Half Dome Cables

A 37-year-old Japanese man was hiking up Half Dome in Yosemite. He was talking and laughing with his four friends as they worked their way up the backside where a series of anchored cables and steps are used to get up the final 400 feet. Then he slipped. He didn’t have time to speak or even shout before he slid off the side of Half Dome to his death, becoming the third fatality within a year off the 4,800-foot granite dome.

Mama and I have been talking about doing this hike for the last couple of years and are hoping to be able to do it this Summer. However, there’s absolutely no reason why you can’t do this climb with a harness and an anchoring system (a piece of nylon tied to each other and another piece of nylon with a carabiner attached to the cables). Hardly anybody does the climb this way, but I’ll be damned if a careless slip is going to cost us our lives.

The granite rock is slippery smooth from decades of climbers using the same path to ascend the slope. The way that we are planning on doing this, one of us would be attached to the cable by a carbiner at all times. If one of us slips, at least one will be tied to the cable. Sure it may slow us down to have to unclip and reclip the carabiner at each pole during the ascent, but this forces us to think clearly about our footing. We’re definitely not going out like this guy.

10 Comments »

  1. Unfortunately, I was there to witness this tragic incident on that gloomy day. I was waiting in line at the base while I was taking some pics. I heard screams & as I looked up, he was standing up, facing towards downhill. I assumed he was coming down rather than climbing up. He started to skid & tumble. I don’t know whether if he was trying to go around somebody & lost his grip or footing & then plunged to death. One must be focused & have some kind of fear while doing a dangerous activity. One can’t be laughing & talking. My comment is that this would have been prevented if simply, he was holding onto the cables. It was a definitely a hike to remember & never will be forgotten.

    #1 by eddy — June 29, 2007 @ 2:27 pm

  2. It’s sad and unfortunate that this happened, but I too agree that it could have been prevented. You’re the only eyewitness account of the incident that I have heard. Thanks for the comment on my blog.

    #2 by Nugget — July 2, 2007 @ 8:55 am

  3. I first performed this climb in 1979. Start out at “O” dark thirty, take water, snacks and plenty of film. It is not as “dangerous” at it looks. Last year I took my 15 year old daughter. A climb up half dome is well worth the “risk”

    #3 by Gene Ulm — February 24, 2008 @ 5:09 am

  4. HD is on my 51st year list. I plan to go in June. Did a 20 mile hike on the PC, first half marathon and Hiked napali coast trail last year. I pretty much just gutted it out. I plan to be more prepared this year. I say make a list!

    #4 by miki — March 6, 2008 @ 10:24 am

  5. I’m climbing half dome in June. Any idea what the weather is like? Suggestions on what to bring? We’re doing it in a group of 10. Pretty excited. Training every day to get in shape for that climb. What kind of shoes are needed? Hiking boots, mountain climbing shoes, or regular trainers?

    #5 by Nichole — March 10, 2008 @ 8:01 am

  6. I prefer running shoes or trail runners. Some prefer hiking boots. Something worn in and comfortable. The rock on top can be slippery. The weather should be great in June, but Thundersorms can come any time of year and you should’nt go on the cables and top in a storm. 17 miles and takes about 10-12 hrs round trip. Elevation will increase about 5,000 ft. Bring gloves for the cables to protect your hands.

    #6 by miki — March 10, 2008 @ 8:37 am

  7. A harness? Are you kidding me? While we’re at it, let’s install some bubble wrap all over the park for safety. And don’t forget your super cool helmet. OR, you could hold onto the safety cables with your hands. The rocks are a little slippery, perhaps, but there are wooden planks every couple feet that are quite sturdy. Unless you let go of the cables to take a picture or do something stupid like pass someone outside of the cables, you’ll be fine. The number of deaths has been small compared to the amount of hikers.

    #7 by hiker — March 30, 2008 @ 6:42 am

  8. Sad that anyone loses their life on a Summer hike, and in no way do I want to second guess anyones safety decisions, but steep granite surfaces can be/are dangerous..simple enough, accept the risk or stay home.
    I first hiked Half Dome as a teenager in the late 70s and have done it many times since, When younger we did dare to travel outside the cable route (while gripping one cable) to pass “frozen with fear” hikers. Not something I condone or wish to make sound trivial. Any high mt. activity carries with it risk of injury or death, skiing, swimming ..hell the Park Service once condoned and monitored HANG GLIDING from Glacier Point! I witnessed it as a Summer employee.
    Anyone attempting to hike to the top of Half Dome is probably already aware of the long grueling day ahead of you, making darn sure you have presence of mind and strength in reserve to “pull” yourself up the cables is paramount to your success and safety. Dont be misled by the wooden planks anchored in the rock, a few of them will wiggle around or otherwise surprise you by their less than perfect steadiness. Just be careful and very alert. Having good shoes/boots and gloves should go without saying. Future regulations are sure to come following another mishap, no swimming in the Merced? no skiing on steep slopes? Being careful and reliant on yourself to get home alive is sadly becoming a lost art. Anyone that thinks the High Sierra should be as safe as a suburban shopping mall, please stay home or at least off of the trails, thank you.

    #8 by Phil C — June 29, 2011 @ 12:34 pm

  9. I climbed it a couple of weeks ago, when the cables were down for the winter. This meant all the poles and supports were removed, but the cables are still there lying on the rock. This made it easy to put a prussik loop on the cable in case anything went wrong, and I felt much safer. I had to change the Prussik to the next cable about 6 times on teh way up, but as I had two ends of the rope I could always stay safe. Having said all that, I didn’t slip, so never tested it. I saw about 10 people climb the cables that afternoon, I was the only one using any protection.

    Just thought you might be interested

    #9 by Ed — November 7, 2011 @ 12:19 pm

  10. I have done the cables many times, I’ve lost count. When the route is crowded it is very slow moving so not as strenuous. Plus, I don’t know how you could fall very far with all those people in front of you, IF you stay between the cables. If you are there early in the morning and there are NO CROWDS, you feel more exposed, but it is much better. I often encounter people who do ok going up but freak out coming down. I have on 3 occasions put harnesses on people and clipped them in to give them a psychological advantage for going down. Not a bad Idea for kids under 12yrs. I climbed my first time at 15, no protection and howling winds. No crowds THAT day! And I have seen people in their 70’s up there! And one time a guy doing it in Teva sandals. Some people go up and down on the outside of the cables. The ones I have seen are very experienced on rock and are probably just fine – many are climbers who came up the face and are going the “easy” way. First timers, those not in the greatest of shape, people who need to rest here and there on the way up, should NEVER be outside the cables. With the boards in place, the farthest you would probably slip is about 5 feet… a little freaky, but it won’t kill you.

    #10 by David Lind Haynes — September 3, 2014 @ 1:58 pm

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