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Backpacker Magazine – October 2008

America's 10 Most Dangerous Hikes - Mist Trail, Half Dome, CA

Swallowed by Sierra scenery

by: Kelly Bastone

Mist Trail, Half Dome, CA (Michael Clark)
Mist Trail, Half Dome, CA (Michael Clark)

The Hike The iconic symbol of Yosemite grandeur, Half Dome just begs to be climbed. The seven-mile route to this granite landmark via the Mist Trail sees 2,500 to 3,000 people per day during summer weekends, making it the most heavily trafficked corridor in the park. People endure fatigue, altitude sickness, and dehydration in their determination to stand atop Half Dome's broad 8,836-foot-high crown. Steel cables bolted into the granite assist climbers up the final 400 vertical feet, but the combination of high, open rock and metal fixtures makes this a lousy place to get caught in an electrical storm. And once the raindrops start falling, the rock becomes treacherously slick. Yosemite's search and rescue team responds to 300 incidents each year–more than any other national park–and not surprisingly, Half Dome claims its share: six deaths since 1995.

Exhibit A Rescuers had to rappel 800 feet to recover the shattered remains of Japanese hiker Hirofumi Nohara, 37, who cartwheeled 1,200 feet down Half Dome's sheer face into the granite ravine below after trying to squeeze past hikers ahead of him on the cables. Alas, the fatality didn't surprise park employees, who've seen people do many stupid things to earn their "I climbed Half Dome" T-shirts. "We see people taking risks [to claim one] that they might not ordinarily take," says ranger Scott Gediman. In 1985, five hikers defied signs of a pending storm and marched up Half Dome only to get blasted by lightning. Last year, three hikers in three separate accidents fell to their deaths from Half Dome's upper reaches; two had attempted the route when the cables were down, and they lost their footing on the wet granite. On crowded weekends when hundreds of hikers clog the cables, it's impossible to make a fast exit when storms threaten. Says Gediman, "I've been on the cables when they were so packed with people I couldn't move up and couldn't move down–it became real dangerous."

Survival Plan Assess your fitness level honestly: The Mist Trail is a rigorous hike. And leave early–no later than 5 a.m.–to give yourself the best shot at completing it. Hike on a weekday between late May and early October, a period when the cables have generally been installed. Assess the sky before you commit to the cables, and never climb them when the rock is wet: That's when almost every fall from Half Dome has occurred.

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Sep 22, 2012

Just summited half dome 9/20....nothing like it! Did the entire round trip in 9.5 hours from the valley floor. Having said that, experience is required to do this climb...I've logged lots of miles in the sierras, Adirondacks, and the cascades and this one does challenge more than the prepared...

1st Time Hike
Aug 12, 2012

My daughter age 9 and I just hiked the dome and it will be one of the best memories we will ever have.

Michael B
Aug 11, 2012

Blah blah blah...I hiked HD 37 years ago when I was 21. It was no big deal then. Spent the night up there. No permits. Well I'm 58 now and have tried it from Glacier Pt twice. Only made it about half way between LYV and SD. It was simple at 21 but it's kick ass now. BUT... I'm still goin up that sucker. Just have to restrategize. Don't be stupid yooz!

Adventure Hiker
Jul 15, 2012

Observe all the dead lightning scarred trees as you stand on the saddle before the final ascent. If the weather at all looks doubtful, look at the dead trees again before deciding if you should really be going up. Turning around is an option... the rock will be there for a long time.

Rick Hilts
Apr 22, 2012

Restricted numbers on the Half Dome trail gets my vote, not taking down the cables.
The cable path should be moved over to the left a little bit to put the cable trail on rougher granite.
I realize the effort of drilling new holes on one new side for the cable stantions.
I think the most dangerous part of the rock accent and decent is the shoulder section of loose, decomposing granite before and after you leave the glove pit staging area.

Rick Hilts
Apr 22, 2012

Restricted numbers on the Half Dome trail gets my vote, not taking down the cables.
The cable path should be moved over to the left a little bit to put the cable trail on rougher granite.
I realize the effort of drilling new holes on one new side for the cable stantions.
I think the most dangerous part of the rock accent and decent is the shoulder section of loose, decomposing granite before and after you leave the glove pit staging area.

