Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Respecting Nature

Vernal Falls
Having been to the top of Vernal Falls in Yosemite National Park less than two months ago, reading the account of the three hikers swept to their presumed deaths over the 317-foot drop yesterday is nauseating to say the least. I’m praying for their families, friends and, as importantly, the other hikers at the top who had to witness the event. Like I said, it’s nauseating.

And I’m trying to figure out what would possess anyone to disregard the warning signs, guard rails, reported pleas from other hikers, and most of all, common sense… or at the very least, an innate sense of danger. If these folks reached the top by way of the Mist Trail, as most do, they could not have mistaken the power of the waterfall as the trail wends its way very near the falls, near enough to be appropriately named. Actually, the “Mist” Trail should be called the “guaranteed-to-get-wet” trail. Water volume and speed of Vernal Falls are unmistakable from the Mist Trail.  And this year is one for the record books.

If they reached the top from the John Muir trail, descending to the Vernal Fall overlook, there are still signs in multiple languages (and in English, includes the word “death”) and guardrails. The view point lets you get to the very edge of the precipice. The power of the rushing water is blatantly obvious. I cannot fathom anyone getting into the water, 20, 30 or even 100 yards from the drop-off. In looking over my photos, the Merced River above Vernal Falls was anything but a pool (as depicted on the map as Emerald Pool).
At the Merced River Above Vernal Falls

Some of my favorite vacations have been in various National Parks. My favorite one is always the next one on my to-see list. I commented this weekend during a hike in Shenandoah that I’m happiest when I’m out in nature. There have been times in my life when I feel like I should have pursued a career with the National Park Service. Today’s not one of them.

When we reached the top of Vernal Falls, I decided that the Mist Trail ranked very near the top of my “all-time great” list of hikes, including Angel’s Landing in Zion. Now, whenever I recall it or look at photos, my prayers will be with the park rangers and everyone affected by this horror. I’d like to think that respect for nature would rule, and that these types of tragedies will no longer occur. Sadly, I know better.