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Yosemite hiker dies after fall on Half Dome; 41 others evacuated

Yosemite1 The hiker who perished after falling during a descent of Half Dome in Yosemite National Park late Saturday afternoon has been identified as Manoj Kumar, 40, of San Ramon, Calif.

Rain and hail might have been factors. At the time of the 911 call regarding Kumar's fall, several climbers had become caught in a hailstorm and were unable to descend, either because of the incident or exposure to harsh elements.

A team of rangers evacuated 41 hikers. An investigation is underway to determine the exact cause of Kumar's fall.

This marks the first fatality involving a hiker on Half Dome since Hirofumi Nohara fell to his death in June 2007. Two women died after falls while on the massive granite shoulder, one in April 2007, the other in November 2006.

Yosemite set Half Dome's cables in place in mid-May and, as it does every spring, cautioned hikers to exercise extreme caution in wet weather.

--Pete Thomas

File photo: Climbers clog the cables at Half Dome. Credit: Anacleto Rapping / Los Angeles Times

 
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Comments (11)

I fulfilled a Bucket List goal by summiting Half Dome the day before the fall. I inadvertently yanked one of the cable posts out of the rock on the way up ... and replaced it before I pulled the board resting on the uphill side of it into place, so my buddy behind me had to swing the board into place and then snap the pole back into the rock. I'm a little (overtly) warped, so I found the whole incident amusing.

What's more disconcerting is the nature of most of these posts. The danger element of the cables (negligible to some, considerable to others) is the signature of this world-class day hike. Whatever degree of culpability Manoj Kumar is shown to have had in his own death when the final evidence is weighed shouldn't change anything. People die in bulk from considerably more mundane undertakings every day of every week of every year.

It's obvious that the cables aren't a Disenyland ride far before you're committed to the line of hikers ascending them. A handful of deaths every decade only serves to reinforce that.

First off, I send my condolences to everyone who knew Manoj Kumar. He appeared to be a very kind and loving person.

I must admit that I am still very traumatized over witnessing this entire event right in front of me and my new fiancee. My new fiancee and I had planned the trip up to Half Dome for over a month thinking that the month of June would be a good time to hike for it was there that I decided to ask her to marry me. When we arrived to the cables, we were surprised by the amount of people climbing up and down (close to 100 or much more). The weather was not ideal, but the granite was completely dry and the ascend was a piece of cake (my fiancee and I are in pretty good shape). It looked cloudy up top, but the weather cleared the instant we peaked with the sun shining and the view breath taking. Everything was perfect. Aydee and I found an area away from the crowd; I popped the ring, asked, and she accepted! Of course, the weather was not perfect and it looked like some more clouds were coming in so we quickly walked back to the cables and proceeded to wait on the inside since there was literally a "traffic jam" of people.

Manoj and his friend were standing and waiting right behind Aydee and I to descend. I didn't talk much to Manoj and his friend, but Manoj did offer to take a picture of Aydee and I which turned out to be one of the best pictures ever taken of Aydee and I. The weather was still very sunny and clear while we were waiting, but there was someone, or a group of people, who were not descending and holding up the line (apparently this is a common case on Half Dome). I wanted to descend on the outside since the granite was completely dry at that time, by my fiancee didn't want us to take the risk. Little did we know that the risk was increased immensely by waiting inside the cables on top of the mountain. After waiting nearly 30 to 45 minutes, hail began on and off and we knew this was going to make the descend incredibly challenging without a carabiner and harness. At the same time, there were some ill dressed people far behind us (...I think some of the 41 people) who were shouting to "keep moving!" and "get going people!" We all wanted to get off Half Dome, but no one was moving and at this time, it would have been suicide to try and maneuver along the outside of the cables (...unless you had a carabiner and harness of course).

I guess, what is bothering me is that there are some very simple measures that could take place that would have prevented this tragedy, even under extreme weather conditions.

1.) The criminal investigator had said this was the "wettest" June he has seen in the last 20 years. Generally, Half Dome opens in June because that is when the rains have already stopped. Perhaps, Half Dome should now only be open in July and August.

2.) Of course, doing more research on the mountain knowing that people can hold you up on top for enough time to have a large and dangerous storm roll in would have been helpful to know. An extra cable and upright pole system would have prevented this tragedy.

