Half Dome Fall

Half Dome – Yosemite Musing

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     On July 31, Ms. Hayley LaFlamme of San Ramon was pursuing her goal of hiking to the top of Half Dome with her sister, and two friends.  About 20 others were on the cables also. Soon after noon the four descended down the cables. The rock was damp from a brief morning rain. About halfway from the top, she somehow lost her grip on the cables, slipped and tumbled down. To my knowledge only 2 people have slid down the rock and are alive today. (See my website accidents page.) Hayley was 26. San Ramon is a small town in northern California’s Contra Costa county. Basically, it’s near the Interstate 580 and 680 junction 40-miles east of Oakland. A nice middle class community not too far from my global headquarters in San Jose-by-the-sea. I can bet she trained in the same mountains I do: Pleasanton Ridge, Mission Peak and Mt Diablo.

Half Dome warning signs

     My condolences to her family and friends.  I do not know if she attended one of my talks or read my book for Half Dome information. The park requires permits, so if she was the person who got the permits she had to check off to acknowledge that she read the safety precautions. To their credit, there are pages of information on the NPS webs – and even a video. It was reported that the ranger checking permits at Sub Dome (400 feet below the cables) warned visitors to avoid the treacherous climb. There are many signs telling hikers about the dangers of being on Half Dome when it’s wet. Click to enlarge.

Half Dome warning sign at Sub Dome


Warning Sign at start of cables

     Details of the incident are still sketchy and the park usually does not say much more than was on the Press Release. We may never know, but it looks like she slipped on the wet rock and went under the cable.

    If you have gone up the cables, you know how slick the path is – it’s been there since 1919 and up to 60,000 people a year rub it smooth. Tennis shoes are bad, bad, bad. I recommend real hiking boots with fresh ripple soles. I recommend rubberized gloves. I recommend  heading down if weather is coming in. The park provides a forecast each day. It was a 20% chance of precipitation yesterday. 20% hit. R.I.P Hayley.

Unrelated thought worth quoting: “Then it seems to me the Sierra should be called, not the Nevada, or Snowy Range, but the Range of Light.” – John Muir 1890 

*MrHalfDome – Rick Deutsch – www.HikeHalfDome.com


11 Responses to “Half Dome Fall”

  1. Joyce Says:

    Indeed, most definitely, my sincere sympathies to the family and friends of this young woman.

    I wonder, if perhaps, she thought that the chance or rain was so small it was not a worry? I have come to find that, strangely, right now, if even a small chance of rain is predicted, it is likely.

    Strange because in the winter, here in San Diego, they predict rain often and it doesn’t usually happen.

    Thank you for keeping us informed on this.

  2. Scott Baines Says:

    I guess the real trouble comes when it looks clear on your way up and then a fast-moving system rolls in. Then you are in a real bad spot; if you ride it out on the summit you are at great risk due to exposure to lightning, but coming down on that wet rock is also risky (and the cables are also a lightning rod). Tough call.

    Obviously, the best answer is “don’t ascend if there is rain nearby or forecast”, but, looking at the time lapse video of 7/31, I can see how someone may have thought an ascent was ok until just after 10 am:

    http://archives.halfdome.net/archive/search (use Glacier Pt. cam)

    My sincere condolences to Hayley’s family and friends.

  3. Darin Says:

    Also my sincerest condolences to Hayley’s Family and friends.
    I believe Scott is 100% correct regarding rapidly changing conditions. Family, friends and I made the ascent on Saturday, July 30th after a late start from camp. We were amazed at how quickly the weather came in & it was from a direction that was mostly unobstructed from view. We made the decision to go up as conditions were favorable when at the base of the cables. By the time we reached the visor, it deteriorated rapidly & the static electricity was so severe that everyone on top got to lower ground (as much as you can) and waited for a cell to go by to the SE. We turned off all cameras & electronics as static arched across the screens and from person to person. We did not want to be anywhere near the cables during the lightning and chose to rather sit it out. There were about 40 people on top at that time including three that just climbed the face, and to a to a person, we were all spooked. If that cell had backed up at all, we could very well have been in the same position as Hayley…. Wondering how bad this is going to get, should we get down now before it gets REALLY bad and lightning starts striking the top when everyone is wet…
    On Sunday, the weather came in more from the West & Half Dome hid many of the cells from view if you were on the east side for any length of time. Although it came in much earlier than the day before, I could see where you could be lulled into thinking it was ok.
    We picked up camp & hiked out Sunday, late morning. There were continuous thunder and severe downpours along the way. I know that the reports are stating that Hayley slipped, that is probably true but I believe there was a contributing factor of lightning either very near of directly. Nearly every Ranger that we spoke to along the way spoke of lightning striking a person and then falling. From along the trail, we witnessed a lightning strike directly on the dome in the vicinity of the cables at exactly 12:01 pm. This strike is confirmed by the Glacier point webcam for that day.
    I can only imagine the terror for all who were there and they are all in my prayers.

    • mrhalfdome Says:

      Wow – thanks for the report Darin. This is first person and very informative. i guess sometimes “stuff” happens outside of our control.

    • AL Says:

      Excellent post Darin. That’s what I thought also as I was hiking up Upper Yo Falls Sunday at 10am. There were clouds from a distance but they did not look scary or ominous. It was light gray in color, no lightning and no thunder heard. If I was at the base of the cables at 10am, I would likely go up. It did not deteriorate until 10:45am, by that time one would be at the top and scared to go down the cables thinking of a lightning strike. At this time, we heard thunder about 10 miles away. So if one is at the top, the question is to risk going down or stay put. A newbie would likely panic and decide to go down. I’d probably be in panic also if it was my first time and end up the same way. RIP Hayley. We will offer a prayer for you on our August 24 hike to HD.

  4. Shean Hoxie Says:

    I was on the subdome at around 1130am on sunday and left around 1145am. When we reached the bottom near the ranger, there was an extremely close lightning strike near the top of half dome. Dont know if it struck the cables or not, but my deepest condolences go out to the family. Hiking up the whole morning it was very good weather, with clouds in the horizon. Once we came out of the trees near the dome at around 11am, there was heavy cloud cover and it started sprinkling around 1115am. We decided to hike to at least the sub dome and see if the weather passed. At approx. 1135 it started raining and 1145 we left very quickly as there were several lightning strikes and one strike which lit a tree approx 2-3 miles away from the dome on the south side of the valley. Again, my thoughts go out to the young lady who lost her life and her family. She most likely started up around 1030am or so when the weather was still holding without rain or lightning. The ranger was DEFINITELY warning people not to go up at 1115am. He told my wife after I went up that he would not have gone up himself and that it would only get worse.

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