Dateline: Sitka

 Half Dome – Yosemite Musing

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     This reporter is now in Sitka, Alaska. I felt a bit like J0hn Muir as he arrived in San Francisco in 1868. I loaded up some bread, granola and fruit off the ship and landed on the dock outfitted with my hiking boots, fanny pack and trekking poles. Where can I go that’s wild? I didn’t take any of the offered excursions, but merely walked east to the hills. Just like JM would have done. I found myself at the foot of Gavan Hill. I headed up and up until I reached an observation area at 1325 feet above the small town of Sitka. Sorry, but I am not downloading pix due to the limited bandwidth and high price of sea-internet.

      I only saw 4 people all day. One was a woman with her dog who was coming down. While chatting I noticed a can of pepper spray in a holster on her belt. Wha??? She said it was bear spray. Yikes! Oh yeah, I am in Alaska! She said there are brown bears in the Tongass National Forest and that she knew of two women who were “recently” mauled. Great. I continued the hike but made sure to clank my poles occasionally to let them know I was coming. Kinda fun. No bears spotted.

     Our Sonora Bureau provided a nice summary of a recent trip to Yosemite. The weather was stellar last Friday and in the mid 70’s both days. There are still patches of snow between the Big Oak Flat entrance, a bit past Cranes Flat. They continue to have the “ Icy Road” warning and chain control signs up although 120 the road was clear. Nights at Curry are still cold. The falls are rocking – tons of water. Glacier Point is still closed as is the 4-Mile trail. The Mist Trail is only partially open. Mirror Lake now looks like a lake and not the swamp of years past. To throw sand on the fire, there is yet another winter storm coming in this weekend with snow down to 4000 ft.  Thank you Sister Kathy. 

 Unrelated thought worth quoting: “Walking gets the feet moving, the blood moving, the mind moving. And movement is life.” – Carrie Latet

*MrHalfDome – Rick Deutsch –


15 Responses to “Dateline: Sitka”

  1. Sönke Says:

    Thanks for the Yosemite update. Webcam shows fresh snow in the valley right now. 😦

    • mrhalfdome Says:

      So … a July date for the cables to be up????????????????????????????

      • Sönke Says:

        Well, this year seems to be more unpredictable than ever. The plowing crews made good progress on Glacier Point Road but the upper parking lot still has 4-7 ft of snow. So I assume there’ll be a lot of snow on the HD trail as well.

        My PREDICTION as of today:

        HD cables -> June 17
        Glacier Point Road -> June 17
        Tioga Road -> July 1

      • Sönke Says:

        John Muir Trail is now open for the season.

  2. Maureen Lahiff Says:

    brown bears = what we often call grizzlies, right?

    our Yosemite bears, no matter what color they actually are, are
    black bears. (confusing!)

  3. Brent Says:

    Apparently 2 people died in Yosemite NP on Fri. the 13th in two separate incidents. Do you have any information? Thanks

  4. Norman S Says:

    There appears to have been two seperate incidents May 13th. The first story is from a person claiming to have been there Friday. It’s a little confusing but I think the incident occurred above the VF footbridge.

    “We got to the top of Vernal Falls for lunch. We decided to continue on to Nevada Falls and do the 5 mile loop back. We got back to the .3 mile marker before Vernal Falls and the Rangers had it closed off. We saw the Search and Rescue guy with his dry diving suit hiking up past the .3 mile marker (just above the Bridge). We found out that is was an older gentleman. He had started down the steps where it is really wet and slipped off the trail into the water and was smashed up against big boulders. He was killed instantly. The rescue team closed it off to recover the body but said it may wait until summer or fall for the water to calm down.”

    “Another ranger said a man died on the trail of Upper Yosemite Falls that same day. He was running down the trail and fell and hit his head on a rock and died instantly.”

  5. mrhalfdome Says:

    Great work, Norm. Ouch.

  6. Sönke Says:

    This has been published on

    “UT associate dean dies in fall at Yosemite park

    Kent Butler, a University of Texas associate dean, died while hiking in Yosemite National Park in California, according to a UT official.

    Fritz Steiner, dean of the school of architecture, said Butler was on a family trip and went hiking with his two daughters Friday. When Butler and a friend stepped aside to allow other hikers to pass, he slipped on the trail and fell to his death, Steiner said.

    Butler, 60, had worked at UT since 1978.

    “He was so integral to the school for so long, and the loss is so sudden, that we are still trying to cope with the loss,” Steiner said.

    He said Butler set the standard for how to conserve a habitat for endangered species through his Balcones Canyon Wildlife Conservation Plan, which preserved thousands of acres for more than two dozen endangered species in Travis County.

    Butler was married and had four children, Steiner said.”

    Nothing on yesterday’s daily report or the national report yet.

  7. Norman S Says:


    Read your comment above from May 16. Are you sure the upper JMT is open? It’s still listed as “closed from Clark Point to the top of Nevada Fall” on the NPS website, ‘Wilderness Conditions.’ And there’s more rain today.


    • Sönke Says:

      Good point, Norm. According to YNP’s Daily Report

      “The John Muir Trail (including the ice cut) is open for the season. (5/16)”

      This has been published on the 16th and 17th. Usually the Daily Report is pretty accurate. However it’s not been published on the NPS YNP website yet (which is not always up to speed).

      I’ve read a report from some climbers who went up Snake Dike and according to their (unconfirmed) report the cables are free of ice and snow. 4 ft of snow on Subdome though. This was a trip on the 11th. So it might look a bit different now because of the recent snowfalls in the higher elevations. Interesting news anyway.

      Today’s NPS Morning Report also mentioned the two casualties from Friday. Apparently there was a third death (which happened outside the park and in my book I wouldn’t count it as a “Yosemite casualty”):

      Tuesday, May 17, 2011


      Yosemite National Park (CA)
      Three Die In Separate Incidents On Same Day

      Yosemite rangers responded to three unrelated fatalities on Friday, May 13th:

      Kent Butler, 60, of Austin, Texas, was hiking on the Mist Trail to Vernal Fall late that morning when he slipped off the trail and slid down a slab into the Merced River, currently swollen with spring runoff. 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 on Saturday via a high line rigged across the river by rangers. This was a highly technical and dangerous rescue operation. The Mist Trail, the most popular in the park, was closed during the incident, but has since reopened.

      During the above incident, park dispatch received a report of an unresponsive adult male on the Upper Yosemite Fall Trail. Witnesses said that James Dunbar of Berkeley, California, was running down the trail and suffered a head injury. Rangers administered life support but he was pronounced dead at the scene. He was evacuated via a wheeled litter.

      A resident of Yosemite West, a small community adjacent to the park, died in his sleep due to medical complications. No further details are available.

  8. Brent Says:

    Thanks for the information. Kent Butler was one of my thesis advisors at Texas, an excellent professor and all-around great guy. Very sad.

  9. Sönke Says:

    The SFC has an update on what happened to the younger hiker. Very tragic and sad. 😦

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