California Woman Dies In Fall From Half Dome Cables In Yosemite National Park

A 26-year-old California has died in a fall of roughly 600 feet from the route up Half Dome in Yosemite National Park, officials announced Monday. NPS file photo of Half Dome and its cable-assisted route.

A 26-year-old California woman was killed by a 600-foot fall while working her way down the cables on Half Dome in Yosemite National Park, according to a park release.

The fatality on Sunday was the first since the park instituted a permit system with hopes of improving safety on the route to the top of the iconic granite dome.

According to a park release, at about noon on Sunday the park's emergency communications center received a 911 phone call reporting a fall of a hiker on the Half Dome cables. Hayley LaFlamme, from San Ramon, California, had gone to the top of Half Dome and was descending when she fell 600 feet off the cables, the release said, adding that rangers pronounced her deceased upon arrival on scene.

While an investigation into the accident was continuing Monday, the park reported a "severe lightning, thunder, and rainstorm was present in the area of Half Dome for several hours in the morning and early afternoon on Sunday."

"This type of weather can make for hazardous trail conditions and the granite slopes become very slick," the release said.

The last hiker who died on Half Dome was Majoj Kumar, from San Ramon, California, on June 13, 2009, according to park records. Before that, on June 16, 2007, Hirofumi Nohara, slipped to his death on the cables. Two other Half Dome fatalities involved women who were hiking on Half Dome when the cables were down. These were Jennifer Bettles, who died on April 21, 2007 and Emily Sandal, who died on November 8, 2006.

Comments

Kurt: Thanks for the info. on the Half Dome tragedy. Haven't been in contact with you since your AP days in Morgantown, WV!
Your readers may be interested in a video I produced a few months ago for National Geographic's website about lightning on Half Dome: http://video.nationalgeographic.com/video/player/places/parks-and-nature-places/yosemite-half-dome-lightning.html Jeff Hertrick

Great piece, Jeff. Got any others you can share?

I suggest that NPS remove the cables. We were at Half Dome yesterday at the time this storm event began and heard the frightened yell of a woman on the cables, perhaps the one who later fell. People began climbing the cables even after lightning and rain had begun--very, very dangerous. 99.9+% of the public doesn't have the experience to know, or the sense of reality to recognize, the very real danger the cables climb present even in good weather and the extreme danger in inclement weather. Why present a very dangerous, park-sponsored temptation to people who aren't in a position to make an informed choice?

My family of four was on Half Dome on and below the cables when this storm occurred. People were still ascending the cables even with rain and lightning--very, very dangerous. I suggest the NPS remove the cables: 99.9+% of the public doesn't have the knowledge or experience to accurately assess their personal risk when climbing them; it's dangerous even in good weather and extremely dangerous when wet and with lightning. Why present such a dangerous temptation to a group of enticed people who haven't the background to recognize the very real risk they're taking? The view from below the cables is spectacular; remove the cables and leave Half Dome cable-less.

The NPS has rangers stationed to check for permits now. At the very least, I would think that ascending would be strongly discouraged when the weather goes bad and there's a chance of lightning. They probably don't have the authority to keep people off who have permits.

Also - it's been unclear whether or not she fell from the cables or just past them. The early AP wire story on this says something about falling where the cables end at the final ascent. I understand it can be slick - even on the subdome or staircase when it rains.

It's very sad, but ultimately people have to take responsibility for their own action. Hiking up half dome in the rain/thunderstorm is risky, and each one has to decide whether they want to take that risk.

