Recent comments

  • Half Dome Hiker Falls to His Death in Yosemite   5 years 32 weeks ago

    Someone asked about the difference between the Half Dome cables and what's there at Angels Landing. I've done both and I think I can comment a bit.

    Angels Landing is different. It's more exposed climbing with the possibility of falling off a sheer face. The hand-holds are actually heavy linked-chains, which provide pretty good grip on the basis of the links. If you slip on one link, you'll regain grip on the next link. They're left in there permanently and are located in places all the way up from Scout Lookout all the way to the top. There are points where holding onto the chains is helpful but not necessarily critical. There is decent grip for the feet since the sandstone is inherently like sandpaper, although it does sometimes slip a bit.

    Half Dome is very different. The cables are left permanently in place. The stanchions are placed in there around late May where they're inserted into previously drilled holes and the cables are secured at the top of each with some sort of screw-in device. I don't know how to describe it other than the top is threaded and there's some sort of screw-top cap; there must be a technical term for this kind of device. It would be possible to replace the stanchions, but the cable is pretty much permanent now. At each stanchion pair there's a wooden board which can serve as a resting point or a stopping point in case of a slip. These things aren't glued in, so you can often sense the stanchions coming out a bit (gravity keeps them in the holes), and some of the boards have loose fixtures to the stanchions.

    The cables have been made somewhat smooth over the years. In order to get good grip, you need gloves; I recommend the rubber-dipped palm ones like those made by Atlas Glove. There is a pile left in a drilled hole near the base of the cables, but often the NPS will remove them. Many are rotting because they're natural materials left out too long. The granite surface between the cables is noticeably worn, and reportedly it had decent grip as late as 20 years ago. You generally climb up with your hands/arms, and your feet follow. Most people climb down backwards. It's easier to stay upright w/ respect to gravity, and you don't have to look down. I would say it was much better when I was climbing up early morning before the day hiker rush (early afternoon) arrived. I could use both cables most of the way up. When going down, it's usually hand over hand on one cable.

    I didn't do it as a day trip (I was backcountry camping nearby and the round trip was maybe 5 miles) but most people do this as a grueling 16-18 mile round trip with an over 5000 ft one-way cumulative elevation gains (it dips sometimes). Angels Landing is maybe 6 miles round-trip and relatively easy until you get to Scout Lookout.

  • Half Dome Hiker Falls to His Death in Yosemite   5 years 32 weeks ago

    I have written the only guide book on the Half Dome hike, "One Best Hike: Yosemite's Half Dome." I also give over 40 talks on it, teach Adult Ed on it and maintain a website and daily blog on it. http://hikehalfdome.com I've done the hike 24 times and did it Saturday. Here is my June 15 blog on the fall.

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    Where do I start? By now you’ve heard about the death of Manoj Kumar, 40, from San Ramon, CA. He slipped off the Half Dome cables Saturday afternoon. I did the hike that day. I have a lot of info to share about change at the park, but will defer them.

    My party left the trailhead at Happy Isles at 5:30 am. We were in shorts and light shirts. The hike up to Little Yosemite Valley was beautiful – blue sky with just a few clouds. It was cool, so I drank way less than usual. I didn’t even need to pump-filter water at the Merced. We arrived at the cables about 10:15 and still it was very pleasant. Low clouds but no indication of bad weather. We knew that the recent weather was unpredictable in the afternoons, so we wanted to be heading back well before anything arrived. On the top it was still good, but a small cloud was moving in towards the northeast side of the rock. At 11:15, (checking time tags on the JPEGS) we took a photo of the flag of Wales that my 3 British companions brought. While we were on the Visor, a cloud danced in and back. We even had 15 minutes of clear sky overhead then it would move back in - just touching the visor and stopping. It was as if the sheer size of Half Dome was a barrier to the cloud’s progress. There was even a line of white “cloud” to the north of Tenaya Canyon clear towards the south of it. We descended about 12:15 and watched the cloud continue its in/out dance. The cables were always in the clear and people continued up the cables. Going down Sub Dome, it got pretty chilly so I put on my zip-off legs and a jacket. I felt very light drops of moisture. Continuing down into the forest, at 1:15, it started to hail. Only 5 minutes or so, but real small hail. I thought “Oh boy, those folks on the cables are in trouble.” People were still going up the trail towards the dome. About 2:30 it starting raining in earnest. I put on my poncho and continued down. It rained real heavy as we continued down the John Muir Trail. About 3:45 I could hear the helicopter heading up towards the dome with no indication of what was going on. I knew this was not a training mission. I did not heard about the accident until Sunday am. Turns out the park chopper dropped off 2 rangers who assessed Mr. Kumar and determined he was dead, but apparently in such a place that he could not be retrieved. His body remained overnight. Meanwhile 5 more rangers were dispatched to assist the estimated 41 hikers unable to get off the top or down the cables. This took until 8:30 Sat night and it was not until 1:45 am Sunday that everyone was back at the Happy Isles Trailhead!! I saw many that day with shorts and T-Shirts going up. (More typical of July.) I also saw a multitude wearing smooth soled sneakers on the cables and took a photo of a couple with TEVA sandals on. (I can only post 1 shot, so will delay that one.) As we have preached, the cable route is very smooth when bone dry and like motor oil when wet. Smooth soles shoes are pretty dumb. Clouds are full of moisture, folks. You do not “conquer” Half Dome, it lets you pass. Do not get cocky – it will be here another day to hike. Do it safely – get educated and prepare. R.I.P. Manoj.

