How safe is Half Dome?

Half Dome – Yosemite Musing

     When I tell people about my passion – Half Dome, I am often told that “people are falling of that rock all the time.” Er, no they aren’t. I refer them to my website and the ACCIDENTS page. You can go there and learn about the 4 recent deaths. 2 in the off-season when the cables just lie on the rock’s damp surface; 1 who fell duijng a hailstorm last year; and 1 fatigued and dehydrated hiker who went up after driving 5 hours in the middle of the night. Those were the fatalities. A woman also fell but lived in June 2009 – also bad weather. Considering that about 50,000 have done the hike each recent summer, that’s pretty good odds. Oh, from 1919 when the cables were erected until 2007, nobody died when the cables were up for summer use. More go over the many waterfalls.  And if you take out weather and poor judgment, it’s actually safer than driving to Yosemite. A few years ago the head of the Yosemite Assn died in a car crash on Highway 140 while heading to work.  You can also read Death in Yosemite and tally them up yourself as of its 2007 publication date.

     As winter encroaches on us, many head to the ski resorts at Tahoe. Check these stats. In the injury category, across the USA, the leading cause of non-fatal trauma while doing “outdoor activities” was snowboarders at 1.8 injuries for every 1,000 “exposures.” Skiers at 3.0, surfers with 1.8 and mountain bikers at 1.2.  The annual average in the 2000’s showed skiing killed an annual average of  32.6 people, skydiving 29.2, mountaineering 25.4 and kayaking 17.4.

     Be careful when playing in the snow. Wear a helmet or just don’t do it. Since my 1997 blow-out eye socket fracture and subsequent acute traumatic glaucoma while skiing at Heavenly Valley, I’ve hung up my skis. I find plenty to do. So adjust your bindings, protect your knee ligaments as best you can, don’t hug trees at high speed and don’t stand on the slopes like a bowling pin. Yes, most injuries are from collisions. I’d bet if people knew just how dangerous skiing and snowboarding were, they would not go. When are resorts going to mandate helmets  – not just for kids but for adults? 

     The vendor who operates the Yosemite Clinic (Tenet Healthcare Corporation) will see their contract end December 31.  YNP is working with the US Public Health Service to staff the clinic with paramedics. The Medical Clinic building will be closed during  January for renovations. A triage emergency medical services station will be in place in the parking lot of the medical clinic. (Bring your snow shovel.) It is anticipated that the clinic will be staffed by PHS doctors and nurses by March. Don’t get hurt!!

Unrelated thought worth quoting: “I think that I cannot preserve my health and spirits, unless I spend four hours a day at least – and it is commonly more than that – sauntering through the woods and over the hills and fields, absolutely free from all worldly engagements.” – Henry David Thoreau

 *MrHalfDome – Rick Deutsch –


3 Responses to “How safe is Half Dome?”

  1. andy Says:

    Great info on the relative SAFETY of the Half Dome cables.

  2. Mr. Diving Board Says:

    YOU, Mister D, are a wealth of knowledge. That’s impressive staticial data you’ve recovered there. I remember when you blew out your eye…one heck of a thing. As for slipping off Half Dome….I’m sure it’s somewhere in the statistical range of 99.7% human error. Prior Proper Planning Prevents Poor Performance as well as prevents death by Deceleration Trauma. And YES! “Off the Wall: Death In Yosemite” (former Park Ranger Charles ‘Butch’ Farabee) is a great read. Not as gripping as “One Best Hike, Yosemite’s Half Dome,” from Wilderness Press, but hey… not everyone a famous explorer. Boy Scout Motto: Be Prepared. Knowledge isn’t Power. Knowledge applied appropriately is Power.

  3. john Says:

    The effort and determination necessary to make the long trip up half dome play a role in the low death and injury count too. If it was a 10 minute drive from the Valley, followed by a 20 minute hike, there would be “tons” of deaths and injuries every year. Simple water is the true killer in Yosemite.

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