I am not a bit surprised by this terible tragedy. In fact, I thought it was a matter of time. When the new permits were announced on this site several months ago, I warned that there would be a danger that if people hiked 6 1/2 miles (Mist Trail) or 8 miles (Glacier Point Trail) from the valley floor and got to the cables knowing that they could not come back the next day, a number of them would be tempted to throw caution to the wind and attempt to summit in unsafe conditions. I don't know if that was the case with this unfortunate woman, but I'd bet my farm that a lot of those who were going up in the rain were saying to themselves, "I came all the way here to Yosemite and hiked all the way up here in this heat and this is my only shot to get to the top."
That granite is slick enough when dry after after decades of polishing by 100's of thousands of boots (and yes, even flip flops). Throw some water on it and it becomes an ice rink that is not appreciated all too often when you start your way up or down. I absolutely DO NOT believe the cables should come down for good. I would venture that at least a 50,000 people have gone up and down those cables since they went up about 70 years ago. It would help if someone sanded the granite between the cables and if the rangers who are there now had the authority to shut down access if they perceived imminent danger. And I think they would do well to reconsider this whole permit idea. I'm afraid the next time this happens, there will be more people clamoring for the cables to come down instead of acknowledging the unintended consequence of reckless behavior being spawned by the permit process.

Taking down the cables in poor conditions actually creates a liability issue for the Park Service. If the cables are removed when it is dangerous, if they are put back in place when conditions improve, it may be assumed that it is now safe, and if someone is hurt it is the fault of the Park. h

I cannot understand the mentality to climb half dome in severe weather. It makes no sense to me. I understand that people make extraordinary efforts to get to the mountain, and it might be intensely disappointing to be denied the opportunity to climb to the top. But a severe thunderstorm? Really? I was going down the cables in a very slight mist in relatively uncrowded conditions and it was scary. The hike is wonderful and the view spectacular, but really, if you hike it in a severe thunderstorm, or when the cables are down, if you decide to ignore trailsigns and get yourself in lethal conditions, my sympathy only goes so far.

canyonfossil:
Taking down the cables in poor conditions actually creates a liability issue for the Park Service. If the cables are removed when it is dangerous, if they are put back in place when conditions improve, it may be assumed that it is now safe, and if someone is hurt it is the fault of the Park. h
The cables themselves are more or less permanently affixed to the rock. What's installed and removed once a year are the stanchions (that are planted into holes in the rock) that keep the cables off the rock and make for an easier ascent. Removing them doesn't take that long (maybe one work day), but it takes a lot of people to do it since the cables themselves are very heavy. It's not something that would be done on the basis of hourly weather changes.

What they have now is a ranger stationed before the cables to check for Half Dome permits. Reports are that this ranger was advising people not to make the ascent due to the conditions, but this ranger didn't have the authority to stop people who had valid permits.

I believe the reference is to either permanently removing them, or keeping them, but only laid flat against the rock. Those could be done, although the holes would still be there.

I've heard of people making the climb when the cables were down. Traffic is never a problem, and I don't think that harnessing is a bad idea in that case. I'm generally not a bit fan of harnessing there. Since not everyone is harnessed, there's a chance that a falling and harnessed climber could knock down people on the cable with any tether used.

Uh, I'd think that any falling climber/hiker could knock down people on the cable route, whether or not those falling and/or those struck were tethered to the cables. For all of the individuals involved, the consequences are comparatively minimal and likely they will not have their name in the news.
Using a seat harness with a Y-tether and 'biners allows the hiker/climber to clip to the cable and minimize the consequences of a slip or a missed hand grab on the small diameter cables. Also, being clipped in lessens the risk to those climbing or resting "outside of" (not between) the cables. A slip (or being bumped by others) results in a comparatively short fall to the next stanchion, not the base of the dome.
If the cables are down (stanchions removed), a cable grip could be used for a sliding anchorage to the cables - one type is here https://www.safetysolutions.com/retail/safety_ppe_itemdetail.asp?itemnum=40200571800

I would note that it's not just one set of cables. It's about 3 or 4, where a new set starts where the previous set is anchored to the rock.

Regardless, there were some reports that the victim wasn't actually on the cables at the time she slipped and fell.