Sam, California
Sep 25, 2011

Did this hike Yesterday; midnight hike. We left at 11PM and got up to sub-dome at 4:30 am with ample food, rest, water breaks. As we headed up the SD, the clouds looked to be coming in so we headed back down to wait it out to see if they passed; around 5:30 a couple guys from the group hiked up and checked, after directing to another group headed up earlier the clouds, it looked to be clear for awhile. We headed up and got to the cables by 6 and all nine of us were up by 6:20; the skies still clear, and the sun about to rise. It was absolutely amazing in every way possible. We stayed up for a few hours to have breakfast and watch the sunrise.

This hike CAN be dangerous, it's just being smart about your own actions and what's a smart thing to do. Go with a group that has some experienced hikers, we went up with six experienced hikers, one who had never climbed HD, and three who have never climbed HD or any thing to this level. The hike is in physical demand for there is a lot of elevation climb and the steps can be hard on the joints.

The clouds weren't omnious, but we weren't about to risk our lives; be smart. We stayed at the top for about 4 hours and headed down around 10:30. By the time we started trekking down the sub; clouds were moving in fast. We warned everyone going up because an hour later in the LYV, it was pouring. By mist trail: thunder, lightning, hail, and a slippery trail being shared by hundreds at 3PM. Even then the Mist Trail becomes very dangerous with all the traffic and i just don't understand the need of parents to keep trekking up the trail with the winds coming in too and their children wearing shirts and shorts.

In short, be smart, pack the necessary items, plenty of water; more than enough.

The midnight hike was perfect because we couldn't see what was ahead of us-nothing to deter our motivation--with a perfectly cloudless and star filled sky. THe most difficult thing about this hike during our breaks was how cold it actually was, I brought probably 5 different kinds of layers and went through every one of them in different mix and matches. It added some weight to my pack but so glad I brought every piece.

Sep 24, 2011

I've hiked Half Dome several times. The first time I was in my 40's started at 5AM at Happy Isles and returned by 3PM. Fortunately there was only 1 person hiking down Half Dome when I started up and I hiked down the Dome before there were any crowds. On top I could see a huge fire just outside of YV. I got down to the campground and found the Valley exits closed. The next morning the rangers came by and said everyone had one hour to get out. There was fire close to the car and smoke everywhere during a scary ride out.
My last hike to HD was done in 2009 in May. I started from Little Yosemite Valley and was up and down to LYV by 1 PM. Though no rain was forecast, it poured from 2PM to 4 PM. I did the count from flash to thunder and when it got to 1 I was very scared. I packed up and hiked out after the rain stopped and rain into two young fellows that were starting up Half Dome when the lightning started to hit. They ran down not making the peak but happy to be alive. Start early, get down early. Take some minimal survival gear, thermal blanket, etc. You can't trust Mother Nature.

Sep 06, 2011

Honestly I've walked on wet granite and it is really, really frightening. I had two hiking poles and it didn't matter, I could have lost my footing at any moment. Just don't do it. If it's wet, just go back and try it another day. It's tough enough when you're on regular granite that is well worn. 18 people have died this year in Yosemite because they took stupid and unnecessary risks. No hike is worth losing your life.

bud phillips
Aug 11, 2011

I went up HD a month ago in July, 2011. Left the TH at 5 AM and was back down by noon. The permit system is done entirely on-line, with no first-come, first- serve daily permits. The limit is 400/day, many of whom I think do not get to HD because of the elevation gain. The NPS is doing an environmental assessment to determine future management.

Have no doubts about the danger of this hike. Having done eight of Backpacker's ten most dangerous hikes, I think HD is by far the most dangerous. It is a strenuous hike to get to the base of the cables, and the cables are a steep 35- 40 degree 400 feet to the top. The granite is well worn by the thousands of shoes/boots that have gone up and down it. 35-40 degrees may not sound like that steep, but doing it on polished granite while hanging on to steel cables, passing or waiting on other users going up or down the cables, and the exposure, will get the attention of most hikers. My admittedly small snapshot of seven users going up the cables after I got down, included two who were "scared sh----ss" (their words) and one who came back down after getting perhaps a quarter of the way up. And, coming back down will be scarier than going up for most people. If you plan to go up, start early with the right equipment and water, be in good shape, wear the correct footwear, watch the weather, and take your own leather gloves for the cables. The pile of used gloves at the base of the cables could be subject to wind removal - take your own that fit. Watching the weather is especially important. A hiker died coming down the cables a few days after I went up, and probably fell because the granite was slick from a recent storm, according to the NPS.

