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Death on Yosemite's Half Dome occurred amid 'perfect storm' of circumstances

June 15, 2009 |  2:44 pm


Late Saturday afternoon, when Manoj Kumar fell to his death while attempting a descent of Half Dome within Yosemite National Park, there prevailed what a park spokesman described as a "perfect storm" of circumstances.

Saturday is the busiest day of the week on a cabled ladder system that enables climbers to negotiate the 425-foot sheer granite dome to and from its summit.

But by early afternoon it had become cold and blustery, with rain and fog and sporadic hail. Many hikers had aborted their climbs but some had not. The granite and the cables had become slippery. Some hikers froze in fear. Others tried scurrying around on the outside edges of the cables.

An investigation continues to determine exactly what caused Kumar, 40, a Northern California software engineer, to let go and plummet nearly 200 feet, but he might have been on the outside edge of one of the cables.

After Kumar fell, 41 climbers were assisted in what the park called a "controlled evacuation" that lasted until dark.

Scott Gediman, a park spokesman, said Saturdays can be tricky even in good weather because it gets so crowded. It's not atypical to have 70 hikers on the three-foot-wide cable system by early afternoon. There's no scripted order within the cables, although most hikers ascend on one side and descend on the other. 


The trail to Half Dome is in designated wilderness and there's a wilderness permit quota in place for overnight campers. But Half Dome also is accessible for day hikers, who require no permits, and there's no limit to how many day hikers are allowed in the wilderness or on Half Dome.

Not all hikers are prepared for the all-day odyssey. On Saturday some wore flip-flops. Rick Deutsch, who bills himself as "Mr. Half Dome" and on Saturday notched his 24th summit, said he made it down before the weather turned bad and had cautioned some who had asked him about the gathering clouds.

"I told them there was some risk," he said.

Kumar reportedly was an experienced hiker. His death was the fourth on Half Dome since 2006, according to a Yosemite news release.

-- Pete Thomas

Photos: Climbers negotiate the cables on Yosemite's Half Dome as the weather turns wet Saturday afternoon (top photo), while one pair decides real shoes or boots are not important while making the vertical trek. Credit Rick Deutsch