This year there was a change in the rules for overnight camping in Yosemite Valley allowing visitors to camp in Yosemite Valley only 7 days. Though the move was meant to encourage more visitors to explore other areas of the Park it’s left members of the climbing community out in the cold.
South Florida Sun-Sentinel: Law enforcement ranger Keith Lober, himself a longtime climber, is the manager of Yosemite’s elite search-and-rescue team. Parking his gleaming white National Park Service SUV in front of the kiosk at the entrance to Camp 4, he surveys the long line of young people, hoping for vacancies, that has formed in front. Those who hold the first few spots in line have clearly spent the night there in the dirt and are still tucked into their sleeping bags as they await their turn.
Lober is a rail-thin, focused man with salt-and-pepper hair and a pressed uniform. Nodding at those in line, he walks into the campground — past a bulletin board bristling with handwritten notes asking for climbing partners and advertising gear for sale. In the shade of the big trees, laundry hangs drying on makeshift lines, expedition tents crowd together in the dust, and climbing gear lies strewn across picnic tables. Slack lines are tied between various trees for balance practice, and odd ladder-like devices turn various tree limbs into an open air climbers’ gymnasium.
“One of the paranoias of the climbers,” Lober says, “is that the rangers hate the climber. It couldn’t be further from the truth. The law enforcement ranger can’t tell a climber from the average citizen. So what he’s looking for is someone who’s up to no good. And there are a lot of ‘dirtbags’ who come here, and you start to look at certain ways people dress, their hygiene, and, of course, that becomes a conflict.”
Lober pauses and starts to explain the challenges that Camp 4 presents to rangers. Three million people a year visit Yosemite Valley, and on summer evenings the population pushes 30,000. As the numbers have grown over the years, the number of available campsites has actually shrunk, and new park rules permit no more than seven nights in the Valley floor between May 1 and Sept. 15.
“When the sun sets,” Lober says, “the proliferation of people walking over carrying sleeping bags” — to sleep illegally in Camp 4 — “begins, and it goes on until late into the night.”