However, after watching so many hikers over the years who overestimate their abilities, are ignorant about the right equipment and footwear, and the males who are driven by testosteronic ego to do stupid things, my recommendation to the NPS is to remove the cables. I think the human race apparently just ain't that smart and some will screw it up and die. Rocky Mountain NP removed a set of cables on the North Face of Long's Peak several decades ago - Yosemite should do the same.

Gary Ungricht
Aug 04, 2011

I have summited Half Dome, four times, during my life time. The last time was in June of 2010, at the age of 60 years. This is a very strenuous hike, requiring stamina and perserverance. Each time, I started at Glacier Point and ended at Happy Isles. I paced myself, particularly taking my time to climb the subdome. These are a must: ample water, very good hiking boots, small flashlight, mosquito repellant, food, a hiking buddy, and,by all means, a camera.

Jul 01, 2011

I loved this hike but only got as far as the cables and so didn't make the final ascent. I'm a distance hiker but to be honest I wasn't fully aware how strenuous this would be and I just didn't have it in me. I'm sure all involved need shows of patience but I didn't want to be the gasping and stalling one who frustrated those behind me. That was back in 1999 and I enjoyed the hike so much I feel no regret about not making the final push.

Jan 03, 2011

This is one of the most enjoyable and most rewarding hikes in the U.S. With plenty of elevation gained and lost during the hike, it is definitely not for the faint of heart or the under-equipped/under-fit.
I had the privilege of hiking the entire 17-something miles in one day, though I finished it at around 9pm. Plenty of water and energy rich food is always of great assistance, especially just after the summit is gained. Also, good broken-in footwear is a must, as the climb and descent is both long, and arduous. For those who have succeeded, and made it to the top of Half Dome, (and back) my hat goes off to you- you have indeed had a wonderful experience, and it will stay with you for a lifetime.
See you on the trail!!!

Branch Whitney
Dec 31, 2010

Half Dome is one of my favorite hikes in the country, but dangerous? No. If Backpacker was really serious about dangerous hikes, they would include White Pinnacle Peak (Red Rock Canyon) way more exposure than Angels Landing without any chains.

Lyn G
Dec 30, 2010

As of 2010, Half Dome has a permit system for anyone attempting the climb from Friday - Sunday. I believe the limit is 700 or 800 people per day. So Monday is now the "crazy" day. I have seen people attempting the climb with no water wearing flip-flops.

Phil R
Dec 30, 2010

We climbed half-dome after camping overnight at Little Yosemite Valley. That eliminated the arduous climb from the valley floor and the first 2000+ ft. of elevation gain on the same day as climbing the cables. We left camp at 7 a.m. the next morning and were back before 2 p.m. That included an hour for lunch on the top of Half Dome. We took our time and beat the crowds up and down the cables. The next morning we hiked down the mist trail in plenty of time to take pictures and be down for a great lunch. I would not consider climbing Half Dome any other way. You can also get to Little Yosemite Valley from Happy Isle--a strenuous climb with full pack--but there is no rush the first day. Or you can come via Tuoulumne Meadows on the John Muir Trail (or Tenaya Lake) and spend two or three days getting to Little Yosemite Valley. We used the Yosemite transit system to take us to Toulumne Meadows.

Oct 07, 2010

I hiked to the top of Half Dome in late June of this year. Although I wanted to depart earlier, I didn't arrive at the trailhead til about 11:00. No matter; I'm a very experienced hiker and climber, and there was no threat of t-storms or even a cloud in the sky. I do wish I would have kept my pack a little lighter, though. I arrived at the top at about 5 PM, which was great, because I was one of the few people up there. Seeing the view from the top with the late afternoon sun was amazing. Part of my extra weight was a bottle of still-cold beer that I brought to the top with me--breathtaking.....the price to pay was having to hike the last 3 miles out in the dark, but I just took my time and placed my feet carefully.

