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The DAILY DIRT - The nitty and the gritty of outdoor news

Hiker Dies in Fall On Half Dome

Bad weather brought tragedy to Yosemite over the weekend

Summer always brings big crowds to Yosemite's stunning granite vistas—50,000 of them use handrails to make their way up the steep rock slope to the summit of Half Dome each year. While not remotely technical, the vertiginous climb can intimidate inexperienced hikers, and varying weather conditions can make it worse.

Unfortunately, visitors often ignore bad weather warnings posted by rangers, and the results can be fatal: On Saturday, one hiker plummeted to his death while climbing Half Dome in rain and hail conditions. Manoj Kumar, 40, of San Ramon, fell 100 feet in front of several witnesses while using handrails to descend from the 8,842-foot summit. He continued falling and came to rest on a ledge 1,800 feet below that.

Rangers evacuated 41 other hikers also on the Dome. This happened exactly one week after a woman fell 300 feet to a ledge while hiking Half Dome. She survived, but suffered serious broken bones and other injuries.

Be careful out there, people. If it starts hailing on you, it's probably best not to ascend that slick granite slope...

—Ted Alvarez

Another hiker tumbles at Half Dome (The Goat)

READERS COMMENTS

Richard Davis
Aug 26, 2011

There is nothing anyone can do, nor any regulations can be written, nor any permits required, that can prevent unprepared, and unexperienced people from risking and losing their lives. There will always be the people who think they are above proper research, preparation, conditioning, and are not aware of Natures Rules and Warnings.
I am a professional photographer who has 45 years of experience in backpacking, backcountry skiing, and mountaineering in the Sierras , and have been on SAR teams many times. I do a lot of research about mountain travel and accidents in mountaineering and pride myself in proper preparation before a photo trip or summit attempt.
Here are some facts and helpful tips.
1. People need to know their own limits, their own comfort zone, and be prepared to turn around and summit another day.
2. The mountain and nature decide if and when you can summit, not the climber.
3. Your main concerns and dangers are often over and caused by other climbers. Delays can be deadly.
4. Yosemite in general and especially Half Dome has an abundance of Ignorant, inexperienced, clueless, and just plain stupid people from all over the world, and every year it just seems to get worse.
5. Don't count on anyone to correct your poor decisions and to save you if you get in trouble. Think for yourself and trust your gut. If you think you should turn around and others want to "go for it" even with clouds building or experiencing physical problems- put your foot down. Insist that you are not comfortable with the conditions, and that you will wait for them at a given location. Turning around has nothing to do with a lack of bravery, just a healthy dose of common sense.
6. Realize that you do not perform at your highest level physically nor mentally at higher elevations. Heed any red flag warnings that you may have.

Anyone who climbs half dome without a harness with two short ropes and carabiners should try sky diving without a parachute.

Richard Davis
Aug 26, 2011

There is nothing anyone can do, nor any regulations can be written, nor any permits required, that can prevent unprepared, and unexperienced people from risking and losing their lives. There will always be the people who think they are above proper research, preparation, conditioning, and are not aware of Natures Rules and Warnings.
I am a professional photographer who has 45 years of experience in backpacking, backcountry skiing, and mountaineering in the Sierras , and have been on SAR teams many times. I do a lot of research about mountain travel and accidents in mountaineering and pride myself in proper preparation before a photo trip or summit attempt.
Here are some facts and helpful tips.
1. People need to know their own limits, their own comfort zone, and be prepared to turn around and summit another day.
2. The mountain and nature decide if and when you can summit, not the climber.
3. Your main concerns and dangers are often over and caused by other climbers. Delays can be deadly.
4. Yosemite in general and especially Half Dome has an abundance of Ignorant, inexperienced, clueless, and just plain stupid people from all over the world, and every year it just seems to get worse.
5. Don't count on anyone to correct your poor decisions and to save you if you get in trouble. Think for yourself and trust your gut. If you think you should turn around and others want to "go for it" even with clouds building or experiencing physical problems- put your foot down. Insist that you are not comfortable with the conditions, and that you will wait for them at a given location. Turning around has nothing to do with a lack of bravery, just a healthy dose of common sense.
6. Realize that you do not perform at your highest level physically nor mentally at higher elevations. Heed any red flag warnings that you may have.

