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How about educating hikers on half dome?
#1009 06/21/07 08:22 PM
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Posts: 108
Posted by saddenedone, 06-21-2007
I was up on half-dome climbing down the cables at the top when the hiker fell, people were screaming, crying, and one man was vomiting at what he had just witnessed. I am a very inexperienced hiker (this was my first hike ever) and I was very uneducated about the hike, I knew it was supposed to be very strenuous, and had heard there were cables to climb, but I had no clue how strenuous this hike would be. Thank goodness that my family had purchased camel baks and taken plenty of fluid and protein bars etc for the hike. I am ashamed to say I wore keds and my husband and boys of 11 and 14 wore Vans. I am so sick of hearing on the other forum I was on how stupid I was to go up there so unprepared. I know that I was unprepared, I would have never attempted it had I been educated properly.... What I think is needed is full blown education on this hike before people attempt it. Like mentioned before I am not a hiker, but I am sick of all the experienced hikers treating me like I am ignorant. I am educated, I'm a Registered Nurse, but was not prepared for a hike as this. There definetely needs to be some better safety measures implemented, I'm just not sure what. I am deeply saddened for the family and friends of the hiker that fell. One thing I did learn that day is how good people are when it gets down to the nitty gritty. People who didn't even know each other were consoling each other, and a large group of us assembled to pray for the fallen hiker as emergency crews arrived. It gave me a whole new view of people, and how good they are and can be. That is what I learned that day.

For all you hikers out there,..I'm praying for your safety.

Posted by 06-21-2007
Saddened, I'm glad to know you made it up and back safely and sorry that you were present to witness a tragic accident.

I've been actively hiking since I was in Scouts 45 years ago and if I've learned anything, it is to research, research, research each and every hike or climb I undertake. The information you spoke of wanting is out there but I understand that people will inevitably try things way beyond their knowledge, skills and experience (KSE). Look at my WWW site and realize that it took me seven attempts to stand atop my eponymous peak. Likewise, look at the state highoints from which I've backed down for various reasons. In the case of Mt. Ritter, it took me a half-dozen attempts to finally find the right resource (Owen Maloy) who could direct me to a tolerable route "my" mountain. I'm definitely still learning...I won't try some of my remaining state highpoints without assistance (Hood, Rainier, Granite and, ultimately, McKinley) even though several of the remaining ones are peaks I feel perfectly comfortable leading myself.

What bothers me is the presumption that someone else should be responsible for spoon-feeding information to the uninformed. (Ignorance is no sin. STAYING ignorant, on the other hand...)

I spend a lot of my free time working with Scouts and helping them to learn how to handle themselves on the trail, how to read and interpret maps, etc. When I look at young men like my son, who just graduated from high school, I see guys who will be able to get a pretty good idea of what is involved on a particular trail and decide whether it is within their KSE or whether they need more training/help to go there safely.

If people set out on a long tough trip like Half Dome or the Main Whitney Trail without properly preparing, they are ultimately responsible for their own decisions. There are numerous resources both direct (Sierra Club) and remote (this board, for instance) where an inexperienced hiker can find what the KSE requirements are for a particular trek or climb and whether they're ready or need more assistance/training. I'm enough of a Libertarian to think that it is still a matter of individual responsibility to actively undertake such research and training.

From what has been written about the accident in question, it could have happened on any overlook just about anywhere, not just something as crowded and exposed as Half Dome. Some things, you can't protect against.

As for you and your family, please don't let this experience keep you from the wilderness. Learn from it, especially if it teaches you to explore the available information more thoroughly before going somewhere new, and take the time to build up your own KSE base so you are better prepared for the next trip.

Posted by VersatileFred, 06-21-2007
Sorry to hear about your ordeal. It certainly is not fun to see an accident happen in real life.

At the same time, we all can be victims of our own human nature at any moment in time. Education can help make people aware of issues, but it still comes down to what people themselves "want" to hear (a.k.a, "cognitive dissonance"). Unfortunately, we tend to forget or distance ourselves from issues until we learn our lesson the hard way.

On this board, we try to educate people on the hazards of mountain hiking. After three day hikes on the Mount Whitney Trail with incidents in our group, I made a post on this message board after my first trip without incident (see
previous trips). I also set up the feature thread Orientation Notes for Whitney First Timers to point out a number of things to consider before hiking the Main Mount Whitney Trail.