Hugh Mobile, AL
Sep 18, 2010

Incredible day hike encompassing magnificent scenery and providing considerable physical and mental challenge. The views of Vernal Falls and Nevada Falls early in the morning are amazing. Also, if you can summit well before noon when the sky is not hazy, the 360 degree views at the top are beyond description. I have done this with each of my two boys. At the time, they were 14 and 22. It was a great bonding experience for us. Downside Other than the 4850 feet of vertical climb and the mental challenge presented by the steps of Subdome and the cables at Half Dome, there is no down side. Comment In my opinion, this is the ultimate day hike in America. It is a tough hike. You will be tired at the end, however the scenery and the sense of accomplishment are well worth it. A few recommendations: First, make sure that you arrive at the trail head early. You will want to summit a good bit before noon to avoid the conjestion on the cables, avoid afternoon thunderstorm possibilities and to experience the clearest haze-free sky at the top. Remember, you will have a half mile walk from the closest parking lot to the actual trail head so don't forget to factor that in. Second, make sure that you adequately prepare. I did a great deal of distance walking starting about 60 - 90 days before going. Additionally, at least once a week I spent at least 30 minutes walking up/down steps. A local football stadium works great. If you live at sea level , like we do, make sure that you acclimate prior to dolng the hike. We spent our first day on Tioga Road and did a great hike, Lembert Dome and Dog Lake, prior to doing HD. Next, enjoy the hike. You may have a tendency to want to get back down once you've summited. Admittedly, the cables and Subdome will test your mental resolve, however...the views are fantastic at the top; enjoy them and rest up a bit. Also, the scenery on the way up and down is spectacular. You're not in a race. We've made it both times in 9 - 10 hours which provided plenty of time at the top and in between. Fourth, we took the Mist trail up and down. Most people don't recommend this. For us, it shortened the distance by 2.4 miles (1.2 miles each way). As mentioned earlier, we did a great deal of stair climbing prior to going so our knees were conditioned. We didn't experience any knee pain. On my first trip, we came down on the Muir trail which was beat up and pretty hard on us. I believe that the Mist trail is in much better shape and no harder on you than the Muir trail. Lastly, you may want to consider soaking your feet in the 40 degree water of the Merced River on the way down. There are plenty of places to do this. I can't tell you how refreshed we were afterwards.
I hope that this helps and wish you the best.

Olin Batchelor
Aug 06, 2010

I hiked Half Dome in 2003 at age 70. Great Hike! I Started from the Valley floor at 5:30am and was on the top at 11:35am. I spent a hour wandering around the 13 acres that is the area on top, looked over the edge from "devil diving board", had lunch then followed a terrified 14year old and his uncle down the cables. I was back at my car at 5:15, a 19 mile hike. A thrill of a lifetime. I may do it again in 2013 when I'm 80. If you are planning on climbing Half dome, be forewarned, it is a dangerous hike...
Jan 19, 2010

I did this as 60 year old with an old buddy.
We both were in good shape, we were running
up to 10 miles/day before we began this trip. My
advice: start before dawn, pace yourself, only bring
water and stuff like Cliff Bars and Gu on the all
day trip up. We made it to
the top and got back to the valley at sunset. Worth
every step!

Dave N
Jan 04, 2010

I did the Half Dome hike 5 times when I was younger. Me and a friend would plan Sierra backpacking trips each summer and start the season with a trip up HD in early June. You should always be in good shape for this hike. I was there this last summer and am now 50, and did just the Mist trail to the top of Vernal falls and knew then that I was in no shape for the trip up Half Dome, so new plans were made. Of the 5 previous trips the best one was when we did Clouds rest and Half Dome in one day. We left the valley floor at 9:00 pm under a full moon. We had to use flashlights until we reached to top of Vernal falls then the moon was casting shadows, and we only needed the flashlights briefly to keep on trail. We got to Clouds rest at 4:00 am and watched the sunrise, then headed to Half Dome. 26 total miles and we made it down to Happy Isle in time for root beer floats at the icecream stand (no longer there). We were exhausted, but were prepared and knew our limitations (one friend had to turn back before HD).

Steve Brum
Dec 31, 2009

I've climbed Half Dome twice, once in my 40's and again in my 50's. But I did it the easy a backpacking trip with a stay at Little Yosemite Valley backpacker camp. Makes for a much more enjoyable trip with far less people, as I was climbing down when the day hikers were going up. The first a short trip starting at Glacier Point, the second, a longer, more scenic trip from Tuolumne Meadows, with stops at Vogelsang and Merced Lakes. However you plan on getting to the top, enjoy, the views are astounding!

