Accidents Do Happen

This page is not here to discourage you from the Half Dome hike, but rather to document  that it can be dangerous if you hike outside the envelope of safety. It is rare that you hear or read of accidents on Half Dome. The Half Dome trail has an outstanding record of uneventful trips. The most common injuries are simple sprains or bone breaks – not the harrowing situations described below. Knowledge is power; use this knowledge to conduct a safe hike. Falls off the cables are rare. Do not go up if the cables are down, or if the rock is wet; and don’t wear smooth soled shoes. Only accidents on the Half Dome cables are listed here. The park averages 12-15 total traumatic deaths per year; most are water related. Only three have fallen to their death when the cables are up for summer use – since 1919. Two of those were weather related (see below). Others have fallen during winter rappels or from issues not related to the cables (health, suicide, on access trails, etc.

 **There were no fatal falls off of the Half Dome cables when they were up for summer permitted use in 2013, 2014, 2015 and 2016**

Man slips off cables – Rescued by fellow hikers (Jun 22, 2012)

On Friday, June 22, 2012, at about 5 pm, a 56 yr old hiker from San Jose slipped while descending the Half Dome cables. A fellow hiker dropped a handheld radio on the cables above him, and the hiker reached for the falling radio, losing his handhold on the cables. The hiker slid a short distance on his back away from the cables to the east and was able to stop by grabbing a ridge slab. Other hikers on the cables dismantled a portion of the cables to swing out to him to help the fallen hiker to safety.

Man falls of Half Dome (August 23, 2011)
Climbers near the base of Half Dome reported seeing a man drop down the 2,000 face. A male body was found in the talus slopes on the Mirror Lake side of Half Dome known as the Death Slabs.

Teen dies from fall on Mist Trail (August 9, 2011)
A 17-year-male died from head injuries sustained when he slipped and fell 4-days earlier on the Mist Trail.

Woman falls off Half Dome cables (July 31, 2011)
A 26 year old woman slipped and fell 600 feet while descending the Half Dome cables. She died.  The rock was wet from a morning rain and lightning was  in the area. I’s believed the steel cable was energized and she could  not hold  on.

Three people go over Vernal Fall (July 19, 2011)
Three hikers climbed over the guard railing at the top of Vernal Fall, 25 feet from the edge. Ninos Yacoub, 27, Ramina Badal, 21, and David Homiz, 22 were over the protective fence in very fast water. They were swept over the fall.

Man dies after slipping into Merced at Mist Trail (May 16, 2011)
Kent Butler, 60, of Austin, Texas, was hiking on the Mist Trail to Vernal Fall when he slipped off the trail and slid down a slab into the Merced River. He was swept downstream several hundred feet and lodged, partially submerged, in the middle of the channel. Butler showed no signs of life. His body was recovered via a high line rigged across the river by rangers.

Man commits suicide on Half Dome (September 19, 2009)
Early Saturday morning on September 19,  a man committed suicide on the top of Half Dome, having shot himself while near the Visor. He was found by one of the earliest hikers to reach the top around 6:30 am.  It is unknown how long he had been on the dome or if he may have been there overnight. Search and rescue arrived and called in the helicopter to retrieve his remains. The cables were closed for 2 hours while authorities did an investigation. The body was removed by 9 am.

Man falls off cables and dies (June 13, 2009)
Manoj Kumar, 40, of San Ramon, CA fell to his death while hiking on Half Dome. He fell from the cables about 3:30 pm while the top of Half Dome was pelted with hail and a cold rain. He slipped and fell 100 feet. Rangers spent the late afternoon and evening helping evacuate 41 other hikers from the summit and cables. All were not off the rock and Sub Dome until  8:30 pm and not back at the valley until 1:45 am the next day. Many were dressed in shorts and T-Shirts and suffered from exposure. The author was there that day and his party descended at noon upon seeing the cloud approach.

Woman falls off cables – lives but is seriously injured (June 6, 2009)
A 35 year old woman slipped while descending the Half Dome cables and slid approximately 150 feet down the south slope, coming to rest on a small ledge.  Multiple 911 calls were received from hikers in the area who reported the accident and advised that she was unresponsive.  A visitor scrambled up and out and stayed with her until rescuers arrived.  At the time of the incident, Half Dome was socked in with clouds, with snow flurries on the summit and mist on the cables and sub-dome.  Four teams were dispatched to the scene, including rangers from Little Yosemite Valley, a hasty medical team up the slabs from Mirror Lake, and a support team up the John Muir Trail.  There was a narrow opening in the cloud cover just before 7 p.m. and Yosemite’s contract helicopter, H-551, was able to land on the sub-dome and insert two rescuers. The rescuers scrambled up to the woman and packaged her in a KED (Kendrick Extrication Device) and litter. H-551 then made two attempts to short-haul her from the site, but poor visibility caused those missions to be aborted. A final attempt to retrieve her was made after 8 p.m. and was successful. She was short-hauled to Ahwahnee Meadow, then transferred to a waiting air ambulance and transported to Doctor’s Medical Center in Modesto. She suffered a broken clavicle, a compression fracture in the spine in the thoracic region (no nerve damage), a couple of broken ribs, a shattered jaw, and a fractured cranial bone with a small amount of bleeding under her skull (subdural hematoma). She is expected to recover.