Since my first hike up the main trail, I have had a number of people have come up out of the woodwork with the dream of hiking to the summit. I immediately confront them about all the problems that people in my previous groups had (including one person getting airlifted out of Trail Camp). One of them had a dream of hiking up Half Dome a month ago. Fortunately, some of my fellow hikers encouraged her to get some hiking shoes and trekking poles when she was having trouble hiking in scree earlier this year. I also encouraged her to go on a long uphill hike in our area that the group was doing to get her familiar with hiking uphill and downhill about the same distance. She took our advice, went at her own pace with a couple of other people, and did not push herself to get to the cables. She was ready for Half Dome, but knew when to turn back.

In my opinion, the best hiking education is to find a hiking group in your area and learn from other people in the group. You should start with easy hikes (less than 3 miles) before you go on intermediate (3-10 miles) or long hikes. You should hike on a wide variety of terrain to learn how your body reacts. Unfortunately, most people in our fast-paced society do not have the time to do that, and when the opportunity to hike something like Half Dome materilizes, they go unprepared.
Orientation Notes for Whitney First Timers

Posted by Lance Smith, 06-21-2007
Hi SaddeneDome,

Sorry about your first hike, i'm sure that was rough on your boys. But congrats on making it to the outdoors and to this board. This board is a little more gentle than some of the hardcore climbing boards so feel free to hang out and learn more. We'd like to educate everyone about the outdoors (techniques, etiquette, leave no trace, etc) but there are 6 billion people on the planet and not so many of us. So we have to start somewhere, usually with people who want to learn. The rangers try to do their best when handing out permits, but there are only 2 of them in the hut and 1000 people a day come, there are signs warning people but no one pays attention. But the hardest part for you is over, trip #1 is the eye opener for just about everyone. There are many avenues to learn, REI, A16, and other stores have classes. LA has one of the biggest chapters of the Sierra Club and they have great inexpensive classes, their classes are usually better and cheaper than the entry level commercial classes (for advanced training go to RMI, etc). You won't be asked to chain yourself to a tree or burn down a starbucks, it's not like that at all. The SC classes are there to educate and safety is a key ingredient, you can't educate if no one wants to go.

I'd recommend an beginner class then start with some easy hikes (jerry schad's book is *highly highly* recommended) around town. Then work your way up to harder hikes. If you have any questions feel free to post them and we'll answer. This board also has a search feature and since it has been here so long has many Q&A posts you can sort through.

LA Sierra Club - many many sub sections with problaby one that will appeal to your hiking level.

medium hike for your family: San Jacinto from the *tram*. Have dinner in Palm Springs afterwards. Bring boots, water, lunch, rain gear (especially in late summer), and the of course the 10 essentials.


Posted by saddenedone, 06-21-2007
To everyone who answered my concern,thanks for the tips, I think it will be a long time before i hike again, but it truly was beautiful, i will really educate myself for the next trip, i did say to my husband that this trip really makes you appreciate, but most of all RESPECT NATURE.
God's blessings.

Posted by Wayne, 06-22-2007
Dear saddenedone,

We are all saddened about the tragedy you experienced on Half Dome.

When I was climbing on Banner Peak, next to Allan's eponymous peak, Mt. Ritter, I watched a new climber sliding down the ice on Mt. Ritter. He was equipped with his ice axe and crampons, but could not seem to arrest his slide. Just as his feet reached the precipice to eternity, he managed to stop himself. Disaster averted! A mighty close call. Talk about an adenalin rush--for him and all of us who watched him in intense slow motion.

On one of my drives to Mt. Whitney on 395, I came across a tragic auto accident--a head-on collision that had just happened moments before. Seven bodies were strewn all over the highway--mom and dad and all their little children. The whole family was wiped out in an instant.

Most of us come across car accidents one time or another, and some of them are fatal. I only mention this, because I did not stop driving because of what I saw and experienced first hand that tragic day on 395. I'll always remember the accident, and, hopefully, be a safer driver, but I will keep driving.

So, I know you need to time to recover from what you saw and experienced that tragic day on Half Dome, but I truly hope you get back to hiking sooner than later, and I think you will be better for it after such a life-experience on Half Dome.

Thanks for sharing your thoughts.

Posted by California-Trailwalker, 06-22-2007
I think it will be a long time before I hike again...