Rick Woods
Dec 31, 2009

I climbed HD a couple of times when I was younger (the older I get the better I used to be!) Party of six including a cute little red-haired girl. Started from the valley before daylight, made it up the cables a bit after noon. It was great, sitting on the edge eating lunch, throwing off snowballs, enjoying the warmth, until the sun went away. That's when the fun began. Soon, we noticed there was a buzzing sound coming from the steel rod at the summit, and the hair on our arms was standing up. The little red-haired girl had the most astounding 'fro, like a strawberry blonde halo around her head. We beat feet down the cables, which I realize was not a good place to be either. The first strike hit the pole on the peak when we were about two thirds of the way down. There were maybe a dozen people still up there when we reached the saddle. We made it back to the valley floor in about two hours, hurried along by rain and then hail.

The second time I went up was in September. A roommate and I planned to summit as a side-trip as we backpacked to Merced Lake. Dropped our packs, headed up to the top, did a quick tag of the summit marker and scurried back down. Wind chill must have been far below freezing, and the snow started on the way back down. Picked up our gear, got back on the trail and decided that the inch that had already accumulated convinced us to retreat, and try Merced Lake another day. We met a couple of guys still headed into the back country, with what was left of their gear lashed together over their shoulders. Victims of valley bears, they were still aimed up the trail, figuring they could catch enough fish to get by. We gave them most of our food, wished them better luck, and headed home.

Oct 27, 2009

So amazed that I've done three of the hikes listed! This one was by far my favorite. Main advice start early, the first time we got a late start and hit the backside of half dome around noon and roasted, it was unbelievably hot that day. Also bring gloves, like biking gloves, the cables get hot in the sun and it is tough on your hands. Made it about halfway up the first time when I watched someones water bottle fall out of their pocket and tumble down, chickened out and turned around.

The second time we did this we decided to start from the panoramic trail and went down the mist trail in order to bypass going up the mist trail, I would recommend this to anyone worried about their fitness level that really wants to get to the top of half dome and doesn't care about the route because you start at a higher elevation than vernal and nevada falls so you actually descend the first five miles. we actually backpacked it this time and headed out really early the next day and made it to the top before sunrise! this is an amazing hike good luck!

p.s. try electric peak in yellowstone for another crazy adventure!

Aug 26, 2009

This was our 2nd time going up to Half Dome and now I realize how dangerous it can be when it is crowded. There was a one hour wait to get on the cables and to get up to the top people were holding on for about 2 HOURS as they waited to take a step! (It is very difficult to hold on that long if your feet are slipping on the rock if you don't get to rest your feet on the wood plank (every 13 ft).) We were up one third of the way when a girl decided to move from inside the cable area to the outside since it was crowded. She lost her footing and slipped. She tumbled about 10 feet when 2 guys heroically stopped her falling by grabbing on to her shirt/hair and sliding their foot in her way. She was able to stop from tumbling and was still conscious. Those 2 guys risked their lives otherwise she would have been dead and could have taken them out also. People were being so impatient and climbing on the outside of the cables and having the nerve to tell the hikers who were on the inside (and waited their turn) to move over. We got down after we saw the girl fall and the rain clouds were coming in.
This time we had caribiners and harness we made out of a rope. Definitely use a harness (store bought) and have 2 caribiners to clip on and off , this way you will always be hooked up to the cable. People may think using this is the sissy way but believe me after seeing people slipping and sliding, wearing Vans tennis shoes (insane)and pushing people out of the way, the danger increases. When it is crowded if one person falls it will be like a domino affect and you will get knocked off with them if they tumble on to you. Please read a good article: 10 survival tips for Half Dome. Bring at least 2 liters of water (camel back), head lamp, food, good hiking shoes, rubber gloves (garden gloves are slippery), and a caribiner with a harness. Don't climb with water bottles and stuff falling out of your pockets. Better to stay overnight at the campsite or leave at 5am on a weekday. I will NEVER do it again on a weekend. People were acting like animals and getting up to the top at all costs. It was really sad to see and no one seem to care about the girl who fell afterwards to make sure she was okay. In addition, everyone ignored the rainclouds coming. Once your up on the cable for 2 hours the weather could have gotten worse and then people would have been panicking to get down and slip for sure. Please do your homework before you go to Half Dome and don't risk your life unnecessarily.

