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Ignoring Warning Signs Leads To Four Accidents In Four Days At Same Location In Yosemite National Park


The pool below Lower Yosemite Falls on a typical summer day. NPS photo.

The Lower Yosemite Fall Trail at Yosemite National Park is a favorite with visitors, but despite warnings from park officials, some tourists just can't resist getting off the trail. The result earlier this month was four consecutive days with 911 calls due to accidents near the footbridge over Yosemite Creek.

There's a good reason this trail is so popular with visitors'”the short, easy walk provides what the park website calls "spectacular views of both Upper and Lower Yosemite Falls" during the months the water is flowing. The park staff also has some good advice that they try to disseminate via a variety of methods, including a description of the trail on the park website. It cautions: 

"Stay on the paved trail. Above the wooden footbridge that crosses Yosemite Creek, the rocks and boulders are slippery even when dry. Scrambling off-trail in this area has led to serious injuries."

That's good advice, but of course some visitors assume it doesn't apply to them, and on many days you'll find quite a crowd scrambling around on the boulders near the bridge or swimming in the river. That activity resulted in a recent rash of injuries that prompted calls for help to the park's Emergency Communications Center on four days in a row.

On Sunday, August 3, a 45-year-old male was upstream from the footbridge, standing on a rock, when his foot slipped out from under him and he slid down the face of the rock to the ground. As he slid, he struck his head on the rock, and was bleeding behind his left ear.

On Monday, August 4, a 19-year-old female, while scrambling on a slick boulder at the base of Lower Yosemite Fall, slipped and took a five-foot sliding fall off the boulder. She was unable to walk, so she was extricated by a Yosemite Search and Rescue carryout team. She suffered a serious ankle fracture that will require surgical repair and will have an extensive period of recovery.

The following day, August 5, a 14-year-old female lost her grip while scrambling on a boulder, slid headfirst down the rock and injured her left wrist while trying to slow her fall. The victim told emergency responders she was nearly certain she had fractured her wrist; the good news: no fracture was noted on a subsequent x-ray, and she was diagnosed with a severe sprain.

Finally, on Wednesday, August 5, a 45-year-old male slipped and fell while scrambling on uneven terrain not far upstream from the footbridge, spraining his ankle.

After a four day pause, yet another incident occurred in this same area on Sunday, August 10. A 26-year-old male was scrambling on the rocks between the footbridge and the base of the waterfall when he slipped and fell, sustaining a large scalp laceration which required "repair" at the Yosemite Medical Clinic.


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The bridge near the falls is close enough to get pretty wet from the spray when the falls are flowing strongly. Photo by Jay Bergesen via Flick and Creative Commons .

Park officials note that "Although it is not illegal to scramble up to the pool, it is strongly discouraged due to the risk of injury and also for the risk to responders of these incidents. While you may see many people doing this during your visit, please remember how truly dangerous it can be and make smart choices."


"Even though it is tempting to leave the trail and scramble to the bases of Yosemite'™s waterfalls, especially as water levels drop, the boulders at the base of waterfalls are always treacherous. Even when dry, the granite rocks remain surprisingly slick, having been polished smooth by the pounding, falling water most of the year."

Is convincing everyone who visits parks to use good judgment in such situations a lost cause? Based on the above recent examples, that seems to be the case.

A review of this trail on a popular on-line travel site help sums up the difficulty in promoting public safety in locations such as Yosemite:

"Once you reached the Lower Falls, just enjoy the view and take a photo or two from the bridge. Then you walk around the bridge towards the boulder and climb around the obstacle to get close to the water fall...We get very closed to the water fall and had fun getting across the boulder, rocks and people who are coming down. It is fun experience but there is a warning sign that it is "Danger" so be careful and make sure you have a good shoe to walk up and down these boulder which could get slippery when wet."

And a second on-line "reviewer" of this trail notes:

"Most people stay back at the fence area snapping pictures from far away but if you have the inclination to look past the "dangerous to climb" signs you'll be able to really appreciate the beauty of nature."

It's pretty clear that far too many people "have the inclination."


Okay, folks, we're wandering off track into personal battles in the last couple of comments, so let's get back to the topic at hand, or bow out of the discussion. 