SaddenedOne - Given what you saw, that feeling is understandable. But, hiking wasn't the cause of this; one individual's unfortunate misjudgment was. You just need to get back on the horse, so to speak, and take another ride. I would suggest sooner rather than later, so that your new good hiking experiences will gradually balance out the one bad hiking experience, while both are still recent and fresh in your mind. The good things that normally come out of hiking are definitely worth that effort, in my opinion. I think the best thing you could do is actually go out and do a series of less challenging hikes to give you some good hiking experiences/memories, before dwelling on this one bad experience begins to take on a life of its own in your thinking over time. Personally, I always find that walking/hiking is a great way to clear my mind and get my thoughts and feelings together about anything, and particularly something as unforgettable as what you and your family experienced. Just my two cents, but I think you will find my suggestion to be validated if you actually do it.


Posted by Lance Smith, 06-22-2007
Your boys will absolutely love this hike. It's a little over 4 miles each way with lots of canyon wall hiking, some splashing, maybe some panning for gold. You can't get lost, it's one up and down. Going past the bridge will take you into some amazing slots but it's a bit trickier with some class 2 scrambling. And it's almost in downtown LA.

San Gabriel River - East Fork


Posted by RupertGB, 06-22-2007
Dear Saddendone,

I'm truly sorry to hear that your first experience hiking was so aweful. I lost a close friend last year in a kayaking accident in Switzerland, so i am very aware of the hazards of the outdoors.

I climbed Whitney 10 days or so ago, and passed several people along the who did not have suitable clothing, footwear or other gear, as evidenced by those who were wearing sweat pants and old running shoes when it started to snow at the top on June 11. Every hike, long or short, in every climate poses its own unique risks that should be assessed fully before departure.

As pointed out by others, there are many sources of information regarding hiking etc...joining a group and learning by experience is undoubtdly the best method of gaining the required skills. the majority of hikers and backpackers are more than willing to share their knoweledge and experience.

The rewards are great, but planning is paramount.

Posted by Alan, 06-22-2007
Saddenedone, as I noted in my earlier reply, ignorance is no sin. Neither, I should say, is all education applicable.

My degrees are in electrical engineering. Do those provide much of use in the backcountry? Well, unless I'm analyzing some esoteric aspect of electric fields in a thunderstorm, the answer is no. All of my EE and CS skills are of little value once I leave the trailhead.

Your training as a nurse is actually of at least potential use in the wild. I would assume your ability to deal with injuries should be significantly better than mine, despite training I've had in both conventional and backcountry first aid.

I think what rubbed you the wrong way was condescension on the part of some experienced hikers. Most of us will try to impart knowledge and advice (trail conditions, cautions about a specific trail or weather conditions) in a helpful, uncritical manner. Trouble is, a lot of people either tune us out or bllithely proceed with a "that'll never happen to me" attitude.

I can't tell you the number of times I've commented to uphill hikers about t-storms blowing in only to see them trudge on up the trail, ignoring the advice. 99.9% of the time, they'll get away with it but it only takes one time guessing the wrong way. Same for exposed routes and falls as you witnessed. The mountains are singularly unforgiving and one of the first and most important rules to learn is Rule Number One:

1. The summit is optional. Coming back in one piece is mandatory.

The first corollary is likewise instructive:

1.a) The mountain will still be there next year.

Stick around the mountaineering community a while and you'll soon find out that most of us freely admit we, too, were newbies once upon a time and either had some helpful mentors along the way or consider ourselves lucky to have gotten away with some of the dumb things we did when we first started. Similarly, most of us figure the best way to repay those mentors is to pass along what we've learned from them and from our own experience to others who are new to the craft.

Posted by Bob T., 06-22-2007
Well, Alan, there is the key. If experienced hikers treated her like she was ignorant, well, she was ignorant, but as you mention, ignorance is no sin, but if she was treated in a condescending manner because of her ignorance, well, that is inappropriate. Unfortunately, sometimes advice offered in a manner that is intended to be helpful and nonjudgmental (you say uncritical, but if one is pointing out mistakes of another in trying to be helpful and nonjudgmental, it is in a sense still critical, but it is constructive criticism) can be perceived as condescending. Offering unsolicited helpful and nonjudgmental advice that points out someone's mistakes is rarely perceived as anything but condescending, that is avoided only if the advice is asked for.

Sometimes, however, basic decency suggests offering unsolicited advice, to try to help someone from making potentially serious mistakes. Sometimes people are appreciative, sometimes not, but I have heard enough backlash from those who don't want to be treated as ignorant that I rarely offer unsolicited advice, and I sometimes wonder if that is cruel of me ("What, you didn't say anything? Your attitude was 'if they die, they die'?? How incredibly inhuman!").

