Winter is getting old in Flagstaff:
I’m ready for spring. While I’m waiting, keeping warm, I’ve been catching up on my reading. Off the Wall: Death in Yosemite is subtitled, “Gripping accounts of all known fatal mishaps in America’s first protected land of scenic wonders.” Written by Michael Ghiglieri and Butch Farabee, it’s a cautionary, sobering read. It starts off with deaths in waterfalls (almost fifty people have been swept to their death), which sent shivers down my spine because I just did a trip in Yosemite last June.
We were camped near a huge waterfall of raging, thunderous water where one false move could have ended tragically. Not having read this book yet, I was mercifully less aware how easily one of us could have slipped on the smooth (and often wet), slippery granite that makes up the backcountry of Yosemite.
Besides waterfalls, the book describes deaths due to snow, downed aircraft, falls while hiking and scrambling, vehicular mishaps, climbing (fewer died in climbing than in hiking and scrambling accidents), drowning, flora and fauna (stay away from horses)(and no, no one has been killed by a bear in Yosemite, ever), freak accidents and getting lost. In all, from 1851 through 2006, there were 765 traumatic deaths in the Park. This includes 29 park builders (O’Shaunessy dam was big here).
Reading about all these mishaps, many of them in great detail, reminds me how tenuous our hold is on life — there are many ways to die; lots of them very sudden. Lots caused by simple bad luck.
But many teach lessons about planning, being prepared, being willing to bail when the weather changes, being attentive to your surroundings and knowing what to do when things start going wrong (keeping your head about you). These are lessons that can be easily forgotten — lessons that need to be revisted often when you have a life with lots of adventure.
At the same time, we have to remember that life is fatal. None of us will get out of here alive. People die everyday in accidents around their houses. Football players die (and are horribly injured) every year. People pay big bucks to die on Everest. Planes fall on houses (thankfully very infrequently).
If we are lucky, we continue to pursue the things that interest us. For me, it’s getting outside into nature, away from the throngs and noise and stuff. I will accept that my life has risks, and that I need to pay attention.
And continue to learn the lessons taught by the experiences of others. This summer, when I’m in Yosemite camped near those beautiful (raging) waterfalls, I’ll remind the group about what could happen in a moment of inattention…