There's a difference between courage, and being over your head and unpreppared.  There are many skilled outdoorsman out there that have cut their teeth over the years on terrain and weather conditions that they could manage, before trying to attempt something more challenging.  All require some courage, regardless.  What's ironic are the types that are way out of their element, all the sudden think they are Ed Viesturs, when all they have done was a few minor peaks, and attempt peaks 5 times the size of what they have done, and in weather conditions far removed from anything they have ever dealt with.  I can name a few instances just this year where this has occurred.  This happened last year in the smokies when a group of unpreppared 20 year olds from the warm climate of South Carolina thought they could trek 10 days in the Smokies during winter, when they had ZERO days of experience in such conditions.  Didn't even make it 6 miles before realizing they were in over their heads, and all started succumbing to frostbite.  This same sort of scenario also seems to have also happened to someone else that posts here, that loves to bash S&R on any occasion, but sure did need it once when he was way out of his element too.  I also find it very ironic that someone who makes their money from taxpayer funded school districts, thinks they are "private sector" and thinks that makes them immune from the same hyperbole that they dish out.  But hey, logic and reason escape some people, and they are usually the ones that end up being the ones that need a "bailout".  Hypocrisy, much?

One thing is for sure.  People who have the courage to venture off trail are not cowards who shy away from challenges and hide under their wife's skirt.  They don't talk about doing things, they just do them.  And I'm fine with my tax dollars helping the occasional guy who gets in over his head.  I know someone here who recently got way in over his head and has been cowering ever since.  He will likely be cowering for the rest of his life because of his inability to win the battle with fear.

Ohh boy, another fine day at the National Parks Troller comment section. 

1. 4 days in a row of S&R were performed in the same spot, because people that were over their heads ignored signs and warning which led to their injuries. What's the alternative? Having a park ranger stationed at that area 24/7? 

2. Interestingly (or is it more ironically), it seems that middle aged men, many of which are suffering from middle-aged crisis's for reasons known only to them are some of the biggest accounts of expensive S&R.  Quite a few of these mid-life crisis accounts usually require a military helicopter to rescue them. When such a greenhorn gets in over their head, and their own stupidity almost kills them, I guess they can write a book about it to try and justify their actions so they can try to profit off their stupidity.  But anyone with a brain, could realize that this guy is over his head, inexperienced, and should have not attempted something he had no business trying to do.  Happens a lot.  There's a big difference between the guy that was just unlucky in the woods and had a tree fall on him, or a boulder come down on him, and the guy that was well over his head, and in a situation he put himself into because he wasnt prepared, which of course puts those "unimportant rangers" and "meaningless helicopter pilots" at risk in order to save their butts.  Talk about ungrateful.

Search and rescues are but a miniscule fraction of the NPS budget but they sure know how to get the most media exposure out of them.   It is an unfortunate by product of an agency that continually justifies its own bloated, bureacratic payrolls.  It is titillating and salacious but absolutely negligible in the grand scheme of the NPS.  Not nearly as riveting as crime statistics for a trailhead, for example.  I would suggest someone delve into that story and see how fast the NPS squirms to avoid showing the public how they have dealt with known problem areas.   Simple solutions such as trailhead cameras are dismissed in favor of nothing and the public gets victimized at areas with documented high thefts.  These car clouting incidents cost the taxpayers millions per year but in order to get those stats, you must file a freedom of information act request.  It is just another example of bureaucratic diversion and Jarvis' "make the public feel the pinch" mentality.  By doing nothing about trailhead crime, for instance, the NPS can cry for more rangers,   most  end up jockeying not steel horses but desks.  Every now and again they can jump up and push a litter up a trail and wheel someone down with a sprained ankle and be touted as heroes.  Then the NPS sends their employees to these blogs and elsewhere to say that we should pay more to use the National Parks because their entry fees are not in line with Disneyland.   You really can't make this stuff up.  Its almost as ridiculous as a national park saying they have 9 million visitors when in fact, the truth isn't even a fraction of that number because a main road happens to intersect it and folks have no choice but to drive through it.  You get counted coming and going and soon you have 9 million hits.  Then you can cry to the public that you are being loved to death when most of those "visitors" never even really knew they were even in a national park.

Jarvis brought this on himself.  But what can you expect from a guy whose brother is a lobbyist for a rafting company on the Grand Canyon.  I'm sure he received no special treatment from his sibling.  Maybe Jarvis brother can align himself with global rescue and come up with a capitated rate for rescues in the NPS?  Theres an idea, boys!

Nah. I'm comfortable with my years of experience

I will go with the facts.  You can live in your la la experience.

"where to draw the line in the gray territory in between "wrong" and "innocent" is difficult."

Agreed.  So lets not make drawing the line necessary.  Put yourself at risk - you are responsible.  Whether you want to insure against that or not is your choice. 

Nah. I'm comfortable with my years of experience in this versus your corporate apologist stance, and am not going to parse sentences and suchlike with you. Please feel free to claim you "won" this discussion if it's that important to you.


My original point is that charging those who clearly and stupidly screw up past warning signs is fine, but fnding the point where to draw the line in the gray territory in between "wrong" and "innocent" is difficult.

There is absolutely no factual basis behind your emphatic and absolute statements.

Which statement are you claiming has no factual basis?  Perhaps you would like to provide some evidence than any of my statements are wrong. 

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