The funny thing is, the most potentially deadly mistake I ever made when I was relatively inexperienced was trusting the judgment of someone who did have a lot of experience. I was climbing Longs Peak, I was at the top of the trough when it started raining hard. I sat with others under an overhang. I was 18 and had enough experience and intelligence to think that it seemed wise to turn back, but I had never been up the trail, and did not know what lay ahead. I had sort of hooked up with a 60 year old guy who was going to the top for his 10th time. Other people who were sitting with us decided to turn back. When the rain eased up, the 60 year old guy said he was heading up. He seemed to think it was no problem, and I figured he had the experience to know the trail and what was safe. But the rock on the homestretch was very, very slick. As a result of the slick rock, I slipped on the way down and could have gone a long way. Fortunately, I did stop, I'm not even sure how. But I would have been better off trusting my judgment and not continuing rather than trusting the much more experienced and less ignorant guy who knew the trail.

In the end, I agree with saddenedone that education before going up is needed, but people are responsible for their own education. Asking the NPS or the USFS or the State Parks or whatever jurisdiction covers a trail to require proof of full blown education before each hike up any trail would be silly, so each of us is responsible for making sure we are educated before we go off and do things.

But if we go off less than fully educated, I do think that when others offer advice, it is best to assume the best in others, that the advice is given to be helpful, and not to condescend.

Posted by norweejunwood, 06-22-2007
realistically, as long as we go outdoors we will see others doing the same without adequate preparation for some activities. what are you gonna do? on the one hand, it can be dangerous. on the other, following your urge is part of human nature, including bolting up a trail on a whim, just to see if you can do it. that's the freedom of choice we have whether it's wise or not. nature and the environment has a way of letting them know what they need to do before a second trip. except for the tragic accident they witnessed, it sounds like saddenedone and her family summitted -- and could've had a unique bonding experience -- despite being ill-prepared.

Posted by Lance Smith, 06-24-2007
we have to be prepared and educated for everything we do, be it going to the mall, scuba diving, or going hiking. No one goes to the mall without their credit cards, car, or clothes- we've been taught how to 'mall' since we were children. Scuba looks dangerous and there are some regulatory roadblocks so people have to take a class. The 'problem' with hiking is that it looks so simple and there are no barriers to entry, people think they can just throw on some birkenstocks and tackle everest. If people realize they are about to undertake a new sport and that they need training... the million dollar question: how to convince people of this?


Posted by conquest, 06-25-2007
As a longtime climber, but new member of the "experienced climber" group, I have noticed there is one great difference between climbers that are experienced, prepared and educated and those that are not. It is not simply knowing how difficult the trail is or checking the weather report before you leave, the "experienced" climbers have a thirst for information. I don't know about the rest of you, but I plan on being on Mt. Whitney for a total of three days this year (if I choose to use the extra night I have on my permit instead of hiking out right after I summit), but I have already spent more than that time browsing years of discussions on this forum, and now recently, posting to them as well. I think for many of us, for each hour we spend hiking or climbing, we spend 10 hours talking and learning about it.

Posted by westcoastdog, 06-25-2007
Last fall a woman slipped on the way down from Half Dome and was killed; the posts were down and the granite wet from rains. This woman, a hiking companion of a close friend, was a strong backpacker and had hiked in the Grand Canyon and much of the JMT. I suspect her confidence convinced her that Half Dome was doable. I could have been her...

I just finished "Off the Wall: Death in Yosemite" and it brought back memories of my own youthful foolishness. What experienced hiker hasn't taken shortcuts or gone cross-country to explore and find solitude? Shortcuts in Yosemite can lead to falls of hundreds of feet, and going off an established trail to get a better view, a better camera angle, can have the same consequence.

The contributors to this board are by and large experienced backpackers and confident in our outdoor abilities. However, the moutains can be just as brutal and unforgiving for our mistakes as it is to tyros wearing sneakers.

Will I stop taking short cuts and going off trail? Probably not. But I will be more selective and reduce the amount of my risk.

Posted by pusatera, 06-26-2007
A couple of thoughts from your post regarding training and additional information for safer attempts at Half Dome. The first one is, the NPS should move to a permit system to reduce the numbers of hikers during the busy summer months. Part of the permit system should be a pamphlet with information regarding the hike. This must be done in a manner that does not reduce the freedom we have regarding hiking in our National Parks.

The second point is regarding your comment of training and educating people like yourself that have never hiked either before or hiked Half Dome. In my opinion the responsibility for all hikers is to educate themselves prior to attempting any hike in which they lack knowledge. This responsibility does not fall on the shoulders of the NPS. We need people to take responsibility for their actions and prepare themselves for these hikes.