  • Half Dome Hiker Falls to His Death in Yosemite   5 years 32 weeks ago

    I have not been to Yosemite (Its the one major Western park I haven't done) so I don't know anything about the trail. How does it compare to the cables on Angels Landing at Zion? My wife and I did that hike one weekend when we wren't originally planning to. We figured we could got to Scout Lookout and back, but when we got up there she wanted to push on. The trail was fine for us but it sounds like Half Dome is significantly harder than that was. As it was there were people on the cables at Angels Landing that I thought had no business out there, including one parent who was carrying their infant on their back in a carrier!

  • Half Dome Hiker Falls to His Death in Yosemite   5 years 32 weeks ago

    All that said about safety and precautions before climbing Half Dome...be superbly physical fit as possible! Clumsy hiking without sure fit health comes potential trouble. Know your endurance levels!

  • Half Dome Hiker Falls to His Death in Yosemite   5 years 32 weeks ago

    Let's compare Half Dome with a day trip down to the river in Grand Canyon National Park and Angels Landing in Zion NP. Having done all I think I can evaluate the dangers. All three parks are locations for mass tourism, the trips are inherently dangerous and on all of those trips every few years someone dies, while for hundreds of thousands it is an adventure of a lifetime.

    The problem with Half Dome is, that there is no suitable option to turn back, once you see the cables.

    At Scout Lookout in Zion you see the ridge to Angels Landing and can decide that this is not for you, but the view from Scout Lookout is enough of an reward in itself and neither time nor effort is "wasted" if you stay there, enjoy it and turn back from there.

    In GRCA at least on Bright Angel Trail you do lots of strenuous switchbacks to Indian Garden and can decide there if you want to go down to the river or just to Plateau Point. Both are great trips. On South Kaibab Trail there is no such break off point, but the people I talk about here don't go there anyway because of the lack of water.

    In YOSE and on the way to Half Dome the last suitable point to turn back before the summit is on top of Nevada Fall. That spot is spectacular, going there and turning back would not feel like waste of time and energy. But unfortunately you can't see the cables from there. Not by a long way. And once you circled the backside of Half Dome and finally see the sheer rock and the cables and the masses of people and maybe darkening clouds, human nature does not like to turn back and "lose" the effort of those miles and almost 2000 feet.

    Maybe better signage could help. If I remember and read my map correctly you can't see the southern flank of Half Dome from the top of Nevada Fall because Liberty Cap obstructs the view. But if you go on a a few hundred yards further along Merced River, the massive wall comes into view. This seems like a good place for large signs that point to the sheer granite rock and tell people that they can only get to the summit of Half Dome if they climb this with the help of only two cables while being pushed by everyone else. The ranger station is exactly at that point of the trail. It should be possible for the NPS to inform visitors there about the difficulty of the last leg and advise everyone who does not feel comfortable to admire the look from the Fall and turn back from there.

