Recently, myself and a friend did the Half-dome hike in Yosemite, CA.
The last bit of this hike requires the use of cables, to reach the summit. In the past, this area has become very crowded, and they’ve since began to use a lottery process to divvy out permits, thus limiting traffic. You “must” have a permit to reach the summit, and this permit is actually checked at the start of a rocky / steep climb leading up to the cables. So, the permit is really important to get your hands on, if you want to do the full hike.
Since this trip was spontaneous, there was no opportunity to participate in the advance lottery. This being the case, our only choice was to attempt to enter the daily lottery for each of the 3 days that would work for us. So, each day we entered the lotto, using the very weak and unreliable cell phone signal to slowly enter credit card info for the submission process.
We didn’t win the lottery, on any of the 3 attempts.
I figured there was still a chance we could get onto the cables, somehow – so, we set out to leave the trail head by 6:30am. We took the Mist Trail, starting from the valley, at a quick pace and without making any significant stops along the way. Toward the tail end of the hike, nearing the start of the permit checking area, my friend made conversation with a guy and his son. It turns out, basically their entire group had bailed out on the hike, and were still at camp (side note: it’s frustrating to know that, for a lottery which has low odds of winning, there are some who win the lotto and then don’t even use their permit). They offered to allow us to head up with them, using their extra permit slots.
They were moving at a slower pace, so we made it to the permit station before them. Since our start time was early, and our pace fast, we actually reached the permit area before the permit-checking ranger even got there. There was another ranger there, and she was telling people – If you have a permit, you can go ahead, the other ranger will be here on your way down, and will check your permit then.
Rather than sit around waiting for the other ranger, we headed up without a permit.
So, everything worked out – even though we didn’t have a permit. On the way back down, the permit-checking ranger was there. We just told her the name of the guy, and she let us leave (what could she do, anyway?) – supposedly, we’re meant to stay with the group or they won’t allow you up, but obviously it’s a moot point since we were already done with the cables. The website actually claims you can receive a significant fine, or even jail time, for going up without a permit – but, given the scenario I think the odds were about zero of that happening.