Lastly, the story is very sad regarding the man that fell to his death on the mountain. The sad news is that 8-12 people die each year in Yosemite. The National Parks are wild and each user must understand what they getting into and respect the mountains.

Posted by Gary R, 06-26-2007
I don't know how many go up Half Dome in the summer, but just looking at photos of the cables, if we figure 200 per day over the summer months June-Sept, that's 24,000 people (a wild estimate, admittedly, but feasible).

One person gets killed and something "needs to be done"? True, there were a couple of fatalaties when the cables were down, but you can't count that...othewise you're going to have to "figure out what to do" if someone falls off the face of El Cap. When the HD cables are down, it's climber beware, nothing needs to be done.

While one in 24000 is still kind of a high fatality rate, look how many years the cables have been up with NO fatalaties, which would probably make the count in the millions for that one fatality. So is there really a problem in that respect, that needs to be 'fixed'?

I think the issue is crowding, and maybe that could be somewhat fixed by cutting down some of the spur-of-the-moment, "I know, let's go up Half Dome" hikers who often go without any preparation or knowledge of what they're about to do. So maybe a simple permit system would help in that regard...not limiting numbers, just requiring them to watch a 1/2 hour video at the visitor center and sign that they understand. Unfortunately, then they'd need a ranger somewhere around quarter dome to keep an eye on things and check the permits.

The video could show what they'll see if they look down (and IMO, if they can't look down, they shouldn't be up there to begin with), educate them to bring enough water and a flashlight and gloves, not to go up during thunderstorms, to break up their group into small groups on the cables, how long it will take, etc. and to emphasize that the cables demand their full attention, that if they slip and fall, they'll die. Show them a video of the overcrowded cables and how slow it must be. It could also discourage parents from dragging scared kids up the cables.

I think the extra trouble of having to get that permit, plus a bit of education might deter some from going, and perhaps make the ones that do go a bit more aware. That might cut the numbers down somewhat. They should NOT limit the number of permits though, that can just keep some responsible people who planned the trip from doing it, and let some last-minute "I know, let's..." folks up instead.

Or, just leave it alone. The reputation for crowding may get around and eventually make it a less popular hike, but if people go up in summer on a weekend and leave at 8 AM, what do they expect?
Photo Albums:

Posted by Steve C, 06-26-2007
Originally Posted By: Gary R
I don't know how many go up Half Dome in the summer, but just looking at photos of the cables, if we figure 200 per day over the summer months June-Sept, that's 24,000 people (a wild estimate, admittedly, but feasible).

Your estimate is way too low, Gary. In this post from last year (Half Dome 8-12-06), I wrote:
there was a park employee counting heads at the base of the cables, and when we descended, he had counted around 650. And there must have been more than 100 going up after us.

I would estimate there may be more like 50,000 per year going up.

Posted by westcoastdog, 06-26-2007
I did HD on a Saturday in October and the cables were still very crowded, so packed that some climbers were holding on to a friend in front instead of a cable. The traffic was so bad that I went down the cables on the outside (yeah, not brilliant). My suggestion is to build a parallel cable that would enable one way traffic up and down.

Re: How about educating hikers on half dome?
Whitney Zone #1010 06/26/07 01:12 PM
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Posted by Bob K., 06-26-2007
Gary R seemed to make sense. But I think a 5 minute video instead of 1/2 hour would do the job. However, I suspect nothing will be done since an occasional death in Yosemite (e.g. going over the falls, drowning, etc.) has been accepted for many years and the Park service budget is limited. One thing they do is put an account of some deaths in the Park newspaper that they hand out when you enter the Park. (I haven't been there in a long time, I assume they still have this.) This might warn people. But if the current uptick in cable deaths isn't just a glitch and the rate of cable deaths is on the rise for some reason, then something might be done. If there's a story about it on the national TV evening news, then a change in policy may follow.

Posted by rosabella, 06-26-2007
I'm really undecided on the question of requiring permits for Half Dome.

Last summer was my 6th (I think) trip up Half Dome. I was sickened by the amount of trash on the trail and horrified by the number of people that we passed that were obviously unprepared. My immediate reaction was that this could be corrected by requiring permits, which would involve some type of education before being issued.

What concerned me, though, is that it could be opening a "Pandora's Box". Gary R made a good suggestion - "they should NOT limit the number of permits though, that can just keep some responsible people who planned the trip from doing it, and let some last-minute "I know, let's..." folks up instead." But once the permitting process is in place there's no going back. Look what happened on Whitney. it wasn't that long ago that day-hike permits on the Main Trail were not required.