Woman falls into Merced, drowned (May 18, 2009)
Katrin Lehmann of Germany slipped into the Merced River near the Vernal Fall Footbridge. Spring snow melts bring Class V rapids at this stretch of the river and it is very dangerous. It is presumed that she was on the rocks, too close and fell into the 43 degree water. On July 15th, her  body was recovered below Vernal Fall by YOSAR personnel. It was wedged between a rock and a log in a swift water section of river approximately 150 yards downstream from the point where she was last seen. Witnesses said that she fell off the Mist Trail, slid down a steep wet rock wall, then clung to a boulder in the river before being washed downstream by the strong current.

Climber rescued off Half Dome approach (Feb 23, 2009)
Seven Korean climbers attempting to summit the face of Half Dome were met with avalanches on Feb 23. They were in training for a climb up the Himalayan mountain known as K-2. It is the 2nd highest spot on earth after Mt. Everest. K2 is 28,251 ft high. The team was setting ropes for their face climb, when snow and ice broke away from above. One man who was in the area known as the “Death Slabs,” rode the snow down about a football field in length. The area where all this took place was NOT on the face, but the talus approach to it below the 2,000 ft vertical wall. There is a steep tree/granite 2,000 ft rise above Mirror Lake that climbers use to get to the face. The man had broken bones and spent the night with the help of a partner. The next day rescue teams located him and later a helicopter pulled him off. He was sent to Modesto’s Doctor’s Medical Center where he was treated.

Man commits suicide off Half Dome (July 29, 2008)
A 27-year old man jumped to his death off of 8,842 foot Half Dome. This was the second suicide this summer. On June 13, a 36-year-old man jumped off El Capitan.

Japanese Man falls off Half Dome cables (June 16, 2007)
Hirofumi Nohara, 37, fell to his death while climbing up the cables at Yosemite’s Half Dome. The 37 year old man from Japan slipped and fell while ascending. He lived in Sunnyvale, CA and worked at NEC Electronics in Santa Clara. An investigation as to the specific cause led to no firm conclusions. His party left San Jose early Saturday at 1:30 am and arrived at the park at 6:30 am. His fatigue may have been a factor. He carried his water and may have been dehydrated as well. He was the first to fatally  fall off the cables when they are in the “up” configuration for summer use – since they were installed in 1919. Here is the verbatim official Yosemite NPS Ranger report.

Hirofumi Nohara, 37, slipped and fell while ascending the Half Dome cables on the afternoon of June 16th. Nohara, a Japanese citizen in the United States on a work visa, was hiking with four friends when the fall occurred. He fell approximately 300 feet from the left side of the cables and was pronounced dead at the scene. An investigation into the cause of the slip and subsequent fall is underway. The Half Dome hike is a round-trip hike of 17 miles and considered extremely strenuous. Hikers gain 4,800 feet of elevation along the hike, which passes such highlights as Vernal Fall, Nevada Fall, and Half Dome itself. A series of metal cables are placed along the steep shoulder of the dome to assist hikers to the summit.
Man falls into Merced near Vernal Fall May 19 (June 4, 2007) 
Kiran Yellajyosula, 27, of Santa Clara and India, went hiking on the Vernal-Nevada Falls Trail with a group of friends. Yellajyosula left the trail and walked about 10 yards to the edge of the Merced River, where he slipped and fell in. Witnesses reported that they’d seen him in the river below the Vernal Falls footbridge, but that he’d then disappeared. Search efforts began in earnest when the park received a call for assistance. Search dogs alerted along the river downstream from the footbridge the following day. Although past its peak spring runoff, the river continues to run at a significant volume, and its velocity near the footbridge made it too hazardous for SAR personnel to enter the water. On Tuesday, May 29th, Yellajyosula’s body was spotted by a park ranger. The recovery, which entailed the use of a high line, took about 3 1/2  hours. Yellajyosula had a Ph.D. in computer science from the University of Minnesota.