3.) The Park Service could have used at least a 2x4 (preferably a 4x4) with bolts and larger stainless steal brackets. The 1x3's with flimsy sheet metal holding them to the upright posts had broken away in some of the most slipperiest areas. Manoj slipped through one of these sections.

4.) The Park Service could anchor the upright posts to the 45 degree wall with a heavy duty clip so they would have no chance of pulling out. One post was missing. This made for an incredibly dangerous and slippery section. Manoj slipped where one pole had pulled out and was missing.

5.) Requiring a harness, carabiner, and perhaps a helmet would save anyone's life (unless lightening was involved). A few smart hikers remembered to bring a harness and carabiner. Namely, Simon from Denmark, had brought a makeshift harness and two nice carabiners. Simon helped many people down for at least an hour, maybe longer, before any ranger could arrive.

6.) If a permit system was put in place for this mountain or the cables, less people would be "crowding" the cables up. From my understanding, other mountains require permits.

7.) If the cables were taken down earlier, this would not have happened but perhaps the rangers didn't know the weather would change so rapidly.

8.) If the cables didn't exist, only more experienced climbers with ropes would be attempting the peak... I know many people wouldn't want to see this option, but if the Park Service isn't making any money on the cables (told to me by the criminal investigator), then taking them down shouldn't lose the park any money.

Anyway, my fiancee and I have a much larger appreciation for the fragility of life. I'm generally a safe person, but I now realize that anyone can get themselves into situations like this. For anyone reading this, please be safe in anything that you do. Rest in peace Manoj.

I was about 30minutes away from going up the cables for the second time when the man named Hirofumi Nohara fell to his death in June 2007. I was taking my brother up who had never been there before. Well, they kicked everyone off that day and man it was chaotic. I had been up the cables and although a little intimidating at first, if you pay attention to what you're doing and are equipped properly, a person in reasonable shape should be able to handle it. That said, it is not a frickin Disnayland ride! The park allows way too many people up the cables at once. So many people HAVE to say they've climbed it, but to be honest, Cloud's rest, which is a couple of miles further up the trail and higher than Half Dome, offers as good of views if not better than Half Dome and has 1/20th the traffic. With so many Yahoo people clogging those cables, it's a recipe for disaster.

Equipment needed to ascend the cables? Are you serious? The cables are no big deal...You have to really try to screw up to fall out of them...If you're tired, just hang out on the boards of the stantions till you feel strong again.If there is driving rain, hail, or snow, then any sensible hiker/climber/mountaineer knows not to be up there. I've taken 75 year old people up the cables and they laughed the whole way...Same goes for a few friends I've taken who were deathly afraid of heights, it turned out to be no big deal. They even went to the edge of the visor...Usually when people die up there it's just Darwin in action...Is it challenging to an uniformed, overweight, out of shape hiker? You bet, but in reality, it is not a death defying feat by any stretch of the imagination...The cables are the easy part, it's the 17 mile round trip hike with nearly 5000 feet of gain that people should be more worried about preparing for...It always blows me away how many out of shape, improperly dressed people attempt the hike, all the while, looking like beached walruses, splayed out on the edges of the trail, gasping for water and air...

I assended Half Dome shortly after the cables were reopened around noon on Sunday. Climbing the cables the day after someone (whom coincidentally was from my home town of San Ramon, CA) falls to their death was an very eerie thing to do.
These cables should not to be taken lightly. Even though I got up and down safely (without any safety equipment) I would never consider doing it again without some kind of harness or laynard that I could hook to the cables. There are just too many variables that are out of your hands that can lead to your of death, like the weather, your fatigue due to the altitude, the crowds, the capabilities of guy/gal in front of you (on the way up) and the guy/gal behind you (on the way down). Hiking to Quarter Dome is a helluva achievement. The 360 degree view at the top of Half Dome (8,836ft) versus the 300 degree view at the top of Quarter Dome (8,300ft) is not worth the risk that is involved with assending these cables without proper safety equipment.
So let me say this to any of you considering taking on this challange, and please take this seriously as I received a lot of biased information from others who had previously completed Half Dome. The 8+ mile hike to Quater Dome is probably the most beautiful hike that you'll ever do in your life. The additional 500ft to Half Dome should only be done with proper safety equipment (i.e a climbers lanyard). IT'S NOT WORTH DYING FOR, PEOPLE.

