Vacations can turn tragic when adventure is mixed with bad weather and, in some cases, failure to recognize the hazards Mother Nature can pose. That is certainly proving to be the case in Yosemite National Park, where 14 people have died so far this year.
A San Ramon woman who fell to her death Sunday became the park’s most recent fatality. Haley LaFlamme, 26, was descending the Half Dome’s rain-soaked granite face using mounted cables Sunday when she slipped and fell 600 feet.
According to park spokesperson Keri Cobb, Yosemite typically sees five or six deaths by the end of July and 12 to 15 by the year’s end. Some speculate that the increased rate of fatalities could be attributed to an influx of visitors, which occasionally includes travelers from Huntsville, Ala. Last year, the park had more than 4 million visitors for the first time since 1996. This year could bring nearly as many.
“We’ve had more visitors, and a lot of people who come to Yosemite are coming from city situations,” Cobb said. “A lot of people who are coming to the park aren’t familiar with nature and don’t understand the implications of their actions.”
The park’s swollen rivers and streams may also be a factor.
Six of this year’s deaths have involved water, a greater hazard than in years past because the winter’s especially heavy snow pack has been melting, creating treacherous conditions in fast-moving waters.
Three hikers from Modesto died last month after they climbed over a metal guardrail at the top of Vernal Falls. Two hikers drowned in the Hetch Hetchy Reservoir on June 29, and a hiker slipped and fell into the Merced River on the Mist Trail on May 13.
Park officials said LaFlamme was descending the dome during a severe thunderstorm that had dropped rain on the peak for several hours and left the granite surface wet and slick
Signs warn hikers not to climb the cables near the peak during rain and lightning. Although some hikers turned around there because of the weather, LaFlamme was one of about 20 people who remained, park officials said.
If you are planning a trip to Yosemite, check out the park’s Web site for critical safety information. If you are interested in making the trip, visit the Park’s Web site for more information. You might want to check with your local travel agent as well. In Huntsville, contact the experts at Carlton Wagonlit, Adventure Travel or Sterling.