May 15, 2009

I did this hike on a Thursday in September `06. Started late, 7am, but got to the top at 11:50, with no line at the bottom of the cables. But the danger is real. There is a staircase cut into the granite before the cables, and it's easy to slip here. And both of my legs cramped up twice on the cables. The first cramp, I made the mistake of looking to the right . . . and saw Tenaya Canyon, obscured by a 48-degree wall of granite . . . and said to myself, "Okay, this is real, not the movies, not practice." So: Don't push yourself, pace yourself. Hiking for several miles nonstop on a hilly trail is good training (e.g., the upper trail at the Lafayette Reservoir, if you're near San Francisco). Wear gloves on the cables, they give more traction and protect your hands. Wear two socks per foot. And more water than you think you'll need (I didn't have enough). But it's doable; I did it for the first time at age 40, and I got back at 4:45 - 9-3/4 hours - including an hour's lunch at the top. It's a fantastic trail. Just know what you're getting into.

Justin, Ohio
Jan 13, 2009

If you want true adventure you must leave behind the well established trails. I like hiking the Sierra High Route which is 200 miles and runs east of the JMT. You wont see anyone for the month long trip. No trails, no crowds, no problems.and also enjoy Tenaya Canyon which is dicey but fun!! Also if summiting Mt. Whitney go the Mountaineers Route which is class 3 scramble. No crowds just beautiful scenery and wide open places.

Dec 23, 2008

That's Half Dome and Tenaya Canyon seen from Glacier Point in the pic...I have pic from Valley Floor with that Pink Sky in back of Half Dome...could be same day! Mist Trail is out of sight to right where Nevada and Vernal Falls can be seen...pic is miss captioned, I'd say!!

The Gorbs
Nov 28, 2008

Been up there several times in Fall. The NPS needs a permit system. And a video about safety. It is almost 45 degrees and slick granite even when dry. Bring a sturdy pair of leather work gloves to better grip the cables. I may not even do this agian unless I bring a rock climbing harness so I can stay clipped to the cable. Why ? Too many people. Imagine 50 people above you. One slips and it's like a bowling alley below and you are the pin. Saw a 6 year old girl unattended waliking over the crest. I've escorted groups back every trip including the first where we passed on the final climb due to storm clouds. Better to live another day. It can be hit any month of the year.
Once you are off the rocks so to speak, you have a long hike. Best to cross the Nevada falls and skip the return up via Must trail. Take the Muir bypass. The rocks will be wet from afternoon winds, the steps down are monsters after a long day. Bring a flashlight. Each time the groups escorted (30-40) no one else had a light. Headlamp preferred as you need your hand free. Bring a water filter. It gets very hot even in Oct. I fill up after Nevada falls. Drink 2 quarters before the hike and refill at the last restroom on the way up. AVOID wading in the pools farther up. It's slock granite and people have been swept away in ankle deep water. Tougher hike ? Zion needs to be on the list. Far scarier on the side of a cliff with 1000 ft drops and a 8 inch toe hold.

Rick Deutsch
Nov 25, 2008

The mis-information many people have about Mr. Nohara’s fatal fall in June of 2007 is understandable. The only available source was SF Gate and the comments from people who “saw” it. In quotes because MANY different versions were presented. Since Half Dome is my passion I tried to dig deeper into this but NO follow up stories ever appeared. So I read the NPS investigation report. Near the top of the cables a man (going down) above Nohara (going up) said Nohara stepped over the cable and to the outside. He said the cable was drooping. His legs slipped out from under him and he hit on his chest. He flipped to his back but picked up speed and slid away from the cables. He tumbled and stopped on the ledge almost even with the start of the cables. 2 hikers (on the saddle) went down this extremely steep slope to provide aid, but it did not help. No conclusive statement was made as to the cause of the fall, but his party of 5 left from Sunnyvale at 1:45 am on a Friday after working all day and packing for the trip. They drove up 5 hours and began the hike with no sleep and since they carried their water, I suspect fatigue and dehydration contributed. I’ve not heard of any lawsuits against the park and don’t know what the statute of limitations is.
My website has an ACCIDENTS page describing all the recent incidents, including Scott Clancy’s near death slide

Charles, Los Angeles CA
Nov 19, 2008

My son and I climbed out of Yosemite Valley passing the turn off to half dome while starting the John Muir trail. In hindsight our packs were overweighted (probably 36-38 lbs for me), so it felt harder than necessary. Still, it was not an easy climb up from the valley. On the way up, we saw several dayhikers coming down from half dome with little water and appearing dazed. They couldn't even muster the customary "hi" or nod given between passing hikers. There is probably a lot of unreported problems with this hike (e.g., dehydration, other heat issues). I wouldn't mind the park system requiring a mandatory permit (even for dayhikers) with mandatory requirements (e.g., min. age limits, min. amt. of water, food, daypacks etc.). I know that sounds paternalistic and drastic, but at 300 incidents a year and from what I saw on that trail, we need a more effective way of educating or weeding out these impulse/newbie hikers from doing a 14 mile rigorous dayhike.

