Terrifying Details Emerge From Hikers Tragic Death on Half Dome

The tragic death of 29-year-old hiker Danielle Burnett sent shockwaves through Yosemite National Park, as the famed hike to the top of Half Dome remains dangerous even following the installation of the trail’s cables.

Burnett fell 500 feet from the steep slope of Half Dome, where cables were installed to make the hike safe. Now, a witness has detailed the scenario as a warning for anyone thinking of making the hike.

Shawn Slimp posted photos of the day on Half Dome on Facebook, and when people asked questions, he gave his full account of the scenario surrounding the tragic fall:

The girl wasn’t on the outside of the cables. She was at least 30’ above us. We heard a commotion, she was starting to freak out. It had started to lightly sprinkle. She had decided to turn around before making it to the top, her group of 3-4 continued on. I saw her shoes slipping on the rock. It wasn’t that wet yet but maybe she had a poorly chosen pair of shoes. Regardless, I watched as her shoes slipped on the rock, she fell hard and lost her grip on cable. Someone had said she was even using a carabiner but it obviously wasn’t clipped in at that moment. She started sliding down and to the right of the cables. My friend got down on her stomach to try and grab her….she went by her and I stretched out and tried to reach for her with my right hand but by now she was probably 10’ to the right of the cables and too far for me also. She slid past screaming and she went over an edge. She fell about 500’ and you could see her from the top of sub dome. Everyone was evacuated from the cables and subdome so the helicopter could fly in.

When Park Rangers arrived on the scene to find Burnett, she was already deceased.

The thrilling hike to the top of Half Dome in Yosemite National Park is a world-famous adventure. In fact, it’s become too famous, with crowds jamming up the cable-laden rock wall for visitors to get a beautiful 360 degree view of the park.

Rising nearly 5,000 feet above Yosemite Valley and 8,800 feet above sea level, Half Dome is a Yosemite National Park icon and a great challenge to many hikers. Despite an 1865 report declaring that it was “perfectly inaccessible, being probably the only one of the prominent points about the Yosemite which never has been, and never will be, trodden by human foot,” George Anderson reached the summit in 1875, in the process laying the predecessor to today’s cable route.

Rising nearly 5,000 feet above Yosemite Valley and 8,800 feet above sea level, Half Dome is a Yosemite National Park icon and a great challenge to many hikers. Despite an 1865 report declaring that it was “perfectly inaccessible, being probably the only one of the prominent points about the Yosemite which never has been, and never will be, trodden by human foot,” George Anderson reached the summit in 1875, in the process laying the predecessor to today’s cable route.

Today, thousands of people reach the summit. For most, it is an exciting, arduous hike; for a few, it becomes more of an adventure than they wanted.

Active NorCal

Northern California's Outdoor Digital Newsmagazine

16 Comments

    1. The thing is, to my knowledge there are no clips? I think those caribeaners some use are their own, and they are mostly trinket, key ones found near the registers at REI? not really the rock climbing variety? ( though I am certainly good with being corrected if they are provided by the park). She was actually trying to do the safe thing for her and turn around. Maybe she didn’t wear shoes with grip, but…accidents happen when you do risky sports. Climbing half dome is risky. I question ever having put cables in, in tbe first place. I don’t think amateur climbers should be climbing, and cables suggest that it’s possible for just about anyone who isn’t afraid of heights.

      1. Niki- Not true. People who are not in excellent shape and experienced are encouraged to use a “Y” shaped pig tail with real carabiners. This way you can’t fall.

    2. RIP. Given this tragic example…another one, stay Clipped at all times on these Paths. Life is far too valuable to risk by not being careful enough. Yea, it slows the climb, makes things cumbersome passing others, but today we’d instead be celebrating her successful climb not ordering flowers for her burial. M.

  1. I was twelve years old when I hiked up half dome, I am now 34. About a 3rd of the way up the ‘sub dome’ I got scared and clung to the right cable. I was on one of the boards saying I wanted to turn around. Back then I was wearing a pair of white sneakers. There weren’t as many people hiking up as you see today. A kind stranger offered to assist me from behind and my Dad coached me from the front. I don’t recall anyone being clipped in. And my hands were bright red from gripping the wire so hard without gloves. It was slippery back before the hike increased in popularity (foot traffic), I couldn’t imagine how scary it would be when wet, especially in sneakers!

  2. I take issue with a key line from the article:

    “…where cables were installed to make the hike safe.”

    This type of thinking is a factor in many of the deaths in the park. Absolutely nothing there has been “made safe.” There’s no such thing as a safe way to the top of Half Dome.

    I used to work in a climbing gym, and when people would ask us “is this safe?” We were trained to say “No,” it is inherently unsafe, but we have extensive training and equipment to keep the activity within what we believe to be an acceptable level of risk.

    People go to Yosemite or other wild places expecting it to be like Disneyland where your safety is ensured by massive teams of lawyers and engineers, then get themselves killed by cliffs, waterfalls, and wild animals. (This is in no way intended as a condemnation of the person that died in the article, but rather the mentality of the article itself.)

  3. Wonder why none of the people Danielle was with have spoken up as to what exactly happened up there!? Years ago hiked the area with some friends along the Merced…the 3 of them went up Half Dome. Me? I stayed in camp…I know when somethings too much for me!

