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Fatal Fall from cables on Half Dome

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Fatal Fall from cables on Half Dome

Postby Alpenbro » Tue Jun 19, 2007 12:01 am

http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.c ... SEMITE.TMP

Thoughts and prayers to his friends and family.

This news hits home for me as I'm taking my wife up Half Dome in 2 weeks and she's a little nervous about it already. Plus the guy is from Sunnyvale which is the next town over from me.. Scary!

well, anyway I thought it would be interesting to hear what people think about this accident and climbing the cables at Half Dome. It's been 15 years since I last climbed it.. it was my introduction to backpacking.

Edit: Here's a link to a blog post and comments from other hikers on SFGate.

http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/blogs/sgr ... y_id=17696



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Postby sierranomad » Tue Jun 19, 2007 4:07 pm

That's very sad.

There can be no question that climbing the cables is an endeavor to take seriously...it's not a walk along a level trail in the forest.

That being said, here are a few things that come to mind: 1) The article said that this was the first fatality on the cables where weather didn't play a part (the other fatalities occurred when the rock was slick from rain - also at least two were when the cables were down. 2) The victim was said to be laughing and joking with his friends. I personally feel that climbing the cables demands your full attention. 3) The crowded conditions cannot make the trek safer.

If someone is very nervous about the cables, then don't do it. The hike to the bottom of the cables is a fine hike in itself. When I take someone and they express concern, I suggest they hike to the cables, and decide then whether they want to go to the top - the views from Half Dome's shoulder are certainly worth the trek.

Jon
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Postby Kerstin » Tue Jun 19, 2007 6:03 pm

That's so sad!! :(
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Postby Rosabella » Tue Jun 19, 2007 9:59 pm

How sad for this person, his family, and friends. I cannot even imagine how awful it would be to witness something like this... even as a stranger.

But I am concerned about the comment that the Yosemite Rangers are going to have to "re-examine safety on the long trek to Half Dome". When too many people start clamoring that “something’s got to be done about _______â€
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Postby copeg » Wed Jun 20, 2007 12:38 pm

This is very sad.

A follow up in the San Jose Mercury News today (below) mentioned "Yosemite National Park officials...said they do not see the need to implement new safety measures"

And this statistic shocked me: "About 1,000 hikers climb Half Dome's back side on any given weekend day in summer. "

Half Dome death probed
Yosemite rangers call it unusual
By Connie Skipitares
Mercury News
San Jose Mercury News
Article Launched:06/20/2007 01:34:49 AM PDT
The death of a 37-year-old Sunnyvale man who slipped and fell while climbing Half Dome on Saturday was called an unusual hiking accident by Yosemite National Park officials, who said they do not see the need to implement new safety measures.
"If this was part of a pattern we'd put more resources into it," said park ranger Adrienne Freeman. "`We have plenty of signs posted. We have done a lot of education."
She said people should be aware of the risks before embarking on a climb of the daunting peak.
Hirofumi Nohara, a Japanese national who was in the United States on a work visa, lost his footing while climbing the back side of Half Dome and plunged 300 feet to his death as stunned hikers helplessly watched.
He is the third person to die within the past year from a fall on the southeast side of Half Dome. Nohara's body was found in a crevice after a precarious search that summoned a helicopter to remove him.
Searchers reached him around 2:55 p.m., about an hour after the first calls came in from hikers.
Four friends were climbing with Nohara when he slipped about 150 feet from the top of Half Dome. The last 400 feet of the trail - which rises 4,800 feet in 8 1/2 miles from the valley floor - provides climbers with wooden slats used as steps and steel cables that act as handrails. The cables are the only support that hikers can hang on to as they climb the steep granite, said Freeman.
One hiker said several people looked on in horror as Nohara's leg slipped and got caught on a pole supporting the cables.
"It spun him around outside the safety cables and he tumbled down the mountainside," said Kerry Shearer, who was hiking with members of the Bayside Church from Granite Bay.
Since 1971, nine people have died in falls from the Half Dome cables; three of those occurred within the past year. Two of them happened in wintry conditions when hikers slipped on the wet granite rock.
Hikers are discouraged from scaling the mountain in winter, when the cables are removed.
Some hikers said there seemed to be too many people on the cables Saturday.
But Freeman said although there has been a 30 percent increase in visitors to all Yosemite trails over the last several years, conditions on the back side, or southeast trail, were good when Nohara fell.
She also said that Nohara did not appear to be doing anything unusual, nor did inclement weather play a part in his death.
About 1,000 hikers climb Half Dome's back side on any given weekend day in summer.
About 10 to 12 people die each year in Yosemite National Park from a variety of causes including hiking accidents and drownings, Freeman said.
Yosemite rangers continue to investigate Nohara's death and are poring through dozens of accounts from witnesses.
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Postby Buck Forester » Wed Jun 20, 2007 7:50 pm

What a horrible incident and such a horrible thing to witness. A couple of summers ago while climbing Mt. Shasta, I was most of the way up the Avalanche Gulch route early in the morning and I saw someone slip on the ice at the top of the Red Banks chutes (attempting a glissade but it was very icy). He lost his ice-axe during the slip and he just shot down the mountain on an icy glissade route at an uncontrollable speed that was horrifying to witness. I could hear him grunt as he caught air on every little bump and he was desperately grabbing at the snow to no avail. I saw him fall/slide past me (way out of reach) and then about 1,000 feet below me until he slammed into a hard snow wall formed from an earlier avalanche. I knew he had to have died. I carefully but quickly made my way down. The mountain was busy with climbers who witnessed the entire thing and they all kept climbing up. It really surprised me. I was sick to my stomach witnessing the fall so there's no way I could go on. By the time I got down to the climber there were four climbers on the way, a couple of them were doctors. Surprisingly the guy was alive and suffered broken ribs and lots of shredded clothes and flesh. He was beat up real bad and was in shock. Two of us very slowly tried to walk him down to Helen Lake camp but after a couple of hundred yards it was apparent he would need a helicopter lift off the mountain, which many hours later he was eventually air-lifted.

