"You Will Die"

It’s been a deadly year for visitors to Yosemite, notably for those who didn’t take to heart the reality that the national park’s terrain is treacherous.

A 26-year-old San Ramon slipped off the granite side of Half Dome Sunday and plummeted 600 feet to her death. Hayley LaFlamme was descending the summit following a thunderstorm. The San Francisco Chronicle says that park rangers, at the base of the dome, warned people to not attempt the climb during wet, stormy conditions.

LaFlamme was the 14th to die in the park this year.

Maybe some of the people who fall off cliffs or down waterfalls don’t have proper awe for nature, especially a magnificent wilderness like Yosemite. Or, they think, it–death–could not happen to them. Not a hike in a pretty place with friends. Maybe they don’t have that touch of acrophobia that I do.

I don’t say this to pile on any blame, as some commenting on news stories have done. In fact, on some level I understand how someone, reaching the top of Vernal Falls, would see no danger in the water flowing out of seemingly placid Emerald pool. Three 20something hikers from the Central Valley died last month when they were swept over Vernal Falls. They climbed over the safety railing at the top of the Mist Trail and waded out into knee-high water.

I remember the top part of the Mist Trail being steep, wet and scary. And while the pool and the Merced River, close to where it flows out of the pool, didn’t look all that dangerous, I trusted the stick figure sign indicating that people should stay out of the water. The Central Valley trio ignored those signs.

The sign along a pool at the top of Nevada Falls, two miles up the Mist Trail from Vernal Falls, says things in pretty stark terms. “If you go over the fall, you will die,” says the sign, pictured here. I snapped this photo on a hike to the top of Nevada Falls in October 2009.

I lounged on a flat rock by the side of that pool. I was tempted to take off my hiking boots and cool just my feet in the water, but I didn’t dare even that. That’s because the sign also warned to “stay away from the slippery rock at the water’s edge.”

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