  • Half Dome Hiker Falls to His Death in Yosemite   5 years 32 weeks ago

    I don't believe the cables should come down, the quota system is a better idea, at least during "peak" periods in the park. All of the trails in the high country have quotas, it's not that hard to add this hike to the list. Climbing shoes are also an excellent idea, safety harness too.
    But here is the thing I don't hear anyone talking about, personal responsibility and accountability. I for one would not consider taking risks on Half-Dome. Not just because I could injure or kill myself, but also because my actions could injure or kill someone else. I don't know that I could live with that.
    Our society has for years tried to legislate responsibility, it does not work out very well too often. Everyone has a responsibility to themselves and to each other, especially in a crowded cable ascent or descent.
    If we all standby and say nothing and do nothing when we see people taking undue risks that could impact other people, we are all partly to blame. I know the weather was really bad that day, as it has been in the park most of June, but everyone knows the weather forecasts, they are posted everywhere, Think, then act, don't react! Ignorance and unpreparedness in the backcountry are not excuses, the information is there and it's everyone's responsibility to understand the risks and be prepared, and as the gentleman stated earlier, "Discretion is sometimes the better part of valor."

  • Half Dome Hiker Falls to His Death in Yosemite   5 years 32 weeks ago

    I was on Half Dome in 2007 when Nohara fell to his death. It was a similar case with chaos on the cables - an absolute log jam of people, with several panicked tourists frozen in fear and plugging up the route. I am shamed that I did not take a stronger position then.

    It was and continues to be absolutely negligent on the Park Service's part to not implement a quota system on the trail. There were over 400 people on the trail that day, with one group of over 150 people - many who had never hiked a difficult trail.

    I understand and am completely in agreement with the policy of "Climb at your own Risk" for climbers in Yosemite - but the Half Dome Trail is not this type of a climb. The sheer numbers lead to the false assumption that if there are so many people here and the Park allows it - "it must be safe".

    The Mt. Whitney trail is tightly controlled, the quotas strictly enforced, and the fine is large. No one really likes it - but everyone accepts it. Shasta, Rainier, and other large peaks have experienced and capable climbing rangers. Half Dome has Nothing! It is a ridiculous copout to say that the numbers cannot be controlled.

    The National Park Service needs to take responsibility for what happens on Half Dome. When a climber falls and dies on one of the Yosemite walls - it is truly his or her responsibility. When a tourist slips and falls off the cables - it is the negligence and responsibility of the Park Service.

    If the Cables were not available, climbers would not do this route without ropes and protection. Both the granite and the cables are slick and polished, the route is at the limit of friction for climbing shoes. This is not a novice route. Thanks to the poster for the note about climbing shoes, I head up on Thursday and will be using a harness and slings - may even take the chalk bag.

    Park Service, either take responsibility for this route, implement some controls, add a climbing ranger for the peak periods - or Take down the Cables.

  • Suicide? Murder? What Secrets Lie in that Grave on the Natchez Trace?   5 years 32 weeks ago

    I agree with the family of Meriwether Lewis, he deserves a Christian burial and the Park should allow his remains to be exhumed to be examined. The decision should be left to the descendants of Meriwether Lewis.
    I have been praying fervently for one year that the family would continue pushing for a Christian burial. I was excited to see the website asking for people to write letters to allow him to be exhumed. It would also settle the dispute of whether he was murdered or commited suicide. I , for one , think that he was murdered.
    I will continue praying that the family gets their wish . He deserves to be treated better than this , people !
    IT's up to the family and what they say , goes !

  • Half Dome Hiker Falls to His Death in Yosemite   5 years 32 weeks ago

    I am planning to climb Half-Dome on June 26th, and you can BET I will be there with a harness and safety equipment to make the climb. I read a discussion where -- incredibly -- those posting were actually denigrating the need for safety equipment. Perhaps this latest fatal accident will discourage the unprepared from making the attempt, and those who do prepare themselves to take those extra steps that will protect their own lives, AS WELL AS THE LIVES OF THOSE BELOW THEM. It is perhaps a miracle that any one of the fatal slip and falls at HD did not involve a cascade where a dozen people lose their lives. It can happen -- as it did at Mt. Hood a few years ago -- and it may well happen at HD someday. I would not object if the NPS instituted a permit policy, as is required to climb Mt. Whitney, or if they limited access to the cables to those with a climbing harness and safety equipment.