Anyone who climbs half dome without a harness with two short ropes and carabiners should try sky diving without a parachute.

joe bob
Aug 05, 2011

I think the people that are lambasting the hikers for going up Half Dome under dangerous conditions should get off their self righteous soapbox and get a grip. At least three people on this board stated that the skies were blue with no sign of rain that day. Bad luck can happen to anybody. Obviously, the better prepared you are for the unexpected, the better your chances of surviving when it does happen. Perhaps people that are familiar with Yosemite weather would have noticed tell tale signs that the afternoon might end up being wet, but not every visitor to the park has that knowledge. That doesn't mean they're irresponsible. Should they also have predicted that someone was going to freeze on the cables and hold everyone up for 30 minutes? Planning for the worst is good advice, but sometimes stuff just happens.

joe bob
Aug 05, 2011

I think the people that are lambasting the hikers for going up Half Dome under dangerous conditions should get off their self righteous soapbox and get a grip. At least three people on this board stated that the skies were blue with no sign of rain that day. Bad luck can happen to anybody. Obviously, the better prepared you are for the unexpected, the better your chances of surviving when it does happen. Perhaps people that are familiar with Yosemite weather would have noticed tell tale signs that the afternoon might end up being wet, but not every visitor to the park has that knowledge. That doesn't mean they're irresponsible. Should they also have predicted that someone was going to freeze on the cables and hold everyone up for 30 minutes? Planning for the worst is good advice, but sometimes stuff just happens.

joe bob
Aug 04, 2011

I think the people that are lambasting the hikers for going up Half Dome under dangerous conditions should get off their self righteous soapbox and get a grip. At least three people on this board stated that the skies were blue with no sign of rain that day. Bad luck can happen to anybody. Obviously, the better prepared you are for the unexpected, the better your chances of surviving when it does happen. Perhaps people that are familiar with Yosemite weather would have noticed tell tale signs that the afternoon might end up being wet, but not every visitor to the park has that knowledge. That doesn't mean they're irresponsible. Should they also have predicted that someone was going to freeze on the cables and hold everyone up for 30 minutes? Planning for the worst is good advice, but sometimes stuff just happens.

MO5
Jul 29, 2011

I think it's always a good thing when someone warns another of something if it's going to save a life. People should stop comparing who is right and who is wrong. People should say that is cool that someone cares enough to warn others. It never should end in a debate or contest when a statement is made to save someones life. I have 5 children, and if someone takes the time to give some advice for the sake and safety of my children, by all means I am going to listen and say Thanks.

man
May 23, 2011

why is this article titled "yellowstone death"

Lisa
Aug 06, 2009

Half Dome is technically in designated wilderness. Wilderness is untrammeled and uninhabitted by man, provided with primative recrational opportunites (the cables). Though it is unfortunate of Half Dome's history of deaths from hikers, people need to take into consideration that it is dangerous. You are putting yourself out there amongst the elements. This isn't Disneyland and there are no trams that take you down once you reach the top (I've heard this many times from hikers through the JMT and Mist trail). Most people who hike Half Dome have never hiked that much in their life-they are novice hikers. It's not the Park Service's job to make sure you come out of the wilderness with out a scratch. Granted, people need to make smart choices, planning ahead is one for the majority of hikers who reach Nevada Falls and have run out of water and don't bring a filter. Half Dome isn't a walk in the park, it is physically and mentally challenging. Though you can test your limits, don't test your judgement becuase alot of the SARs that happen from the junction to the top could have been prevented.
Let's not try and point the finger at management and individuals, but just make sure everyone is prepared and they plan before attempting something they have never done before. We can't control everything and you are taking a risk hiking not just up to Half Dome but into wilderness in general--man can't control everything.

roscoe
Jun 30, 2009

Here's an idea, how 'bout we all just COWBOY UP. By that I mean we decide on an individual basis to be responsible for our own actions and stop being the nation of wimps the rest of the world sees us as. You want to wear a helmet, go ahead. Add some fuzzy pink bunny slippers, I don't care. If you come sliding by me on my way up, I'll do what I can to help, just don't be too surprised when I berate you publicly for being a doorknob. The last thing we need is more laws, more rules, more control. That is the very thing that has duped computer programmers into thinking nothing of cloud cover in the Sierras when it's a red flag to folks who are paying attention. If you think life can be turned into a risk free joy ride by the addition of more rules then you're still quite young and need to spend more time in the real world, or you're a lost cause caught up in the nanny state mentality. I don't care which, just get out of my way. Thank you.