Jon, San Francisco
Nov 18, 2008

Nohara did cartwheel about 300 feet down to the ledge, but not off the face of Half Dome as the story above indicates. The cables go up the rounded eastern (or NE) side, not the face and not the side in the picture at the top of this article, which appears to be a view of the west/sw side. One news report indicated Nohara fell first to the ledge, then bounced over the edge of the adjacent cliff parallel to the face and part way down the main canyon wall, where search and rescue had to rappel to claim his body. Nohara was first to die from a fall while using cables in dry conditions. One guy reportedly lost his grip in damp conditions in recent years and luckily his pants (don't ask me how) caught on one of the poles and saved him. Others have slipped trying to climb with the poles down and then gotten caught in wet conditions (an impossible situation). The main thing is to go prepared. You see people in sandals, people carrying water bottles, often the same ones who then throw them on the ground in the back country, people without gloves (usually recommended for grip (other comment notwithstanding) on a hot sweaty day (unfortunately, the mindless leave them in a back country junk pile at the bottom of the hill when they're done, thinking they're doing people a favor, but instead creating rodent infested piles of trash that have to be hauled out by someone on foot). Keys: Don't do it on a whim. Wear good footwear (hiking boots have better grip on granite), it's a long hike. Take water (filter if you have one so you carry less weight). Take gloves. Enjoy, it's a great hike, but not really a back country adventure because of the crowds, most of which have little knowledge of back country etiquette and many who don't treat the conditions with enough respect out of ignorance.

Nov 16, 2008

Last July my 10 year-old son and I backpacked from Tenaya Lake to Happy Isles over Clouds Rest and made a side trip to Half Dome (about 20 miles all told). We camped near the junction of the Clouds Rest trail and John Muir Trail to make the 2.5 mile jaunt to the top of HD, sans packs, in the cool of the day. It was a glorious morning and at 7am we were the only hikers on the cables. My son started out with a pair of leather gloves that I brought along for him that proved to be too slippery for the steel cables. Once he switched to bare hands his confidence increased and that was that. On the down-climb at 8am we ran into about 10 people -- this was on a Thursday. Our return to Yosemite Valley on the short, steep, crowded but beautiful Mist Trail was uneventful. Later I asked my son what he thought of the Half Dome climb. He said it was a little difficult but the ascent to Clouds Rest actually scared him. On the eastern approach to Clouds Rest you make a short traverse of a very narrow ridgeline with enormous exposure on both sides. My bottom line is that Half Dome is only dangerous if you make it so through bad judgement and poor preparation.

Greg M
Nov 14, 2008

Great hike but the older you are I would recommend camping at Little Yosemite Valley. My wife and I did this in September on an unusually hot day and we did the 17 mile hike in one day. It becomes the Bataan Death March on the way back. You want to enjoy yourself in so much beauty. I saw idiots up there with no water and no water purification tabs or filters. I think the one kid had to die of heat stroke. He had a tiny bottle of water with him. Have some sense folks this isn't a simple day hike. Also watch for the people who freak out on the cables. An Asian lady almost took me out on the way up. Not a place to realize you have a fear of heights. And yes do it on a weekday and start early!

David V
Nov 14, 2008

Thanks for this writeup. The lightning strike may have been 23 years ago, but a surprising number of people still don't understand how dangerous Half Dome can be, if you don't know what you are doing. Don't attempt it on a summer weekend. It is simply too crowded. Do it on a weekday, and leave well before dawn, so you can hit the rock long before afternoon weather moves in.

Nov 14, 2008

Rick in San Jose said NO ONE saw Mr Nohara fall, then he give an account of the fall, if NO ONE saw him how do you know htese details???

