Death is the final appointment we can't avoid, the one we most regret. And yet we're fascinated with tragic deaths such as those that occur in the parks. Indeed, posts on the Traveler about deaths in the parks draw large readership. For those fascinated by such stories, Off the Wall: Death in Yosemite is a must-read.
Michael P. Ghiglieri and Charles R."Butch" Farabee, Jr., collaborated on the text, which neatly blends history with tragedy in Yosemite National Park. It's a hefty, 583-page book that didn't come together overnight.
"I spent 8 years researching the data," Mr. Farabee, a retired park ranger who worked on 1,000 search and rescue missions, tells me. "I have 1,530 entries, both natural and traumatic. Of course it keeps expanding every day. Michael and I spent the best parts of three years actually putting it together."
Mr. Ghiglieri was a perfect co-author for the book, as he has written a number of books, including Over the Edge: Death in Grand Canyon.
In Yosemite the two have tallied deaths related to construction accidents in the park as well as BASE jumping. They have stories of park visitors falling from the waterfalls that plunge into Yosemite Valley, stories of skiers and snowshoers dying in blizzards, stories of climbing deaths, and of deaths caused by lightning. And they have stories of fatal plane crashes, including the legendary story of Lodestar Lightning.
The Lodestar Lightning case evolved from the backcountry crash in December 1976 of a vintage Lockheed PV-1 Ventura that had been designed to serve as a light bomber and sub spotter. In this case, though, the plane's cargo was marijuana, bales and bales of marijuana. Killed when the plane went down in Lower Merced Pass Lake were pilot Jon Scott Glisky, 31, of Seattle, and his passenger, Jeffrey Carl Nelson, 29.
What made the case highly sensational was not the deaths of the two men, tragic as they were, but rather the efforts by more than a few Yosemite regulars to reach the lake and make off with some of the "Lodestar Lightning" before rangers could retrieve the marijuana from the lake.
Throughout the book the authors weave quite a bit of history, including more than a few pages on the background and construction of the Hetch Hetchy dam. The dam, of course, led to the drowning of an area that long has been called a miniature Yosemite Valley, a scenically dramatic corner of the park given a death sentence by politics and misguided water policies.
In that this book chronicles death in Yosemite, the Hetch Hetchy dam story had to be told. This dam and its 167 miles of aqueduct send an average of 220 million gallons of the Tuolumne per day to the Bay Area. San Francisco uses only a third of this water -- it sells the rest elsewhere..
Off the Wall: Death in Yosemite is a book rich in history and replete with stories of human tragedy. It's a text that also carries lessons of how to visit the park...and how not to.