Kammi
Jun 20, 2009

Amen Joe Dawson- you said it! Too many people think they must go up the cables because of the long hike and make quick decisions based on having the glory of saying they've made it to the top. If you cannot read, comprehend, and follow the warning sign at the base of the cables then you shouldn't be up there in the first place. Too many people find an experience on top to outweigh risking their life to the clouds. Now every time that poor girl thinks of her proposal she'll think of the guy that fell off half dome. Was it really worth it?

Mike
Jun 20, 2009

I made the mistake of trying to reach the top a couple of years ago on a summer weekend. Hiking to the top of Half Dome and back in one day is strenuous enough even when one is in reasonably decent shape. We started from Glacier Point and saw less than 10 others until we reached the top of Nevada Falls. From then on there must have been at least 100 people per quarter mile, and the clear majority were completely out of shape and unprepared (not enough water, no food, no warm clothing). Fortunately most of them pooped out and turned back long before reaching the saddle.
Even so, once we reached the saddle the people on the cables were simply not moving. Apparently some of the hikers manage to get part way up before becoming so completely terrified they can no longer move. If the other people going up right behind these clowns and the ones coming down are acrophobic and inexperienced, no one else can get by without going outside of the two cables. While I have no problem doing that, my friends and most everyone else werenít up for it. So we waited and we waited and we waited. Only those brave enough to get around the frozen ones by going outside the cables were ever able to make it to the top. After waiting two and a half hours we finally had to turn around to get back before dark.
Now itís annoying enough that my friends hiked all day and never got to see the view from the top and perhaps never will. Undoubtedly there were also many others there that day that also missed out on their lifetime opportunity. But far and away the biggest issue is: How on earth can a few inconsiderate boobs be allowed to shut down the cables for nearly everyone else for hours on end? This creates an extremely dangerous situation for all concerned. I know itís a free country but that doesnít give anyone the right to put hundreds of others in jeopardy simply because of their unrealistic desires and stubborn resolve.
This leads me to the comment about keeping the cables down in June. As stated, that writer may be an avid hiker, but frankly cannot be a very experienced one. Maybe there was more storm activity this June than usual, but thunder storms in the Sierras can occur quickly and without warning at any time, anyplace in the Sierras through spring, summer, and fall. The writer is completely missing the point that everyone on top of the dome or on the cables could have easily been killed by a single lightening strike: Despite all the prominent warning signs, Manoj and the writer were on top and trying to come down in the middle of a storm. It was insanely stupid to have gone up in those conditions in the first place.
There are so many warnings about lightening and the difficulty and the exposure, Iím simply astonished at the writerís suggestions that everyone should be forced to wear helmets or use carabineers. What next, an electric escalator?! Iím afraid I have to agree with one of the other commentators, that that writer simply had no business up there in the first place. In dry conditions the cables are simply not dangerous nor difficult unless one is in bad shape or exhausted. Yes you can easily die if you do something stupid, but thatís also true along many stretches on other trails in the park.
I donít know what the answer is. If the cables are in need of repair that is simply inexcusable; considering how many use them and how inexperienced the majority are. I donít think permits would make a difference (unless there is a good test to determine how foolish someone is going to be in advance) and again you are simply penalizing everyone for the gross incompetence of a few. Perhaps if a ranger were stationed at the cables full time throughout the day on weekends it could help (and unfortunately put the rangerís life at greater risk as well). I do know the rangers often go up and chase people off the cables when there is thunder storm activity in the vicinity already. I honestly think hikers should be warned in advance that they will receive hefty fines if they freeze part way up the cables. For my part Iím certainly going to actively discourage everyone I can from attempting to reach the top on a weekend (hence these blog comments).
If the existing situation is allowed to continue, it seems inevitable that in the not so distant future we will all be reading about many simultaneous deaths being caused by a lightening strike. And even though human foolishness will undoubtedly be the primary factor, I also think the park management will also be partly at fault for largely ignoring such an obvious brewing problem.

