Climbing to the precipice of Half Dome is not a task easily done, nor one that should be lightly considered. That much I think is a given to anyone who has accomplished the day-long hike, or anyone who has read or heard of the tragedies that have taken place on this famous outcrop of granite.
Since November alone there have been three fatal falls involving day hikers going up to the top of Half Dome or coming back down. And there was a fourth fatality involving a climber scaling the face. Against this backdrop comes a new book from Wilderness Press titled Yosemite's Half Dome, Everything you need to know to successfully hike Yosemite's most famous landmark.
Just 106 pages long, this book (MSRP $12.95) by Rick Deutsch is part travel guide, part history book, and part training guide. While there are some interesting tidbits -- did you know that in October 1875 a Scottish blacksmith drilled holes in the backside of Half Dome to string a rope so folks could pull themselves to the top, or that John Muir was the eighth person to reach the summit pulling himself up George Anderson's rope? -- I'm not sure this book is needed.
Word of mouth about scaling Half Dome is rampant, so much so that folks probably figure they can do it without the need for a book telling them how to do it.
If there's to be a quibble with the author, it's with his belief that "(T)his is basically a very safe hike..."
While Half Dome does not carry a reputation as a killer -- park rangers say that since 1971 there have been only nine falls from Half Dome, and only the most recent three resulted in fatalities -- scaling it is a very serious proposition due to the distance involved in a roundtrip assault, the exposure on the climb to the top, and the fact that Half Dome can be an incredible lightning rod.
I don't think it's much of a stretch to assume that the families of Emily Sandall, who slipped and fell to her death last November while trying to negotiate Half Dome in wet weather, or Jennie Bettles, who died in April while on Half Dome, or Hirofumi Nohara, who died this past June, would agree it was a very safe hike.