.
“A new scheme to hike Half Dome without a permit just dropped: be a bear,” the park wrote. “Hikers who secure a Half Dome permit and tackle the legendary 425 feet of cable are treated to some incredible views of Yosemite Valley. But it seems they may not be alone up there! Rangers recently discovered evidence of a black bear’s presence on the summit of Half Dome.” (The park didn’t note what that evidence—scat, tracks, or something else—was.)
Realistically, this bear almost certainly isn’t the first to make the trek to the top of one of Yosemite’s most famous summits. Yosemite’s 300 to 500 black bears are excellent climbers, and don’t need the cables to tackle the 46-degree hike up the back side of Half Dome. In fact, there aren’t many places black bears can’t go. Mother bears often hustle their cubs up trees when danger threatens, and the park has long banned bear hangs for food storage because backpackers are rarely as good at putting them up as the park’s bruins are at pulling them down.
If there’s a lesson here besides “bears get to do all the good hikes,” it’s this: If you think there’s no chance of a bear being able to reach your food, you’re probably wrong. As the park went on to note, that’s the reason its rules require hikers to store their food in a bear canister or locker at night and keep it within arm’s reach on the trail—whether they’re on top of Half Dome or not.
“For the safety of people and animals alike, keep your friends close and your food closer,” the park wrote.