Joe Dawson
Jun 18, 2009

I have to take issue with the person who wrote the 7 things that should be done above.

1. Who are you, someone who had the poor judgement to go up half dome when there was a chance of bad weather to tell the rest of us what should be done?

2. Anyone with an modicum of sense and an ounce about knowledge knows that clouds early in the day in the Sierra makes for a good chance of thunderstorms in the afternoon.

2. You think everyone should be required to wear a helmet to hike up half dome. What would a helmet have done for Manoj?

3. Anyone cannot get themselves into bad situations. The vast majority of bad situations arise from a series of poor judgments.

4. I laughed when I read that you think the cables should not be up in June. Then you say that they do not take the cables down soon enough. Maybe they should take the cables down during the ides of each month too?

5. You mention a permit system. From what I gather, not a whole lot of people were up there when the accident happened. How would a permit system have prevented this? Further, just because a permit system is in place on some mountains does not make it correct.

6. I agree that the cables should be in a good state of repair, and upgrades to them sound like a reasonable request.

I think it is beneath contempt that you are running around calling for rules and regulations when you yourself are clearly not capable of making sound decisions. You, and anyone else who needed assistance getting down had no business being up there in the first place. This like most accidents could have been prevented with good decision making. I think you would do well to contemplate the fact that each of us has different capabilities and what is safe for some of us is not safe for others. Knowing yourself and your limits will do you more good in your future than saddling others with necessary rules and regulations.

Eric
Jun 17, 2009

First off, I send my condolences to everyone who knew Manoj Kumar. He appeared to be a very kind and loving person.

I must admit that I am still very traumatized over witnessing this entire event right in front of me and my new fiancee. My new fiancee and I had planned the trip up to Half Dome for over a month thinking that the month of June would be a good time to hike for it was there that I decided to ask her to marry me. When we arrived to the cables, we were surprised by the amount of people climbing up and down (close to 100 or much more). The weather was not ideal, but the granite was completely dry and the ascend was a piece of cake (my girlfriend and I are in pretty good shape). It looked cloudy up top, but the weather cleared up the instant we peaked with the sun shining and the view breath taking. Everything was perfect. Aydee and I found an area away from the crowd; I popped the ring, asked, and she accepted! Of course, the weather was not perfect and it looked like some more clouds were coming in so we quickly walked back to the cables and proceeded to wait on the inside since there was literally a "traffic jam" of people.

Manoj and his friend were standing and waiting right behind Aydee and I to descend. I didn't talk much to Manoj and his friend, but Manoj did offer to take a picture of Aydee and I which turned out to be one of the best pictures ever taken of Aydee and I. The weather was still very sunny and clear while we were waiting, but there was someone, or a group of people, who were not descending and holding up the line (apparently this is a common case on Half Dome). I wanted to descend on the outside since the granite was completely dry at that time, by my fiancee didn't want us to take the risk. Little did we know that the risk was increased immensely by waiting inside the cables on top of the mountain. After waiting nearly 30 to 45 minutes, hail began on and off and we knew this was going to make the descend incredibly challenging without a carabiner and harness. At the same time, there were some ill dressed people far behind us (...I think some of the 41 people) who were shouting to "keep moving!" and "get going people!" We all wanted to get off Half Dome, but no one was moving and at this time, it would have been suicide to try and maneuver along the outside of the cables (...unless you had a carabiner and harness of course).

I guess, what is bothering me is that there are some very simple measures that could take place that would have prevented this tragedy, even under extreme weather conditions.

1.) The criminal investigator had said this was the "wettest" June he has seen in the last 20 years. Generally, Half Dome opens in June because that is when the rains have already stopped. Perhaps, Half Dome should now only be open in July.

2.) Of course, doing more research on the mountain knowing that people can hold you up on top for enough time to have a large and dangerous storm roll in would have been helpful to know. An extra cable and upright pole system would have prevented this.

3.) The Park Service could have used at least a 2x4 (preferably a 4x4) with bolts and larger stainless steal brackets. The 1x3's with flimsy sheet metal holding them to the upright posts had broken away in some of the most slipperiest areas. Manoj slipped through one of these sections.