Fatal Fall From Half Dome Cables (April 19, 2007)
Jennie Bettles, a 43, from Oakland, California slipped off the Half Dome cables and slid out of sight. The cables are laid down on the rock this time of year and the stanchions which hold the cables up are removed to prevent damage by avalanches. Rescue personnel began hiking up the nine trail miles toward Half Dome because weather made flying impossible. The team was turned around above the shoulder of the dome several hours later by heavy snow, wind, and icy conditions that made travel on the exposed ridge too dangerous even before they reached the bottom of the cables. The bad weather continued throughout the following day and the dome was never out of the clouds. The weather broke the following morning and a spotter posted across Tenaya Canyon from Half Dome picked out what he believed was a body in the gully to the north of and below the cables. The location of the body, about 1,000 feet below the base of the cables, was confirmed from a helicopter. A recovery team was flown to the shoulder of Half Dome and was able to descend to the victim utilizing crampons, ice axes and roped climbing. The body was flown out by long line under a helicopter.

Fatal Fall Off Half Dome (November 8, 2006)
Emily Sandall, 25, a New Mexico resident, was descending the cables, when she slipped on the wet rock, lost her grip on the cable, and slid out of sight. In this case, she was going up without the full benefit of the cable handrail. As is the custom each autumn, the Park Service removes the steel cables from the stanchions that hold the cables up. This is done to prevent them from being damaged by winter avalanches. Hiking up the backside of Half Dome under these circumstances is very difficult and not recommended. Compounding the problem was the damp surface. Responding personnel had to hike up the nine miles of trail and the slab approach to the northwest face due to marginal flying conditions. Orders were placed for several helicopters; two eventually made it into the valley but were unable to transport crews to the site of the accident due to low clouds surrounding the dome. The medical team arrived on scene at 5 p.m. and found the body of the New Mexico woman. She was found at a spot about 300 feet below the base of the cables.

Man Slides down off the Cables – lives! (October 1, 2006)
Scott Clancy, 21, of Fresno, CA was descending the cables on a drizzly autumn day. It was damp, cold and chilly. He was wearing smooth soled shoes. Almost no one else was venturing to the top on this blustery day. He stood up to put the cable in his left armpit and lost his grip, slipped and fell nearly 200 feet. Horrified onlookers could do nothing. Perhaps it was a stony outcropping that snagged him and he finally stopped parallel to and about 100 feet to the right of the base of the cables. Beneath him lie a 2,000 foot drop and certain death. Nearby hikers tossed him a nylon rope that he tied around his hand. The other end was too short  be secured to the cable, so 2 men held it tight.  Help was summoned and a helicopter rescue team dispatched. The man lay motionless while maintaining maximum friction with the surface to avoid any further slippage. Rescuers attached ropes to the cables and rappelled out to him. They traversed back, bringing the man to safety. He was unhurt, but near hypothermia as he waited 3 hours for the rescue team to arrive. Sonora resident David Wirtanen witnessed the fall and took these remarkable photos.  He said that there was absolutely nothing anyone could do to assist the man. Don’t play the lottery with your life. DO NOT go up if the rock is wet. Keep inside the cables. If you have any trepidation, turn around; there will be many more opportunities.

Man plunges over Vernal Fall (July, 2005)
Chintan Chokshi, 24, of Sunnyvale, CA completed his climb up the Mist Trail and was enjoying the Vernal Fall observation area when he climbed over the protective fence and walked into the water (apparently to cool off). He was an estimated twenty feet from the edge of Vernal Fall. He slipped on the slick rocks and the strong rushing water carried him over to a certain death. His companions watched in horror.

Lightning strike kills 2 (August 1985)
Five hikers ascended up Half Dome late in the day and met with tragedy from two ferocious lightning strikes. Their story is documented in the book, Shattered Air.  A True Account of Catastrophe and Courage on Yosemite’s Half Dome, by Bob Madgic (Burford Books). It recounts how the young men, full of enthusiasm and bravado, ignored nature’s warnings and hiked up the famed cable trail right into the vortex of a fierce thunderstorm. They took shelter in the rock “cave” enclosure at the summit. Lightning struck the Dome twice, killing one of the hikers and causing a second to tumble over the edge, out of the grasp of his best friend. Two survivors were gravely injured. Other hikers arrived at the scene and administered emergency medical treatment for over five hours deep into the night. Finally, an air ambulance helicopter arrived in Yosemite Valley at 12:30 a.m., and in a race with the descending moon, made three dangerous trips to the top of Half Dome to bring the surviving victims down from the summit.

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11 Responses to Accidents

  1. Daniel says:

    It’s called the Darwin Effect. Stupid people die off and it’s their own fault and the gene pool is improved.