On the other hand, the numbers going up Half Dome, especially on weedends, are staggering. I've always timed my trips to go up mid-week and was on the trail before light. Possibly requiring permits would cut down on the numbers of tourists who decide to climb just so they can go home and say they did it. Every time I've picked up a permit to do the JMT, or segments of it, I still have to listen to the Ranger explain food storage, where to camp, "pack it out", etc. It's OK.

Yup...I'm still undecided.
"What we have done for ourselves alone dies with us; what we have done for others and the world remains and is immortal." Albert Pike

Posted by Steve C, 06-26-2007
And even with the permit process on Whitney, you can read today how the current process does not weed out the people going up unprepared and uneducated! -- ( Trip report from a first timer )

So permits for Half Dome would just cut back the numbers, and that's about it.

Posted by dayhiker., 06-26-2007
In the "official" Yosemite website, the park service should have an easy to find Half Dome page that covers more of the dangers, safety tips and hiking FAQs that you find on the "official" Grand Canyon website. Unless you use the search option, you might not even find the Half Dome page because it is slightly hidden on the Yosemite website: Plan Your Visit // Things To Do // in this menu select Places To Go, not Hiking // Rock Formations // Half Dome // hike. Seems that the park service has not promoted the Half Dome hike, maybe they wanted to keep it more like an item on the In-N-Out Burger secret menu.

Posted by Dryfly, 06-27-2007
Originally Posted By: saddenedone
What I think is needed is full blown education on this hike before people attempt it. Like mentioned before I am not a hiker, but I am sick of all the experienced hikers treating me like I am ignorant. I am educated, I'm a Registered Nurse, but was not prepared for a hike as this. There definetely needs to be some better safety measures implemented, I'm just not sure what.


I'm sorry you had to see this happen. But, in a sad and disturbing way, you and your family learned an important lesson of the outdoors: There is inherent risk each and every time people go into the backcountry. People get hurt and people do die. On every trip? Of course not. But it does happen. These inherent risks can be mitigated and minimized trough education, planning, practice, etc. -- and most trips will be awesome, enjoyable, and incident free. But there is no such thing as a risk-free trip into the backcountry. Period.

Your suggestion of a "full blown education" program on this hike before people begin it highlights what is probably the single biggest problem occuring in the outdoors today. I'm not disrespecting your intelligence here. Just speaking the truth. We live in an age when people expect others to take responsibility for their safety. Injured, stuck, or otherwise in need of assistance on Half Dome? No problem, flip open your cell phone and a helicopter will come and rescue you, right? Technology is a double-edged sword. It at once encourages more people to go into the backcountry and yet, at the same time, creates the expectation that safety can be guaranteed.

The truth is this: It is your responsibility to educate yourself before going into the backcountry. Period. It's not the Park Service's job, it's not the Forest Service's job, it's not the Bureau of Land Management's job. It is your job.

There is tons and tons of information available, for free and for purchase, on Half Dome -- books, online trip reports, online photos, online sample itineraries, chat rooms with people talking about how to prepare and plan for the hike, best time of year to do it, etc.

Here's an idea: Simply walk up to a ranger in Yosemite Village and ask him/her what to expect.

This stuff isn't rocket science. Intelligence can help in the outdoors. But even the smartest guys in the room can get into trouble. Just ask the execs at Enron. In the backcountry, experience means more than education. Until you gain some experience, assume you know nothing. When I'm going somewhere I've never been, I assume I know nothing about what to expect. I'm an educated guy. But I wouldn't just go out and build a bridge. Why? I'm not an engineer.

I hope your boys catch a bug for the outdoors. I caught it at a young age and it has brought loads joy to my life, taken me to amazing places, and helped define who I am as a person. But the simple rule of thumb is this: If you don't know, don't go.

Posted by rosabella, 06-27-2007
Bravo, Dryfly... well said.
"What we have done for ourselves alone dies with us; what we have done for others and the world remains and is immortal." Albert Pike

Posted by FIRST 14, 06-27-2007
Extremely well said, I have been alarmed by some of the comments and suggestions I have read regarding this topic.