  • Half Dome Hiker Falls to His Death in Yosemite   5 years 32 weeks ago

    thank you that was the most constructive advise ive seen and i will take all of it to heart

  • Half Dome Hiker Falls to His Death in Yosemite   5 years 32 weeks ago

    I was there when this tragedy happened and everyone was attempting to come down from the top. I witnessed the whole thing and was closest to him when he passed the base of the cables which is where I was standing looking up watching the tragedy unfold. What actually happened is very difficult to tell, but I do want to clarify that nobody was going up to the top at 3:40, everyone was attempting to come down due to the weather. Also, it was extremely cold and the rock was slippery with flowing streams of water and hail. Its very unfortunate that this occured, but from what I saw and experienced, this tragedy could have occured over dozen times that afternoon meaning I saw many people lose their foot and slip and catch themselves before falling to their own deaths including two of my friends that were directly below me as I ascended the cables. You can say all you want about not being prepared or exposing yourself even more to danger, but if you werent there and were not put into that situation, you really can judge anyone for whatever decisions they chose to do that day. We are all obviously different and think and react different under stressful situations. There are those that can keep their mind clear and think through the situation and there are those that do panic and but in the end nobody will really know how to react until its all said and done. In my case, I kept myself mentally strong and told myself I have a family that I NEED to return to as well as them wanting me back so I dug down deep within myself to make sure I made it down alive. I thank god and those who stayed around to help other to guide those in distress. Just my 2 pennies!!!

  • Half Dome Hiker Falls to His Death in Yosemite   5 years 32 weeks ago

    that is an ignorant comment the park should instill further rules such as, no climbing half dome when the weather is so bad that even if you have education and training, your endangering your own life and the lives of others.

  • Half Dome Hiker Falls to His Death in Yosemite   5 years 32 weeks ago

    I was there May 31 09. There were scattered T-storms and it did hail up on top of the dome. On the three days I was there it began raining around 1pm-4pm. My hiking boots with vibram sole were slipping off the steepest end of the cables. I must of slipped twice descending.

  • Unusual Prehistoric Hunting Artifact Was a Lucky Find at Denali   5 years 32 weeks ago

    I used to find lots of antler and bone projectile points and other tools at surface sites along the coast and waterways in northwestern Alaska. The warmer summers in the interior likely contribute to greater rates of decay.

  • Tourist Traffic At Hawaiian National Parks Way Down This Year   5 years 32 weeks ago

    There is no question that visitor numbers are markedly down in Hawaii. It takes awhile for the economic impacts of the mainland to affect Hawaii, because many people make their reservations several months out. However, once the recession reaches the state it tends to last longer then it does in most of the other states. Tourism is the primary economic engine here, and the national parks in the state are important drawing cards. I manage a small visitor accommodation property on Maui and have contacts with many others involved in the visitor service industry. We are actually doing o.k. so far, but many others are feeling the pinch. I have noticed that the traffic on the road to Haleakala is down considerably. For those who do come to Hawaii, there are lots of great bargains that can be had, and you won't feel crowded.

  • Roped-Together Climbers Die in Fall On Mount McKinley in Denali National Park and Preserve   5 years 32 weeks ago

    That is so sad!!

  • Half Dome Hiker Falls to His Death in Yosemite   5 years 32 weeks ago

    I was there Friday also we also made sure to be up there early and were off the rock by 12:30 when clouds started forming. This was also our second time. I had my 10 year old with me and never would have gone up the cables iif there were rain clouds or wet rock. I also had a $10 rope and caribeener for my son. I think i'm wearing something myself next time for peace of mind, especially because of all the people's packs bumping into us on the way down. Thi s is such an amazing hike. You just need to start early and be safe.

  • Half Dome Hiker Falls to His Death in Yosemite   5 years 32 weeks ago

    We've had interesting discussions about using harnesses during the peak season on a Yosemite message board. Some of the opinions are that it could be unethical because of the possibility that a falling harnessed climber could possibly drag other people off the cables if their ropes catch someone else on the way down.

    I never really thought of it before I went, but shoes are important. I wore one pair of Vibram-soled backpacking boots for my entire trip a couple of years ago, including the HD ascent/descent. The granite between the cables has gotten progressively slicker over the years. Some of the indications are that the slick nature is a result of the more recent (exponential) use and that maybe 20 years ago it still had decent grip. A pair of real climbing shoes could be helpful. They only weigh about 1 lb for a pair, and you don't need ankle support for the cables.

