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In wake of Half Dome tragedy, should cables come down?

June 18, 2009 | 10:03 am

Hikers negotiate Half Dome cables on an unusually uncrowded day. Monday's report on the death of Manoj Kumar, who slipped and fell 200 feet as he was descending the cables on Half Dome, stirred robust debate.

Some people merely commented on what a wonderful experience it is to achieve the summit of the massive granite shoulder in Yosemite National Park. Others discussed the care required of those who wish to make the daylong climb safely.

Then there were those who strongly suggested the laddered cable system should come down, or argued that the cables should remain in place.

As one who has never climbed Half Dome but hopes to someday, I believe they should remain. This is not because of selfishness and I mean no disrespect to Kumar, his family or friends.

They ought to remain because they provide a reasonably safe means by which careful hikers can conquer a truly majestic landmark within a spectacular wilderness setting.

There is risk, but also reward and presumably a feeling of major accomplishment among park visitors, young and old, who complete the marathon hike and climb.

A primary risk is ascending or descending the 400-foot cable system in wet weather, when the granite and cables become slick.

Kumar and others should not have been on the cables at the time of his fall. Storm clouds were in the vicinity and it had been raining frequently during late afternoons inside the park. His fall was followed by the controlled evacuation of 41 hikers who had become caught on the cables in rain and hail.

Campers enjoy the evening beneath Half Dome in Yosemite National Park.

A week earlier a woman was seriously injured when she slipped and fell while descending the cables. It was cloudy and damp then too. The only two fatalities involving women on Half Dome were off-season, when the cables were "down," or laying flat against the granite without pole support. Both occurred during wet weather.

In fact, park spokesman Scott Gediman said, there has been only one fatality when the granite and cables were dry. That occurred when Hirofumi Nohara slipped and fell June 16, 2007.

It's worth noting that the cable system has been in place since the early 1930s, and that an estimated 55,000 people successfully climb Half Dome annually. As Gediman implies, people might be safer on Half Dome than they are in a car on the highway. Exaggeration? Perhaps. But the park has no plans to take the cable system down, and that's a good thing.

-- Pete Thomas

Top photo: Hikers negotiate Half Dome cables on an unusually uncrowded day. Credit: Associated Press

Bottom photo: Campers enjoy the evening beneath Half Dome in Yosemite National Park. Credit: Robert Durell / Los Angeles Times