Yosemite Deaths Shows Danger in Ignorance

BlogHer Original Post

The tragic deaths of three young hikers in Yosemite this week illustrate an unbelievably tired point: Humans? Not always so smart. Despite record snowfall resulting in torrential water flow, these folks were determined to have their photos taken at a picturesque point 25 feet from the edge of Vernall Falls.

Despite barriers, warning signs in various languages and the frantic pleas of witnesses who begged them to reconsider, the trio went into the fast-moving Merced River and posed. One slipped, the other went in to help and fell too. The third followed and just like that - Hormiz David, 22, Ninos Yacoub, 27, and Ramina Badal, 21 - were gone and remain so.

“Everyone was screaming. People were praying. What I will take away with me forever is the look on that grown man’s face as he was floating down that river knowing he was going to die and nobody could help them.”

--Jake Bibee, witness

What strikes me about this incident is how common it has become. Foolhardy tourists, anxious to experience nature, toddle out into the wilderness - la te da! - and are alarmed that it comes with no foam bumpers to protect. Honest to the God of Your Choice, humans have have no concept of how little Natures cares for our hairless monkey souls.

Image Credit: Paula Gregorowicz.

Fact is, the three young people, all part of a church group, climbed over a barricade to their untimely deaths. The park can only do so much to warn people but ultimately, they've got to use their heads.

"We feel that the guard railing and the signage at Vernal Fall is adequate to convey the dangers of walking into the Merced River at the top of the waterfall."

-Yosemite spokesman Scott Gediman, in SeattlePI

When I moved to Colorado five years ago, I was stunned by how many people die in the wilderness every year. Mother Nature makes her point somehow in every place in the world. How, I wondered, did She kill people here? Local news informed me it was lightening, winter sports and avalanches but mostly, it was ignorance.

People skiing or snowboarding off trail, or going too fast and hitting trees, which, turns out, only move for avalanches. I'll never forget opening up The Denver Post one early winter day and seeing this tiny headline: "First Death of the Season." Ah, let the body count begin!

The best piece of advice I ever saw in dealing with Nature was from a helpful sign at a Rocky Mountain National Park trailhead. It had a long list of warnings about fast-moving mountain storms, hiking off trail or not bringing enough water but at the very bottom in 72-point type it read simply:

THE MOUNTAINS DON'T CARE.

Bingo, That's it. And while we're at it, neither does the raging river. Or the angry bear. Or the unstable snow. Nature doesn't come with a safety harness and it won't shed a single tear for whoever fails to grasp its ruthless power.

"Often, what you get is a city visitor who thinks that everything is like a sanitized Disneyland. But nature is inherently dangerous, and that's one of its attractions."

--Yellowstone National Park historian Lee Whittlesey, author of "Death in Yellowstone: Accidents and Foolhardiness in the First National Park," in USA Today

Some folks fear death, whereas I specifically fear a 'stupid death.' Many a time I have stopped dead in my tracks after seeing visions of my own Denver Post headline: 'Woman Dies While Trying To Start Fire With Lipstick' or 'City Woman Mauled After Trying To Pet Mountain Lion' or 'Woman Electrocuted While Playing Golf in a Lightening Storm While Carrying an Umbrella and Wearing an iPod.' (These are all based on actual incidents.) I don't mind dying but lordy, please don't let me qualify for a Darwin Award.

My BlogHer colleague, Paula Gregorowicz, recently hiked the same Yosemite trail where the tragedy occurred and had this observation:

"It's not that the trails aren't safe (yes there are inherent dangers) but people are stupid! If you had them sign a waiver outlining what not to do they would still ignore it and think they can outsmart mother nature…There is no cure for stupid and I saw a lot of stupid in our week of hiking there."

In conclusion, PLEASE be careful out there in the wilds and do your research before taking Her on. I prefer our BlogHer readers to be in one whole piece, blogging and breathing, above ground. Some random tips:

  • Tell somebody where you are going and when you expect to return. (Watch '127 Hours' for full illustration of this point.)
  • No such thing as packing too much water. Impossible.
  • Bring paper maps of where you are going, as detailed as possible. DO NOT fall into what park rangers are now calling 'GPS deaths' and depending on unreliable technology that leads you astray.
  • Bring layers, especially waterproof.
  • Of course, pack your cell phone but find out ahead of time if there is coverage where you are going.
  • Signs are there for a reason! Read them diligently and believe every word.
  • Ditto on barricades.
  • Understand what wildlife is in the area how to avoid an encounter.
  • First Aid kit, please.

Finally?

No matter how epic that photo might be, it just isn't worth it.

~Heather Clisby

BlogHer Contributing Editor, Animal & Wildlife Concerns; Section Editor, LIFE; Proprietor, ClizBiz

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