  4. my condolences for her and thoso who left behind…such a tragedy. hearing this and to think that alex honnold solo climb the half dome and the free rider seems absolutely outrageous.

  5. I have been up Half Dome twice and I’ve never seen people using carabiners. Everyone I have witnessed pulled themselves up the cables and held on super tightly on the way down. All should be wearing boots, not “shoes”. And no one should attempt it when it is wet. I blame the National Park Service for forcing people with permits to climb the Dome on a specific day with the resulting pressure of doing so because it’s a one and only chance to do so – despite the weather conditions.

  6. There are no carabiners provided by the park. Most people do not use them on the cables. Half Dome is inherently dangerous. Ms. Burnett seemed to be very safety conscious. She was using carabiners and she was correct in turning back when it started to rain. If there is any, and I do mean any forecast of rain, or if it looks like rain is possible, you should abort the hike up the cables. The granite is like glass, slippery when dry, like ice when wet. This is a tragic accident. My sincere condolences to her family and loved ones.

  7. I hiked Half Dome yesterday. I’m an able, athletic, and competent individual. I had seen that many people had done this hike and thought there was no reason I couldn’t accomplish it. We made it to the top of sub dome before most. Subdome is the final steep section before you reach the cables portion. There were only a few people who had started very early before us. When I looked up the cables, saw the slope, looked down the sides of the dome, saw the 30mph wind whipping the jackets of the people coming down, I did not think there was anything safe about this endeavor. Yes, the cables are sturdy, although according to my brother, one stanchion was loose. But just because thousands of people do it and have done it, does not mean it’s safe. It’s an over 400ft elevation change over a span of approx 600ft of cable. It looked extremely risky to me, doable, but not worth it. I had read the guide book, the articles, personal accounts, talked to people had done it, looked at pics, and did my research. It didn’t matter that I had planned months ahead, trained and prepared, I told my brother you go ahead, I’ll wait for you at bottom of subdome. And I went back down, passing about 100 people headed up to do it. I had really started to feel extreme anxiety in the moments on top of subdome. I knew it was only going to get worse if I went up the cables. And when panic sets in, your flight or fight system takes over, physiological reactions occur, and you can start making poor decisions. Your biology can work against you in a situation where you need to make sound technical choices. The desire and twinge of regret was there at the bottom, that i didn’t do the thing touch the top and make the big accomplishment. But that was overridden by a feeling of relief and gratitude for safety. I can completely understand how a driven, competent individual would want to overcome their fear in the moment, suck it up and keep going up against their gut. And once on there, I can see how with wind and a little rain, the panic can set in, heart rate go up and someone slip or possibly get confused or flustered with the clips. My heart goes out to this young lady, her family and her parents. My heart also goes out to the people who witnessed and tried to save her, but couldn’t. I also can’t imagine what her friends, who decided to keep going when she wanted to turn back, must be feeling. It’s a horrific tragedy.

  8. I went to Half Dome in my college year with a friend. This was very long moon ago when permit was not required to go to the top. Several gloves can be found on the base where people have successfully make it to the top and left their gloves to celebrate their trip. This help encourage others that it can be done and to follow in their foot steps. Though, the park service have done away with the gloves calling it an eye sore because it does not belong in part of the natural beauty of the park. Thinking about our trip now, we was not fully prepared for the hike. We know it was hard and long adventure, but only in doing the hike itself we learned the full scope. We was using a regular sneaker. I have several encounter where my footing was tested, slipping on uneven rock and the bare root of the trees. I bought more water than needed and worn myself out. My friend did not bought enough, but he got me to be thankful because I have too much. We was playing leap frog with another hiker as we struggle to make it to the base of Half Dome. It was a fair sunny day with the haze outlook in the far distance. We did not bought gloves to ascend the final stretch and the ultimate goal of the top. We are thankful for the gloves that were left by the many before us. We did not use any other protective device beside the gloves. As we was resting and gathering our courage to do the final ascend, we saw a couple that was talking. Her man decided not to go to the top. She came to us for support. If we are going, she wanted to be sandwich between us. We gave her permission to be with us. My final thought before ascending was, I’m young, my legs are hurting, but I have the upper strength, and this was once in life time event to Half Dome because the future me will not try to attempt this again. Determination was in our eyes and we start to ascend to the top. My friend took the lead follow by our new friend and I took care of the bottom. I tested my shoe, there was not much of a grip. There was no slipping either, but felt barely enough for the vertical path up to the top. I found out the wooden plank was more important than the cable as it was a good safe point to rest and gather the mental strength to move forward. We finally make it to the top. I was more relief than happy. I did not found the view to be any better than some of the safer spot that have similar view point. It was more flat up there than I thought. Our new friend was very happy. I was glad for her, but I could not share the same outcome. Our descend down was easy with no hiccup and our new friend was safely united with her man. It was dark by the time we arrived to our parking lot. I came home tired and I took a shower. I noticed that the bottom of my feet was shedding skin. I woke up the next morning to be in pain and called my work place…. see me in 2 days. I stayed in bed the entire day and only came out to eat or use the restroom. Half Dome is not for everyone and there are risks. People who felt safe are the one who are more at risk. Nature are to be respected and we human must know our body. The challenge, the risk, and the beauty are real.

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