Nov 14, 2008

Rick in San Jose said NO ONE saw Mr Nohara fall, then he give an account of the fall, if NO ONE saw him how do you know htese details???

from the valley
Nov 13, 2008


Being that you feel the need to not only count, but state how many times you've done half dome tells us one thing: you're no mountaineer.

Try spending some time in and with nature, stripping yourself of all that nonsense. Training, hiking poles, gear this, gear that, etc., e' tal...are all distractions from the beauty of life, of what appreciation for bio-ecology means, the massive amounts of studies and hard work being put in by people who are changing the way humans should be sustaining themselves. Yet, here you are like some schmuck from the city who comes and pounds his chest (and none of your advice is better than the people who live here,) while making sure to give a call out to yourself at the end. The trick is not to train. The trick is to live ones life in a way that enables them to do it whenever they want.

There are many more places in Yosemite which offer greater views of a sunrise/sunset then Half Dome. You're simply one of the many huddling around the path with their boom boxes, iPods, cell phones to tell their friends what crazy little air you have and how the struggle is almost unbearable.

get out of the way if you're not going to enjoy it for what it's worth.

Dave Miller
Nov 13, 2008

Half Dome is a great hike. I did it this summer in June. One alternative to doing the whole thing in a day is to get a permit for Little Yosemite Valley (sometimes tough to get) and hike up the mist trail to LYV and stay overnight. Get an early headstart the next day and be on top of HalfDome within 3 hours. You are guaranteed to avoid the crowds on the way up (not always on the way down though). Another spectacular trip with just as stunning views, but without the crowds is Cloud's Rest. I just did this hike for Backpacker last month and it was great.

Dave, Newark, Ca

Pete Kroner
Nov 13, 2008

While Yosemite is a great place I'd think that Fitz-Roy in Patagonia was the most challenging climb in the Americas. When I was there a Frenchman had just fallen to his death after he'd made the summit....often clouded...and very high!

Nov 02, 2008

Have you actually done this hike? First off the cables are not "generally installed" They are always installed. They are either up, (safe) or down (not safe). I can't believe, you are still bringing up the lighting strike from 1985. Do you realize that's 23 YEARS ago?
Have you actually read the account of that strike? The group that climbed that day went up the cables in an active thunder and lighting storm. They were warned numerous times to stop.
More people get struck by lighting every year on golf courses.

I am a subscriber to Backpacker, I've always trusted the information I have read about. Hopefully this little hit piece is not an indication of validity of the rest of the publication.

Nov 02, 2008

If you are interested in climbing Half Dome, I highly recommend doing it at night. Leave by 1am and summit before dawn. Bring a headlamp and enjoy the crisp night air as you hike a vacant, well-marked trail. You will climb the cables, turn around, and see the most glorious sunrise of your life. All to yourself. Without the masses to interrupt. Just a disclaimer- I wouldn't attempt a night ascent unless you've done the hike would be safer that way. Thank you Backpacker magazine for the suggestion in an issue back in 2006.

Rick Deutsch
Nov 01, 2008

I beg to differ with your "facts." Mr Nohara did not ”fall 1200 feet into a granite ravine below after trying to squeeze past hikers ahead of him on the cables.” He was about 300 feet up the 425 vertical rise of the cables when he fell. NO ONE saw him actually fall. A witness heard a thud and looked to find him outside the cables and sliding feet first on his back. He tumbled and stopped on a ledge below the beginning of the cable route. He was not squeezing past other hikers. There was no one in front of him when he fell. He and his friends drove from Santa Clara leaving at 1:30 am. They arrived at 6:30 am and began their hike. Thye arrived at the cables at 2 pm – a good pace would have seen them there at 11:30. There has been no conclusive cause of his death. I suspect fatigue, dehydration (he carried his water)contributed. He was the only person to fall from the cables when they are up for summer use since they were erected in 1919. The only one – and 50,000 people do it each summer.

The Half Dome hike is a superb adventure. I've done it 23 times. The views and sense of accomplishment are worth it. Folks need to prepare's not a walk-in-the-park. Water, boots, hiking poles and gloves for the cables - and be in top shape!

I've written the only hiking guide to Half Dome and suggest it for your readers. It is called "One Best Hike: Yosemite's Half Dome" published by Wilderness Press. See my website. The trick is to train, leave early (5:30 am) and be at the cables before 11 am. They are clogged after that.

Carpe Diem - Seize the Day!!
Rick, San Jose, CA


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