Off the Wall: Death in Yosemite by Michael P. Ghiglieri and Charles R. Farabee, Jr.

Off the Wall: Death in Yosemite proves that some people are just too plain clueless (or perhaps unconsciously suicidal) to be allowed access to Yosemite.  Over 900 people have died of unnatural causes in Yosemite National Park since the early twentieth century, the majority of which were completely preventable fatalities had the victims heeded the DANGER and WARNING signs, or even the shouts of incredulous bystanders, typically fellow hikers, who would soon serve as eyewitnesses to horrific yes (and yet spectacular) accidents.

These doomed individuals waded into creeks as little as ten yards upstream of a 500 foot-plus waterfall, past the aforementioned signs and railings designed to save their lives, in order to cool off after a sweaty hike, or to get a better vantage for that perfect photograph to last a lifetime.  But then, in an instant, lost their step on slick rocks in the deceptively swift currents, and seconds later, got sent plummeting into eternity, ejected over the lips of Upper Yosemite, Vernal, or Nevada Falls, while husbands or wives or sons and daughters watched helplessly in horror. Doubtful that was the vacation in Yosemite they'd been planning and had long been dreaming about.

Then there's those who've been struck by lightning on the summit of Half Dome.  Again, signs warn both to leave and not approach the summit plateau area (about 300 acres) should ominous thunderheads appear as they so often do during monsoonal summer afternoons during the peak of tourist season.  But few years go by when somebody doesn't get struck by lightning and die.  One unlucky victim, who survived a lightning strike and was being attended to by rescuers, went into such violent convulsions that he literally convulsed himself out of the rescuer's collective grasp and rolled right off the precipices edge of Half Dome into free fall and an absurd death.

Free fall tends to kill more base jumpers than lightning strike victims.  Base jumpers are the airborne adrenaline junkies who jump illegally off of El Capitan, Glacier Point, and even Half Dome, or other lesser known and not as lofty but always as vertiginous granite spires with a parachute.  They land in Yosemite Valley (when their parachutes actually open) and quickly grab up their expensive gear before it can be confiscated by national park rangers, and high tail it out of sight before Yosemite National Park personnel can catch and arrest them.  One such base jumper evaded multiple Rangers in the Valley during a frenetic chase at sunset, but unfortunately, wasn't able to evade the Grim Reaper.  During the chase, as he attempted his escape, he jumped into the Merced River, a typically tranquil and placid brook that flows serenely through the heart of Yosemite Valley, and drowned.  The base jumper knew how to fly, but not how to swim.

Some people, unlike the base jumpers, leap off of Glacier Point, Half Dome, or El Capitan, without parachutes, as if these glorious natural wonders were suspension bridges or skyscrapers.  Because their bodies literally explode upon impact in extremely difficult to access areas, many of them are simply left where they lie upon impact to become part of the park eternal, immemorial, eventual skeletons sometimes if ever found, have never been identified.  Sad.

Off the Wall: Death in Yosemite documents all of the more mundane, but just as tragic, demises as well.  Such as death-by-snowplow-caused-avalanche on Tioga Pass Road; or the now ubiquitous death one can watch every month on the Discovery Channel in exciting documentaries about mountain climbers who miscalculated their reach or the strength of their gear, and fell.

I think the book should be required reading for every visitor who enters Yosemite National Park.  Might enthrall the average tourist as it enthralled me, every unputdownable page of it, and more importantly (who knows?), might even save a life or two.


  1. Thanks for linking up. I read this review over on LT this morning and laughed (as I cringed).


  2. Thanks Becky! Hearing you laughed/cringed tells me "mission accomplished"! ;-)


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