2 Free Issues and 3 Free Gifts!
Full Name:
Address 1:
Address 2:
Zip Code:
Email: (required)
If I like it and decide to continue, I'll pay just $12.00, and receive a full one-year subscription (9 issues in all), a 73% savings off the newsstand price! If for any reason I decide not to continue, I'll write "cancel" on the invoice and owe nothing.
Your subscription includes 3 FREE downloadable booklets.
Or click here to pay now and get 2 extra issues
Offer valid in US only.

Also on

Enter Zip Code

Backpacker Magazine – September 2010

Ranger Confidential: Secrets of the National Park Rangers

True tales from the front lines--and behind the scenes--of America's national parks.

by: Andrea Lankford

Ranger Confidential: Secrets of the Park Rangers (Frank Stockton)
Ranger Confidential: Secrets of the Park Rangers (Frank Stockton)
Ranger Confidential: Secrets of the Park Rangers (Frank Stockton)
Ranger Confidential: Secrets of the Park Rangers (Frank Stockton)

There’s an insider’s tour of Yosemite National Park. And only park rangers know the points of interest. Places like the campsites favored by "The Swatter"--a habituated bear that had slapped so many tourists it had earned itself a nickname. The backcountry clearing where a ranger caught a pack of wannabe ninjas swinging around nunchucks. The waterfall where the unlucky swimmer went over the edge. The brink where a sad, fat man leaped off a thousand-foot cliff. The restroom where some freak loaded human feces into the soap dispenser. The granite monolith where a woman fell from the sky.

That last one happened on a gorgeous Indian summer day. In the meadow below El Capitan, a crowd watched 58-year-old Jan Davis as she leaped off the Yosemite landmark, 3,500 feet above the valley floor. Davis and others were protesting a BASE-jumping ban---by jumping--and now she was twisting in the air, wiggling in an apparent attempt to reach her parachute chord.

"Yeah!" The protestors whistled and cheered as she approached 100 miles per hour. "Whoo-hoo! Go baby!" Another second went by. Then another.

Ranger Mary Litell-Hinson wasn’t cheering.

Five seconds had passed since Davis illegally BASE-jumped off El Capitan and the wind whipping at her clothes sounded like someone thumbing through a deck of cards, only louder. Much louder. It was a sound the ranger would never forget.

Twelve seconds. Chants changed from "Go baby go" to "Open, open, open."

Thirteen seconds. Davis was falling at a rate approaching 120 miles per hour.

Fourteen seconds. Fifteen. Davis had her hands at her sides, putting her body in what skydivers call "the boxman position"--a belly-to-ground position ideal for free falling.

Sixteen seconds. Seventeen seconds. Davis rolled slightly to the left. Eighteen seconds. She covered her face with both hands. Nineteen seconds. The rangers and a gathering of more than 150 spectators heard what sounded like an explosion. The ground shuddered. There was a brief moment of silence before a car alarm went off. The irritating honks and wails pierced the air. A child began to cry.

Davis, knowing that her parachute would be confiscated after her illegal jump, had borrowed one that was dispensable. Unfortunately, the release mechanism was different than the one on her own chute, and she failed to discover that in time.

Mary ran to the ambulance and climbed into the back. She dug through the packs until she found the heavy-duty rubber gloves. As she approached the spot where Davis hit the ground, she knew the stops on the Yosemite ranger tour had just increased by one. But this was one place she’d never need to visit again.

Subscribe to Backpacker magazine
Sign up for our free weekly e-newsletter
Address 1:
Address 2:
Email (req):

Reader Rating: -


Jul 07, 2011

lessened my enthusiasm for being a park ranger, but still interested.

Oct 28, 2010

What a great read. It's wonderful to remind people just how much these hard working rangers do, and how little they get in return. They have my utmost respect and admiration.

Hornet 22
Oct 20, 2010

Great story!'s Smokey Bear - no "the" in there.

the love
Oct 17, 2010

I like the you will (maybe) fall in love section...awesome and real

Thomas B.
Sep 28, 2010

Makes me want it more.

tall tree
Sep 28, 2010

love it and now i dont want to be a park ranger (thank lot)

the hiker
Sep 28, 2010

chad w
Sep 24, 2010

love the read. keep em coming

Sep 24, 2010

great read!!! I could not put it down, I could not wait to read the next chapter, and the next, and the next!

Discussion for this story has been closed.

My Profile Join Now

Most recent threads

The Political Arena
Ebola breakout
Posted On: Aug 30, 2014
Submitted By: dayhiker9
Trailhead Register
Who's Working this weekend...?
Posted On: Aug 30, 2014
Submitted By: swimswithtrout
View all Gear
Find a retailer

Special sections - Expert handbooks for key trails, techniques and gear

Check out Montana in Warren Miller's Ticket to Ride
Warren Miller athletes charge hard and reflect on Big Sky country, their love for this space and the immense energy allotted to the people who reside in Montana.

Boost Your Apps
Add powerful tools and exclusive maps to your BACKPACKER apps through our partnership with Trimble Outdoors.

Carry the Best Maps
With BACKPACKER PRO Maps, get life-list destinations and local trips on adventure-ready waterproof myTopo paper.

FREE Rocky Mountain Trip Planner
Sign up for a free Rocky Mountain National Park trip planning kit from our sister site

Follow BackpackerMag on Twitter Follow Backpacker on Facebook
Get 2 FREE Trial Issues and 3 FREE GIFTS
Survival Skills 101 • Eat Better
The Best Trails in America
YES! Please send me my FREE trial issues of Backpacker
and my 3 FREE downloadable booklets.
Full Name:
Address 1:
Zip Code:
Address 2:
Email (required):
Free trial offer valid for US subscribers only. Canadian subscriptions | International subscriptions