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California Woman Dies In Fall From Half Dome Cables In Yosemite National Park


A 26-year-old California has died in a fall of roughly 600 feet from the route up Half Dome in Yosemite National Park, officials announced Monday. NPS file photo of Half Dome and its cable-assisted route.

A 26-year-old California woman was killed by a 600-foot fall while working her way down the cables on Half Dome in Yosemite National Park, according to a park release.

The fatality on Sunday was the first since the park instituted a permit system with hopes of improving safety on the route to the top of the iconic granite dome.

According to a park release, at about noon on Sunday the park's emergency communications center received a 911 phone call reporting a fall of a hiker on the Half Dome cables. Hayley LaFlamme, from San Ramon, California, had gone to the top of Half Dome and was descending when she fell 600 feet off the cables, the release said, adding that rangers pronounced her deceased upon arrival on scene.

While an investigation into the accident was continuing Monday, the park reported a "severe lightning, thunder, and rainstorm was present in the area of Half Dome for several hours in the morning and early afternoon on Sunday."

"This type of weather can make for hazardous trail conditions and the granite slopes become very slick," the release said.

The last hiker who died on Half Dome was Majoj Kumar, from San Ramon, California, on June 13, 2009, according to park records. Before that, on June 16, 2007, Hirofumi Nohara, slipped to his death on the cables.  Two other Half Dome fatalities involved women who were hiking on Half Dome when the cables were down. These were Jennifer Bettles, who died on April 21, 2007 and Emily Sandal, who died on November 8, 2006.


Kurt: Thanks for the info. on the Half Dome tragedy. Haven't been in contact with you since your AP days in Morgantown, WV!
Your readers may be interested in a video I produced a few months ago for National Geographic's website about lightning on Half Dome:  Jeff Hertrick

Great piece, Jeff. Got any others you can share?

I suggest that NPS remove the cables. We were at Half Dome yesterday at the time this storm event began and heard the frightened yell of a woman on the cables, perhaps the one who later fell.  People began climbing the cables even after lightning and rain had begun--very, very dangerous.  99.9+% of the public doesn't have the experience to know, or the sense of reality to recognize, the very real danger the cables climb present even in good weather and the extreme danger in inclement weather.  Why present a very dangerous, park-sponsored temptation to people who aren't in a position to make an informed choice?

My family of four was on Half Dome on and below the cables when this storm occurred.  People were still ascending the cables even with rain and lightning--very, very dangerous.  I suggest the NPS remove the cables: 99.9+% of the public doesn't have the knowledge or experience to accurately assess their personal risk when climbing them; it's dangerous even in good weather and extremely dangerous when wet and with lightning.  Why present such a dangerous temptation to a group of enticed people who haven't the background to recognize the very real risk they're taking?  The view from below the cables is spectacular; remove the cables and leave Half Dome cable-less.

The NPS has rangers stationed to check for permits now. At the very least, I would think that ascending would be strongly discouraged when the weather goes bad and there's a chance of lightning. They probably don't have the authority to keep people off who have permits.

Also - it's been unclear whether or not she fell from the cables or just past them. The early AP wire story on this says something about falling where the cables end at the final ascent. I understand it can be slick - even on the subdome or staircase when it rains.

It's very sad, but ultimately people have to take responsibility for their own action. Hiking up half dome in the rain/thunderstorm is risky, and each one has to decide whether they want to take that risk. 

I am not a bit surprised by this terible tragedy.  In fact, I thought it was a matter of time.  When the new permits were announced on this site several months ago, I warned that there would be a danger that if people hiked 6 1/2 miles (Mist Trail) or 8 miles (Glacier Point Trail) from the valley floor and got to the cables knowing that they could not come back the next day, a number of them would be tempted to throw caution to the wind and attempt to summit in unsafe conditions. I don't know if that was the case with this unfortunate woman, but I'd bet my farm that a lot of those who were going up in the rain were saying to themselves, "I came all the way here to Yosemite and hiked all the way up here in this heat and this is my only shot to get to the top."
That granite is slick enough when dry after after decades of polishing by 100's of thousands of boots (and yes, even flip flops).  Throw some water on it and it becomes an ice rink that is not appreciated all too often when you start your way up or down.  I absolutely DO NOT believe the cables should come down for good.  I would venture that at least a 50,000 people have gone up and down those cables since they went up about 70 years ago.  It would help if someone sanded the granite between the cables and if the rangers who are there now had the authority to shut down access if they perceived imminent danger. And I think they would do well to reconsider this whole permit idea.  I'm afraid the next time this happens, there will be more people clamoring for the cables to come down instead of acknowledging the unintended consequence of reckless behavior being spawned by the permit process.

Taking down the cables in poor conditions actually creates a liability issue for the Park Service. If the cables are removed when it is dangerous, if they are put back in place when conditions improve, it may be assumed that it is now safe,  and if someone is hurt it is the fault of the Park.  h

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