Over this past weekend, a hiker in Yosemite National Park fell to her death while descending from Half Dome, one of the park’s more iconic landmarks. This latest fatality is the 14th this year in Yosemite, a park that is amongst the most popular in the entire U.S. system.
According to this report from the Associated Press, early in the day Sunday, 26-year old Haley LaFlamme and three of her companions set out to hike the Half Dome trail, one of the best known treks in the entire park. As the morning progressed, a surprise thunderstorm moved into the area, bringing steady rains and dangerous lightning along with it. That treacherous combination of weather caused the group to turn back, and as they were making their way down the slick granite face of Half Dome, Haley slipped, falling 600 feet to her death on the rocks below. A 911 call was immediately placed to the ranger station, but by the time they reached the site of the accident it was too late.
When she fell, LaFlamme was negotiating the Half Dome cables, which are put in place each year to aid climbers with the steeper sections of the hike. That area of the trail can be challenging on a typical day, but when the rock becomes wet, it can be especially treacherous. Another hiker fell to his death on the same section back in 2009.
The high number of deaths in the park this year are due in no small part because of heavy snows that fell across the western United States this past winter. The region saw some of the highest accumulations of snow ever, and the powder stayed on the ground well into the spring. When it finally did begin to melt off, it caused Yosemite’s rivers and streams to rise dramatically, catching some visitors by surprise. Two weeks ago, three people were swept to their deaths over Vernal Falls, when they misjudged the depth and strength of the water there.
It is sometimes easy to forget just how dangerous the outdoors can be, especially when you’re in a national park that has so many great resources right at your fingertips. Stories like this one are a sobering reminder for us to be cautious and aware when we’re in these beautiful wilderness settings.