Posted by dayhiker., 07-07-2007
A Half Dome article in today's SF paper:

I don't think that a third cable would make the cables any safer. What if the park service instead added two more cables stretched along the bottom of the poles with shorter vertical cables spaced at one foot intervals? At least that way anyone who slipped and fell would have a chance to grab onto something before he picked up speed, lost control and started tumbling. Experienced mountaineers (which I am not) carry ice axes to self arrest; inexperienced hikers hiking up Half Dome, in just as dangerous an environment, should have some means to self arrest.

Posted by Sierra Sam, 07-07-2007
I can tell you that this kind of issue is a constant source of debate within the ranger community. I work as a volunteer backcountry ranger in Yellowstone and there are many natural risks, including thermal features, cold water that rapidly incapacitates people, deep and fast running streams, bears, etc. etc. The rangers try hard to educate people and answer questions, but the sad fact is that most people don't want to take the time because they either think they already know or aren't interested in learning. It is not unusual after a rescue to hear a ranger say that they had concerns about that person. An extreme example is the climbing rangers on Rainier who actively try to talk every climber out of climbing the mountain because they don't want to be hauling them out in body bags the next day.

However, it is usually not possible for a ranger to stop someone from taking on more than they think they can handle. At the end of the day, it is about personal responsibility and I don't think we really want the government telling us everything that we can and can't do in the wilderness to the point where there is zero risk.

Posted by Whitney Mike, 07-07-2007
My friends and I did Half Dome five days after the Japanese hiker fell to his death. It was my second time up to the summit, but the first time for both my friend and his daughter. We all made it, but we did plenty of preparation for the hike. Many people think that Half Dome is a casual "walk in the park" that almost anyone can do, but believe me Half Dome, especially if you do it in a single day, is one of the most extreme day hikes in California. This means that you must have the proper training and equipment to do it.

On both the way up and down the cables, I saw people wearing tennis shoes and sandels. not being properly dressed, having little water or food, or just not being in shape. There were four small children going up while we were going down, two were tethered to the mother, and two were tethered to the father. Both adults were hooked to the cables, which were becoming crowded. The one little boy, who was probably no more than six, was afraid, and did not want to continue on, but his mother wanted him to continue.

I think that there should be a sign posted at the base of the cables, stating that the granite is slippery, and that people have died after slipping, or loosing their grip.

One of the best training regiments for Half Dome is stadium stairs. My friend and I go to our local City College and do stadium stairs for an hour or two almost every Sunday morning. Believe me, you will see the benefits when you climb the granite stairs on the Mist Trail, and also on Quarter Dome.

I also recommend that people do the hike mid-week if possible, and leave Curry Village by 6:00am. That way, you have the best chance of doing the cables with the least amount of people. Last June, I started up the cables at 10:40am on a Thursday, and there were only seven people ahead of me. In other words, no traffic jam at all. It only took me about 15 minutes to get to the top. It took a bit longer going down, as the crowds were beginning to form, but nowhere near as crowded as a Saturday afternoon.

People need to be safe on the cables, know their limitations, and be respectful of other hikers that may be a bit fearful of what they are doing. When I was there last month, the majority of people were not in a rush to get up, and were corteous to those that were hesitant. There were a couple of loud-mouthed hikers that kept yelling for people to keep moving, and not to hold things up. It is these people that can make the tricky climb or descent even more dangerous.

Whitney Mike

Posted by Moondust, 07-09-2007
I hiked Half Dome the Wednesday after the accident. You would think that such an accident would make people look more closely at this hike and how to prepare for it, but it's just not gonna happen. Inexperienced people see hiking as an easy activity, just going for a walk. Together with today's "no common sense required" attitude and the tendency for people to ignore a problem until someone else takes care of it, we are stuck with unprepared hikers. On the way down from Half Dome, I told two different people they were going to need a lot more water than they had. Both gave me a blank look and continued on. They have to learn the hard way.

Recently I went on a moderately hard hike which was attended by many new hikers. At the start, I announced if anyone ran low on water, they just had to speak up because we had a water filter and could resupply them from one of several streams we would cross. I also repeated this at the stream crossings. At about mile 6 of 8, one woman stopped, started crying and said she couldn't continue. She had muscle cramps, felt nauseous and was out of water. I asked her why she hadn't asked for more water. She replied that she just kept hoping the hike would be over soon. A good example of just trying to ignore a problem and hoping it will go away.


Posted by rosabella, 07-09-2007
Whitney Mike wrote: " There were four small children going up while we were going down, two were tethered to the mother, and two were tethered to the father. Both adults were hooked to the cables, which were becoming crowded. The one little boy, who was probably no more than six, was afraid, and did not want to continue on, but his mother wanted him to continue."