I was surprised by two things, 1) how do people continue on, like this Half Dome incident, after witnessing something so tragic like that? I can't do it. It's not that big of a deal to make it to the top at the time. 2) You're on your own for a while, even with lots of people around, in a wilderness injury setting.

I'm not big on knee-jerk reaction regulations to accidents like this. Maybe more effort to let people know how long and involved the climb up the cables is? I know from places like Yellowstone you can warn people up the wazoo about dangers, like staying away from big 'wild' animals, but it doesn't do much good. So not much hope there.

Maybe separate up and down cables, as has been mentioned. I think in reality those caught in the people-jams going up will simply use the descent cables to ascend them to go around slower people, so I doubt that would help much. Now you have two sets of jammed cables.

I'd hate to see a Ranger stationed at the cables during the summer because then they'll probably charge a Half Dome Hiker fee to pay for him/her.

My only suggestion for safety would to be put a couple more horizontal wood slats between each section of poles so the footing is better. I have hiked the cables many times and there are sections of steep smooth granite between the poles. If you're stuck waiting, it can get uncomfortable if you're not able to rest a foot on a slat, especially if you have to step to one side because of someone descending. Then you have one hold on the cable and no place to stabilize your feet. It's not a problem for savvy hikers, but it could be a problem for those already sketch about the steepness, or if they have to let go of one hand to make room for another without solid footing. I don't know. I'm thinking out loud and typing really really fast. It's just a tragedy for the family. My mom recently died of cancer at a relatively young age and it was a horrible, agonizing way to go. Falling in the High Sierra might not be a bad way to leave this planet when it's your time to go.
It's all about the WILDERNESS!!!

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Postby Rosabella » Thu Jun 21, 2007 6:07 am

Buck, I'm so sorry to hear about the recent death of your Mom. You'll be in my thoughts today.
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Postby Alpenbro » Thu Jun 21, 2007 8:05 am

Is that Shasta story posted elsewhere on the internets? (summitpost?) I remember reading about that incident before somewhere, quite a story. I would also have a hard time continuing an ascent after witnessing a fall..

Here's a clickable pic of the crowd on the cables from last Sat that I found from someone who was cool enough to share their pics on the SF Gate blog.. That's a lot of peeps!

Image

Buck, very sorry to hear about your mom. I lost my mom to cancer too. She was only 54.
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Postby MountainMinstrel » Thu Jun 21, 2007 5:08 pm

Thanks for that picture Alpenbro. Now I know that I do not want to do that hike again. That is just way to many people. Maybe they should install those back and forth pathways that Disneyland uses to make you think you are not spending your life waiting. :lol:

Buck, sorry to hear about your Mom.

ken
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Postby SSSdave » Thu Jun 21, 2007 6:52 pm

I doubt that number 1000 climbing Half Dome on summer weekends is anywhere close to being correct. There may be quite a crowd on top by afternoon but one-thousand? Someone typoed a zero.

By the way just like Mount Whitney, probably the last two Sierra places I'll ever want to climb. ...David
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Postby Buck Forester » Thu Jun 21, 2007 8:10 pm

Gracias for the condolences. Between losing my two dogs and my mom to cancer this year, it's been rough. I am so thankful to God for making this all just temporary grieving.

Regarding the crowds on Half Dome... I always avoid them by going against conventional wisdom... I start mid-day instead of first light and it is evening by the time I get to the top. I just make sure there's no threat of afternoon storms. I have spent plenty of time solo, or with just my hiking partners, on the summit of Half Dome on a summer weekend. The hike back down on a cool evening is wonderful too. I've seen Nevada and Vernal Falls by full moonlight and it is something to behold. The masses pretty much start within an hour of each other in the early morning and you eat dust on the way up and wait in long lines at the base of the cables.
It's all about the WILDERNESS!!!

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Postby SSSdave » Fri Jun 22, 2007 10:14 pm

Some pictures and eyewitness reports:

http://www.bayareadragon.com/bbs/viewtopic.php?t=12553

I read one comment he had on a large pack and that most who climb leave larger packs as backpacks down at the cable base. I have a suspicion some people would not do so especially if the packs contained pricy camera or video gear.

As someone that carries an especially heavy pack offtrail over rather awkward and sometimes dangerous terrain, I have on occasion gotten into trouble after slipping downward and then having to cope with a pack weight shift that moved over my head. This person could have slipped and then not been able to cope with the pack weight in order to immediately grab the cable or pole.

Each winter I'm also an avid alpine skier. And of course advanced skiers in steep terrain have to learn to cope with all manner of falling scenarios. One thing one does in steep terrain is learn to self arrest with intense determination immediately in the first moments. Else the forces of momentum moving downward due to gravity become too great to stop. Ordinary people without such experiences are likely to react to falling in unprepared confused ways. Thus it would be wise for someone in that position to consider what one might do if a foot slips, one hand comes loose, or more likely, someone else starts falling down bowling ball style against those below.

In the above link one can see the circus of dense back to back people going up and down the cables that I would guess tends at times to lead to distracting party atmosphere socializing instead of intense concentration coping with the dangerous task at hand. ...David
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