By the time I reached the Yosemite Valley Floor last year, after having ascended Half Dome’s daunting summit, I walked away (actually I sort of limped away in a “paper-armed-anthropod-wearing-a-robotic-exoskeleton” sort of way) telling myself I was done with insane, one-day jaunts that test the limits of water supply, sanity, and altitude weaknesses.
My GoPro helmet footage testifies to exactly how precarious-feeling the cable ascent really is. But, like anything else, it was technically the part one refers to the most–mainly because people occasionally fall from there. If you do, there IS NO recovery; you will be assuming park temperature in a matter of minutes.
The stories–sometimes macabre, sometimes endearing–are all chronicled in a book called, fittingly, Off The Wall, by Michael Ghiglieri. In there are the some 900-plus deaths attributed to Yosemite’s unforgiving terrain since those records were being kept with any degree of solidity.
One might think that the majority of deaths would be found at the foot of the notorious promontory, El Capitan, and while there are many (because, you know . . . gravity), the majority really do seem to be more or less attributed to the foolishness of those claiming not to be foolish enough to climb the granite walls. In reality, the culpability for many, many deaths can be laid at the feet of idiots who try to “scramble,” which means “forge a shortcut to the valley floor” from the established trails. What looks like a unified slope to the bottom is actually an optical illusion–there may actually be a 600-foot drop awaiting you–and you won’t know it until you’ve “scrambled” right off the edge.
Essentially, I’ve only read two books on Yosemite (with the exception of The Yosemite, by John Muir), this one, and Shattered Air, by Bob Magic. Now, the fact that he lives about ten minutes from me makes this even cooler, because the book is amazing. It simply chronicles a famous incident in 1985 that involved a fatal lightning strike–killing people and ending with a moonless rescue attempt by helicopter.
Yesterday, I grabbed this book from the library and started reading it again. Now, it’s a completely different book, because I now know every single reference point. I’ve sat on those same places, touched those same cables, and even unknowingly stood right on top of the place where the youngest member instantly lost his life thirty years ago.
I’ll be covering the book here when I finish. Until then, feel free to read my Half Dome Primer, which was a post-trip attempt to distill all the problems I encountered,and the things you may want to consider before you go.