4.) The Park Service could anchor the upright posts to the 45 degree wall with a heavy duty clip so they would have no chance of pulling out. Manoj slipped where one pole had pulled out and was missing. This made for an incredibly dangerous and slippery section.

5.) Requiring a harness, carabiner, and perhaps a helmet would save anyone's life. A few smart hikers remembered to bring a harness and carabiner. Namely, a French hiker, who I think was named Simon, had brought a makeshift harness and two nice carabiners. Simon helped many people down for at least an hour, maybe longer, before any ranger could arrive.

6.) If a permit system was put in place for this mountain or the cables, less people would be "crowding" the cables up. From my understanding, other mountains require permits.

7.) If the cables were taken down earlier, this would not have happened.

8.) If the cables didn't exist, only more experienced climbers with ropes would be attempting the peak... I know many people wouldn't want to see this option, but if the Park Service isn't making any money on the cables (told to me by the criminal investigator), then taking them down shouldn't lose the park any money.

Anyway, my fiancee and I have a much larger appreciation for the fragility of life. I'm generally a safe person, but I now realize that anyone can get themselves into situations like this. For anyone reading this, please be safe in anything that you do. Rest in peace Manoj.

jw
Jun 16, 2009

That path has been getting more and more slick as the years have gone by. The first time I did that trail 15 years ago it wasn't nearly as slick as it was the last time I did it 3 years ago. While it may not be the most PC thing to do abrading the area between the cables might not be a bad idea.

Laurel
Jun 16, 2009

My heart goes out to Gina and to Mr. Kumar's family. I myself am incredibly lucky to be safe and alive right now. I made a poor judgment call this past Wednesday (June 10th) and climbed the cables with clouds in the vicinity (no rain though, & low chance predicted); it was mid-afternoon because we had started the hike too late. Iím not a daredevil by any stretch, just an avid hiker. My friend wisely chose to stay on the saddle, and no one else was climbing. Only some stragglers were coming down. I think I felt overly confident because I climbed the cables in similar conditions two years ago and made it down before the storms came in. I was also exhilarated because Iíd overcome the gripping fear Iíd had the first time I ascended the dome. This time I charged up the dry granite pretty quickly, but a sleet/hail/rain storm moved in as I neared the top. I tried to descend, but I had no traction anymore and my hands were going numb. It hit me that fear can be healthy and that I was probably going to die alone of hypothermia while clinging to a pole, or fall to my death in the descentÖall because of my rash split-second decision.

As luck would have it, there were two rock climbers on top that found a little cave where we waited for the storm to lighten. I particularly owe my life to the climber named "John" Ė I never even knew his last name. He reassured me and said that I wouldíve been in a lot more trouble if I hadnít dressed (mostly) right for harsh conditions. He lent me his harness and his extra nylon loop and carabiner, and bit by bit we lowered, leaned out, and slid our way down the cables. He never rushed me despite the urgency of getting down before conditions worsened. Before we attempted the steepest stretch of it (that awful bit with the ledge), he said ďjust think, youíll always remember this moment Ė the crux of the adventure!Ē I was so angry at myself that I think only Johnís positive spirit kept me from losing my head during the descent. I still canít believe I walked away with only the bruises from crashing and catching myself on the poles during the unavoidable slides.

ďJohnĒ the climber was staying with his climbing partner in Little Yosemite Valley on June 9th and 10th, and he was about age 50 with kids. If anyone knows who he is, please tell me. I owe him a round of beers, to say the least.

danny
Jun 15, 2009

unfortunately, it's a lot easier to decide not to do the climb if the morning starts out raining or even just drizzling. but saturday was beautiful up until 12-1pm, when it started sprinkling for an hour and then full on rain. hail at some parts... the people just got stuck on the cables at that point. so it isnt that they started climbing even though it was raining.

nm
Jun 15, 2009

trouble is, the sky was blue and the weather was coming from behind the dome - could not see. it was dry when we went up and did not start hailing until we were on top. It took two hours to go down because of people moving slowly. By then it was hailing hard. I came down 2 minutes before the man fell. Nobody went up during the hail, but the people had to come down.

I recommend having a harness and two short ropes with carabiners to hook yourself up to the cables. One guy had those and he was able to help others!

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