This is crazy! As parents we've all had to push our kids to do things that were a little scarey to them (i.e. jumping in the deep water for the first time) but taking a 6-year old up the cables is nuts! The last time I was up there, I ran into a teenage girl on the lower part of the cables. She was huddled on one of the slats, clinging to a pole, and really frightened. It only took a minute to convince her that she should go back down.... her relief was tangible as she descended. I think she just needed someone to tell her it was OK.

But what do you do when there are small children being "escorted" by parents. I don't think a 6-year old would have the upper-body strength to hold the cables if they started to slip on the granite... even if they WEREN'T scared. The cables are too high for them to get an efficient grip. CRAZY!
"What we have done for ourselves alone dies with us; what we have done for others and the world remains and is immortal." Albert Pike

Posted by Ken, 07-09-2007
Some have suggested expanding the cables. Here is my thought of the result:



Good judgment comes from experience,
and experience, of course, comes from poor judgment.

Posted by MooseTracks, 07-09-2007
Ugh... Just looking at that line-up makes me nauseaus.


Posted by Ken, 07-09-2007
Or, how about a new requirement that you do it like this:

Good judgment comes from experience,
and experience, of course, comes from poor judgment.

Posted by AlanK, 07-09-2007
Ken -- you're on a roll! grin

Posted by norweejunwood, 07-09-2007
i just viewed hike-along pete's video on half-dome, the first tape anyway, and was blown away by the natural rock stairs at vernal and nevada falls -- and the number and magnitude of the rocks on the trail in general -- making it much more work than i imagined. i can now see how doing stadium stairs or a real stair-stepper machine would be far more beneficial than doing treadmill or elliptical cardio. i intend to ramp it up the last two weeks before we leave for half-dome. my thinking had always been that the trail was just a warmup for the cables but now i see the trail is an a-kicker. thank you pete, too bad yosemite can't license his highlights and make it required viewing before newbies ascend. i've yet to see part two where pete films his descent of the cables but looking forward to it.

Posted by CheckSix, 07-09-2007
Reminds me of the father barking out "march! march!" to his two very young kids heading up toward Trail Crest. Very annoying and shameful on the switchbacks. These kids had obviously peaked halfway up the switchbacks and were now nearing TC with no more energy to move toward the summit.

Posted by rosabella, 07-09-2007
Norweejunwood, in my opinion the last hump just before the cables is WAY harder than the cables themselves. It's so steep, and some of those steps HAVE to be almost two feet high! (Or at least they sure feel like it smile ) I also feel way more exposed there than on the cables.

Plus, when you get to the cables, you know you're almost there, and the excitement gives you that extra boost.

PS Ken... love the pictures!
"What we have done for ourselves alone dies with us; what we have done for others and the world remains and is immortal." Albert Pike

Posted by Whitney Mike, 07-09-2007
rosabella - Thanks for sharing my sentiment that small children do not belong on the cables, and should not be forced by their parents. You are correct in your statement, and I whole-heartedly agree with you, that small children just do not have the needed upper body strength in case they slip. Also, there are several places along the granite where one has to actually "step-up", sometimes up to eight inches. I wonder how these kids handled these sections, especially on the way down, while also trying to keep from slipping on the slick granite. It just amazes me how some parents will put the lives of their children at risk.

I also agree with you that the climb up Quarter Dome is actually more demanding than the cables. At least that is the opinion of myself, my friend Gary, and his 24 year-old daugther, who both successfully completed their first summit. I still say that stadium stairs is one of the best ways to prepare for this intense climb.

I just hope that people begin to realize that Half Dome is no walk in the park. It requires one to be in good physical shape, with the proper conditioning and training. Like attempting Whitney, there is no shame in turning around short of the summit. As I tell my friends before we do a big hike, "The mountain will always be there next year".

Whitney Mike

Posted by norweejunwood, 07-09-2007
i saw the second half of the climb on the half-dome video and i see what you mean about the sheer grade and heighth of the steps, as well as the exposure. thanks for the heads up. the trail looks far harder than i imagined. looks like a long day but i can't wait -- "because it's there."

Posted by VersatileFred, 07-09-2007
Originally Posted By: norweejunwood
the trail looks far harder than i imagined. looks like a long day but i can't wait -- "because it's there."

You also get a teaser view of the Quarter Dome and Half Dome at a clearing that makes you feel "closer" to the top than you really are. It can easily take another hour from that point as you struggle to get up the steps and then the cables in two-way traffic.
Orientation Notes for Whitney First Timers


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