The last segment of the hike up Yosemite’s Half Dome is memorable – and, to many, nerve-wracking – but deaths there are rare.
The fatal fall of a hiker last month has turned attention to the safety of the cable route up the national park’s iconic rock.
In the almost 100 years since cables were installed to help hikers climb the steep pitch of the dome, eight people have died from falling on that stretch. Of those fatal falls, four occurred when the rock was wet and at least one was caused by a hiker’s collapse from illness.
Sept. 15, 1948: Paul Garinger, 41, of Burlingame, Calif. He was descending the cables when, according to the 2007 book “Off the Wall: Death in Yosemite,”* a witness saw him stop and hold his head in his hands before toppling down the slope.
Aug. 29, 1995: Michael W. Gerde, 50, of Huntington Beach, Calif. He was ascending when he collapsed because of heart failure and fell.
Nov. 8, 2006: Emily Sandall, 25, of New Mexico. She was hiking after the cable stanchions had been removed for the season, so the cables were lying flat on the rock instead of being raised to waist height. She was descending during wet weather.
April 19, 2007: Jennifer Bettles, 43, of Oakland, Calif. She was descending during wet weather, before the cable stanchions had been put up for the season.
June 16, 2007: Hirofumi Nohara, 37, a Japanese national living in Sunnyvale, Calif. He was ascending during dry weather.
June 13, 2009: Manoj Kumar, 40, of San Ramon, Calif. He was descending during wet weather.
July 31, 2011: Haley LaFlamme, 26, of San Ramon, Calif. She was descending during wet weather.
May 21, 2018: Asish Penugonda, 29, a native of India living in New York City. There had been thunderstorms in the area that afternoon, but it is not known if wet rock was a factor. The cable stanchions had been in place since May 11.
In 2010, Yosemite officials instituted a permit system for the hike. Before that, Half Dome had been drawing close to 1,000 hikers on many summer weekend days, and the wait to start up the cables sometimes approached 45 minutes.
One of the park’s objectives in setting a limit of 300 a day was a safer Half Dome hike: fewer people overall on the cables and less chance of congestion later in the day, when rain is more common in the summer.
The cables are usually put up in late May and removed on Columbus Day, in early October. In addition to the waist-high cables, there are planks every 10 to 12 feet up the slope, which has been worn smooth by decades of hikers.
Many hikers wear gloves to make it easier to grab the cable and pull themselves along. Some also wear a climbing harness with a tether to a carabiner that they clip onto a cable.
Though most hiker deaths on Half Dome have occurred on the cables, there are hazards at the top as well.
In August 2011, Ryan Leeder, 23, of Los Gatos, Calif., died from what was apparently an accidental fall from the summit.
Three hikers have died after being struck by lightning on the summit, two in a July 1985 incident detailed in Bob Madgic’s book “Shattered Air.” One of them, Brian Jordan, 16, of Hayward, Calif., died on the summit; the other, Robert Ward Frith, 25, of Mountain View, Calif., rolled off the edge after being hit by lightning.