    As for those going outside the cables, I got the suspicion that most are idiots. Typically younger testosterone-filled men or teens.

  • KHV Virus Implicated in Lake Mohave Carp Die Off   5 years 32 weeks ago

    The common carp was introduced into America's waters starting in the early 1830s. That's a l-o-n-g time ago. Once a species has been here "long enough," we stop thinking of it as an import and think of it as a permanent part of the American scene. We eventually forget that the ring-necked pheasants in our parks were imported from Asia in the 1800s (by way of England, in many cases), that the rainbow trout in the streams of Great Smoky were originally transplanted from California, and that every single salmon caught by fishermen in Sleeping Bear Dunes National Park can be traced to non-native stock.

  • Half Dome Hiker Falls to His Death in Yosemite   5 years 32 weeks ago

    I did the hike on Monday (June 8th) -- well prepared, climbing carabiner/rope, left early to get off the top by 11:00 to advoid the weather. and was prepared to turn around if the weather got iffy. I was amazed at the number of people climbing on the outside of the cables. I'm so sad this accident happened, but not suprised.

  • KHV Virus Implicated in Lake Mohave Carp Die Off   5 years 32 weeks ago

    I thought that carp were non-native...if so, is this really a bad thing?

  • Historical Graffiti   5 years 32 weeks ago

    In the book Cities of Gold, the author (Douglas Preston) visits El Morro. Apparently at one point the park service removed all signatures from after a certain date. Unfortunately those included some pretty cool ones, one of which was supposedly William H. Bonney, AKA Billy the Kid.

  • Half Dome Hiker Falls to His Death in Yosemite   5 years 32 weeks ago

    1. Climb the cables take a harness. Get a couple of slings and a carabineers. Rent from the mountain shop. One person falls inside the cables can turn into a real disaster.
    2. Be ready for rain and thunder even on what starts out to be a hot sunny day. Afternoon thundershowers on hot days often bring lightning as well as a solid downpour. It is common.
    3. Know your shoes. Some shoes are stickier than others.
    4. The steepness of the rock can be hard to judge without experience. And even with experience it can be hard to judge.
    5. Keep in mind that all that is needed for your foot to slip is some loose stuff. A little sand sized granite. A pebble. Also, sometimes the granite will flake off under your foot. Watch out for dirt. Best thing, follow the main traffic flow - between the cables.
    6. Wet granite is slippery. Climbers head to the tent or bar in wet conditions.
    7. Be patient. Leave your superman cape at home or at least at the base.
    8. Just because one person gets outside of the cables and makes it look easy does not mean it is. They could be an expert on the granite. They could have special sticky shoes. They could be an idiot.
    9. Have a great time because it is worth it.
    10. One last thing: Don't swim above the upper fall. The current is strong. It will get you and take you over this time of year.
    11. Have a great time because it is worth it.

  • Half Dome Hiker Falls to His Death in Yosemite   5 years 32 weeks ago

    I also am not sure about more rules in Yosemite . . . more common sense would be a good thing. Many years ago our church took a group of junior high and high school kids to YNP for a weeklong work-camp. The boys wanted to climb Half Dome . . . of course when the girls heard that they also wanted to go. One adult who had experience on the route volunteered to lead and I (having no desire to go to the top) volunteered to go and walk back with anyone who we felt shouldn't make the attempt. Both the group that made the top and those who just went for the great hike had a good day. The rangers have their hands full enforcing the rules already in existence. Earlier this month I say people cooking on top of the bear lockers at Curry Village and numerous bikes on the trail to Lower Yosemite Falls . . . both a no-no according to the rules. Visitors just need to realize and respect where they are when in any NP.

  • Paraplegic Soldier Uses Courage, Determination, and 4,254 Pull-ups to Climb El Capitan   5 years 32 weeks ago

    Prof. Bob,
    What a great inspirational article. As an incomplete paraplegic myself, I can relate to the Majors feelings. I to was told I probably would never walk again, 7 years ago. Although my activities are nowhere near the Majors I will use this article in my future presentations as a Peer Councilor to other Spinal Cord Patients at the VA Hospital in Richmond, Virginia.

    Semper Fi
    Larry