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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."


Seems like the NPS should start charging folks who get hurt when they've obviously ignored warning signs.

If an ecologist were to request $20,000 for a serious study of genetic resistance to Asian blister rust infecting the subalpine whitebark and other five needle pines, chances are there would be little respect shown for that study by the NPS supervisors biased toward law enforcement, search & rescue. 

However, if a search and rescue operation required $20,000, approval would occur immediately even if the search ultimately failed as in the case of the 8-year old boy allegedly lost at Crater Lake NP near Cleedwood Cove  (October 2006). 

It  seems NPS's refusal to charge visitors for rescues hinges on a "command-control" acceptance to purge other accounts for priority rescues even when other worthy critical natural resource projects are expected to share the final total rescue costs. 

There are many incidents when visitors are clearly at fault, and yet the "general taxpayer"  is expected to fund recklessness !

It ought to be illegal, darnit.  And the punishment should be the cost of the search and rescue team's time and equipment to rescue the person.

And we're talking about the low-lying fruit here, the ones who obviously are flunking their social IQ test. The problem is making an agency-wide, or even a park-wide, rule that can equally be fairly applied. I'm certain that there are within the same park people who simply step in a hole and snap their ankle, or take their hat off and have their bald pate attacked by birds, or whatever, and are simply unlucky. The question is where to draw the line on the grey areas between the two extremes.

The question is where to draw the line on the grey areas between the two extremes.


Unlucky or "flunking their social IQ test" people need to take responsiblility.  Buy insurance or pay the price - your option.  True for front country, backcountry, driving your automobile or living your life. 


It's not only our national parks that spend enormous amounts of money on S&R.

One of the things I learned recently down at Timpanogos was that at least some of the fees paid by national forest and park users down there is passed on to the county to help pay for expenses incurred as they rescue forest users.  At least taxpayers who never use the federal lands are not stuck with 100% of the bill.

Where to draw the line and how to separate unlucky from just plain dumb?

How about some sort of S&R Court to make that determination when necessary?  A jury of our peers.


The court of individual responsibility.

If you are in a car accident, assuming you are insured, they pay no matter who is at fault or even if there is no fault.  S&R should be the same.  Insure for S&R or pay. 

That might be fine for people like us who are out and about all the time.  But what about a family from Brooklyn who might visit a park once in their lifetime?

And are you really certain that auto insurance always pays no matter what?

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