[update: this page is two years old. On June 13, 2009, another hiker died on Half Dome while descending in the rain. I think everything in this article still aplies]
Yet another hiker has died on the Half Dome trail. This trail has in the past couple of years claimed several victims who have drowned or been swept over Vernal Fall. This year was no exception and, despite the very low water flow, has claimed one victim who fell in the Merced River. Before this year, however, the fearsome looking Half Dome Cables had nevertheless not claimed any lives. This year, all of the sudden, however, there have been three deaths in about eight months. There was one death last autumn after the cables came down, another this spring before they went up (when the cables are "down" they are still present, but the stansions that hold them off the ground are not there, so you have to bend down to reach them). The most recent death, however, occurred on a nice day, in good weather, with the cables up, claiming the life of Hirofumi Nohara, age 37, a Japanese citzen who was finishing up a three-year stint in the United States.
What can I say about this tragic event? I have seen people drop cameras on the slabs and thought about what would happen to a person who fell and have almways been amazed that there haven't been more accidents. Unfortunately, I'm not wondering that anymore, but rather thinking about what can be done. The Park Service is hoping that, as the human-bear incidents have been reduced by a program of education, so too can a program of education make people more aware of the risks in the park, and especially around fast-flowing streams and the Half Dome cables.
Just this year, Mike Ghiglieri and Butch Farabee have published a book called Off the Wall: Death in Yosemite. This book is pretty damned fascinating and, I think, can help people differentiate between perceived risk and objective danger. For example, nobody has ever been killed by a bear in Yosemite, but at least one person has been killed by a deer and many people (ten I think) have been killed by falling trees. Like the stuff that John Dill writes in the forwards of the climbing guides, there is more than prurient interest there. Literally, this book can keep you alive.
This is a somewhat touchy topic for me since Theresa came so close to getting killed in that rock fall in October. Todd Skinner, who died one day after Theresa's accident is the last death listed in the book, and every time I see the book, I think how grateful I am that she is NOT in that book. It still gives me the chills and makes me wince just to write that. Yosemite is a beautiful place, but you can get the chop in an instant if you are not vigilant. Maybe that's overly dramatic, but it sure feels that way lately. Anyway, whether you will be visiting for the first time or you are an old hand, get on down to your library and check out Off the Wall. If you can't find it there, you can use the links above to buy it from Amazon.
So, in hopes that my site will catch some visitors and make them just a little more cautious, PLEASE BE CAREFUL!
Please note, I have disabled comments on this page, because last time I posted about a death, visitors made several insensitive comments about the victim. If you have something to add that other readers might find useful, use the contact form to send me a message and I'll add it manually.