Teen hiker is latest to die after Yosemite fall
Kao Kue, 17, was taken by air ambulance to Doctor's Medical Center in Modesto after falling on the park's popular Mist Trail on Sunday. He died Thursday, the Stanislaus County coroner's department confirmed, though a cause of death was not released. Park officials wouldn't comment on the incident because Kue was a minor.
Though Kue's death won't count toward the number of fatalities at Yosemite this year because he did not die inside the park, the number of fatalities at Yosemite is higher than it normally is at this time of year. Yosemite usually sees five or six deaths by the end of July, park spokeswoman Kari Cobb said. This year, there have been 14, most recently a 26-year-old San Ramon woman who fell while trying to descend Half Dome on July 31.
The number also accounts for incidents that occur in the park, such as heart attacks, car accidents and deaths attributed to natural causes.
Cobb was quick to point out that though the numbers are high for this point in the calendar, it doesn't mean 2011 is the park's deadliest year. Fifteen people died in Yosemite in 2010, and if the remainder of 2011 goes by without incident, Cobb said, the year's total would be lower. Even if another fatality should occur by the end of the year, the 2011 total wouldn't be abnormally high, she said.
Park officials have attributed the uptick in fatalities to a general increase in visitors as well as intensified water conditions caused by a larger-than-normal snowpack, raising water levels and lowering temperatures in the park's rivers and streams. Cobb stressed that visitors should be aware of the risks when hiking in the park and take appropriate precautions.
"Their safety and the risks associated with hiking the park are completely up to them to mitigate," Cobb said. "It's up to them to make the appropriate decisions to make them safe. We have signs on our most popular trails that tell visitors about some of the risks, and it is up to them to heed them."
The Mist Trail was also the site of a fatal incident in May, when a man drowned after he slipped on the trail and fell into the Merced River. In June, three hikers died when they climbed over a guardrail and were swept over the park's popular Vernal Fall, which is at the end of the Mist Trail.
-- Kate Mather
Photo: Yosemite Park visitors watch the water cascading at Vernal Fall on Aug. 5. Credit: Mark Boster / Los Angeles Times