Are you kidding me? Why do people always do this kind of stupid stuff? No Gear, I bet 1 in 5 even had water with them! We are constantly seeing these morons here in Yosemite and in other WILD areas and needing to be rescued or taken care of.
At least they are stimulating the economy by providing jobs for the rescue personnel and giving us something to do. I say pull one set of the cables and thin the herd from a few more of these degenerates!
It is sickening to see the droves of people abusing such a great place as Yosemite. Last we were there we saw and REMOVED a Dirty diaper from a stream!! Idiots in sandals begging for water along the trail in the afternoon sun.

Thanks for the money pouring into the parks system, But NO THANKS!
So go ahead and keep killing yourselves!

Two comments here: First, the terms "Hiker" and "Climber" are very different. Hikers walk to the top of mountains using all sorts of trail systems. Climbers ascend vertically using ropes and technical rock climing gear; no walking. The guy who fell this weekend, was a hiker, not a climber.
Second, it is very difficult to "fall to your death" from the cables of half dome. all who hve hiked it would agree that if you dropped a sandwich, it would land on the granite shoulder and stop. you would bend over and pick it up. The people who fall off of half dome try to correct themselves; they stagger, trying desperately to right themselves. as they stagger, they gain downward momentum.Gravity adds to the momentum and very quickly, the momentum becomes too great to be compensated for and the person continues to tumble at an irrevocable rate.
To prevent this, visualize how you would fall if you had to. Always try to fall to the high side of the slope. We learn this in ski lessons. Collapse into the high side of the slope. Additionally, try to relax and think about sitting down on your butt if you lose your footing. If you fall, don't fight it. Just fall, spread your arms and legs, hug the rock and you will stop. Increase the amount of surface area your body can apply to the surface of the slope. Don't try to stay on your feet. I am an experienced climber and hiker. i slip and fall with some regularity. The goal is to minimze the fall. The guy who fell did not just slide of the mountain like he had just hopped onto a waterslide. He made mistakes. Don't let this tragedy scare you away from the mountains.

I was backpacking from Glacier Point to Little Yosemite Valley on Saturday, my group intended to climb Half Dome in the early afternoon but we got to the area too late and decided not to. Little did we know we most likely would have been in the mix of those 40 hikers stranded on the cables later that afternoon.
We were camped in Little Yosemite Valley, and hikers were still coming down from the dome -- some had been stuck up there for 6 hours. Search and rescue teams escorted them to our campfire, provided blankets, and many of the campers chipped in food and water. By 11pm the last of the hikers had continued down -- many were in shorts/short sleeved shirts and didn't have camping equipment and had to continue the 4.5 miles down to the valley floor.
The next morning it cleared up and several people in my group decided to hike Half dome. they reached the cables but a ranger told them it was closed -- helicopters were coming up to collect supplies and the rescue team we preparing to recover the body. It was quite an experience..

I cannot believe in this government knows best society that the half dome cables still exist. I hiked their in the rain and saw how steep the climb to the top was and decided to pass on the experience while watching obese hikers scanter on up the cables.

It’s odd how a preponderance of parks I visit limit swimming in lakes, biking on certain trails, camping too close to streams, etc. but permit out of shape individuals to scale a slick granite surface while holding on to metal cables? Sure, no problem.

I watched the rescues on Saturday morning as the helicopter lowered each victim (and the rescuer) at a field in the valley near the medical clinic, which is close to the Ahwahnee Hotel. The operation went on for several hours, although a ranger at the site said only three climbers were being transported. Probably others decided to join them. I will be posting some photos shortly at thecityedition.com Yosemite Trekker blog.

Interesting how the Times reporter identifies the male victims by name but not the women. He might also have mentioned that the rescuer carrying two of the victims to safety yesterday was female.

I was about 20 minutes away from the cables this weekend climbing half dome when people were heading back telling us about the accident. Although i did not see it, it was just chilling to know someone fell from the cables. The weather began changing as we reached the top and began hailing right before heading back. It was very slippery.


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