    • Joe says:

      To Dan:

      Wow. Your compassion is amazing. Or possibly, Everyone is simply trying to attain some semblance of happiness. Some make mistakes and the outcome is tragic. Have you ever tripped or made a mistake? Sometimes, the result is death. But, that doesn’t lead me to thoughts of gene pool cleansing. I just see a father, a mother, a son or other who may have been in pain or may have simply been trying to find happiness.

  2. Phil Jones says:

    One of the park rangers said there were some powerful people that want not only half-dome closed to human traffic but most of the park closed to humans. He overhead a conversation between some of his superiors and there is a safety concern is lawsuits, cost of extraction, etc., when people get killed in the park. Also, there is a major environmental impact from 4 million people/year.

    I hope this not true.

    • Thanks for the input.

      Sure….people have been squawking for years like this…..but it is OUR park – not theirs!! Crys to take the cables off Half Dome are not new….however, the trail IS a National Historic site! Really. No worries. If they – whoever “they“ are- want less people then WHY is the NPS encouraging citizens to “find your park??”

      The park has way bigger fish to fry than to open that can of worms…how about the name changes. So all is well – no worries.

      By the way, not that many people die at Yosemite…and most are drowning. Only 3 have ever died when going up the cables during the summer season since 1919!!! 2 were weather related.

    • Bob Kujath says:

      I’ve hiked to the top of Half Dome….what an awesome experience!…, and there wouldn’t be one bit of environmental impact if a trillion people hiked up that rock every day. ……..after all….as I mentioned….it’s a rock! try it…you’ll like it!

  3. Dave G. says:

    About the “Lighting strike kills 2 (August 1985) event!
    I was with a group of 5 who started the hike to the top of Half Dome that day. We came up from Fresno where the temp. was high 90’s to the low 100’s. A lot of our group didn’t bring rain gear and didn’t know to much about the weather in the Sierra’s in the summer. A lot of us were really exhausted by the time we were in the forested saddle before the cable climb up the granite slope. It started to rain (Afternoon thundershowers). Several of our group wanted to head back down. Thinking we made it this far and not wanting to give up and go back we ended up making a shelter where one tree fell into the Y of another. Lots of dead branches, bark and moss later we could all fit inside and stay dry. Of course by the time we we’re done so was the storm. After we ate dinner and it was dark we almost fell asleep but that night was not to be quite.
    We kept hearing a lot of commotion and we realized we weren’t really alone in the wilderness. We thought it was a lot of other campers like us making noise when we encountered A brown bear sticking his nose into the opening of our shelter. We made a lot of noise and used our flashlights to get him to run off. The next morning we got off to a early start. When we got to the top of the Dome a somewhat young looking Ranger asked for our help in moving a body from a rock “cave” right next to the face of Half Dome. As we were helping we looked down and saw a helicopter way below at the base. The Ranger asked us to be careful so they wouldn’t have to retrieve us too. When we were moving the body to a area where the helicopter could pick him up I remember thinking it was so surreal he looked so young such a sad moment! The rest of our time on top of the Dome seemed odd and unreal looking at all the sites without the excitement…been there done that, ok lets go. It wasn’t my first run in with death, and wasn’t the last, but it’s still there in my memories.

    • wow…have you read “Shattered air??”

      • Ryan Fyles says:

        Interesting story, thanks for the insight. I haike to the top in 93′ with father and a friend. My dad said that a few years earlier, he made the hike to the top and when he got there, he noticed the same rock crevasse. When he got closer to the rocks and looked down into them, he saw a tennis shoe lodged down near the bottom. He was later told by a ranger that someone had been struck by lighting the week prior. I wonder if the the shoe he saw was somehow related to the story you mention above? Anyway, thanks again for the post.

        • Ryan,

          Yes it was. In 1985, 5 young men went up at night….It rained and about midnight, lightning struck the top. They went into the rock cave. Lightning killed one immediately, another went into convulsions and went over the edge. Two had it go in a leg and out the other side….the last was moving and did not get hit. Other hikers who prudently stayed below during the weather, went up to see the scene. They got help. So the tennis show was blown off one of the hikers. My sister also saw that shoe. HD was closed during the investigation….but they musta missed the shoe.

          Read the book “Shattered Air” that tells the whole story. In the appendix to my HD Guide book, I have a whole section on HD accidents. “One Best Hike: Yosemite’s Half Dome” … about $10 on Amazon.

          You can easily go into the rock cave – kinda neat…windows at both sides and a cool breeze inside.

  4. Nicole says:

    The hike and stay at the Ahwahnee Hotel was one of my best memories about Yosemite. Hiking in the Shenandoah National Park (the Blue Ridge Mountains) is toguher due to the humidity. Getting out of the office to see the best parts of California is always important.>

  5. Pingback: Retrospective: Half Dome – Adventure Sponge

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