I live in the area where this woman lived and have read all the posted comments in the local papers. Many have assigned blame to the rangers for allowing people to ascend the cables in poor conditions. This frustrates me so much! People, take responsibility for your own actions and stop expecting the government to take care of you. There are natural consequences to everything and please stop trying to assign blame to someone else. It’s a bad decision by the individual, not the fault of the Park Service. Just like those two poor backpackers that drowned tried crossing a submerged bridge just a few miles away. A bad decision = natural consequence. It’s a simple concept to me and the Park should not be responsible for poor decisions.

Looking at pictures of half dome cables, a harness and lifeline should be required at all times, not just an option. Lifelines are required by workers climbing bridges, like the golden gate bridge. The park does not require this, so they should except some of the blame for providing a structure that is not safe. If the park is in charge of putting up the cables then they are responsible to make them safe... if they can't do that, then they should take the cables down for good, the cables are not a natural part of half dome anyway...

Anonymous,
Those cables have been up in one form or another from the end of May to the end of Sept since 1919. A total of 3, count 'em, 3 people have fallen to their deaths when the cables were up, all in the last decade, out of 10's of thousands of hikers. As I said above, if you want to make it safer, sand the polished surface between the cables, get rid of the permit process that encourages recklessness, and give the rangers the authority to prohibit people from ascending the cables if they see or hear imminent danger.

The cables have been up since forever, and I don't remember their safety
being a big issue in the past (though someone has commented somewhere
that the replacement cables from some years ago are thinner and harder
to grasp). I think the issue is that many folks climbing up are
unprepared in many ways, either endurance or strength or shoes.

It's great that people are getting out in such numbers, but they have to
remember that most of Yosemite is wilderness, not Disneyland, and it
needs to be approached on its own terms.

Wilderness is not without danger. We all need to take responsibility for our actions. Reminds me of a trip when I was a kid years ago in the mountains in Europe. There was a set of steps to climb to the top of the mountain from the pass where we parked. The climb probably was 300-500' or so, and the steps were high (especially as a kid) and uneven. At the bottom of the steps, there was a sign that read something like this: "Do not run up and down the steps. 1981: 1 death, 1980: 2 deaths, 1978: 1 death. Pay attention." Guess what, there were still some morons who were running. Ultimately, it's not the job of the NPS to try to protect people from their own inability to make smart decisions.

The time I went up, I never really thought of using a harness. However - that was back when no permit was needed for any day, and there wasn't a cloud in the sky. I went up on a less busy Thursday, and there was so little traffic going up that most of the time I could grab onto both cables on the way up. I just needed some decent footwear, a good pair of grippy gloves (I made a mismatched pair of rubber-palmed cotton ones from the glove pile), and a lot of patience.

Now bad weather is another matter. I probably would have waited to the next day, although that was a Friday, and tried for Clouds Rest the same day. I'm not a big fan of tethering, but if it were mandated for everyone, then I wouldn't have the same qualms I have now - that one person slipping can knock others off the cables with the tether and/or carabiner. I could still imagine a chain reaction, but at least everyone would be secured to the cables. That was the case in 2009 when one guy slipped and died on the descent. Yosemite SAR went out to bring people down. Many weren't prepared for the conditions, and I heard a few people were near hypothermic. SAR brought in harnesses and makeshift tethers for everyone. They were also aiding people with the use of the harnesses, which I'd imagine can be a problem when people bring their own gear and are unfamiliar with their use.

http://www.friendsofyosar.org/rescues/2009/6-13-09_HalfDomeFatality.html

Half Dome should be an adventure guided by experienced climbers. It's a solution that's good for the climbers, public and Park.

That is ridiculous! remove the cables, why because someone died. One person to ruin it the experience for everyone else. When you go to half dome you realize the danger. You could die! if you dont want to put yourself in that situation dont do it. I have a better chance of dieing in my car on the way to half dome. Should we make the world carless so no one dies? No that is the risk you take when you drive a car, when you go on the freeway. Why not just close the whole park so no one gets injured by a wild animal. I say its a steep climb, dont be an idiot and climb in the rain! Those rocks are slick.