The infamous Half Dome hike in Yosemite National Park is commonly described as one of the most dangerous hikes in the United States. People have died from falling, lightning strikes, heart attacks, avalanches, ice cold rivers, rock climbing mishaps, and even base jumping accidents.
So how many people have died on Half Dome? As of 2023, there have been at least 24 confirmed deaths on the cable section and the summit. If you include the popular Mist Trail that leads to Half Dome, then there have been at least 40 to 60 deaths on the hike, depending on the source.
In my opinion, Half Dome is an amazing hike that lives up to its ‘bucket list’ reputation. I think it’s one of the best hikes in the world, but I wouldn’t recommend it for everyone. There is definitely some risk involved, no matter who you are.
The Half Dome deaths list in this article is the most thorough list of its kind available on the internet at the time of writing (2023), although some details may still be incomplete.
I don’t want to discourage you from doing this fantastic hike if you’re able. The reason I’m sharing this is only to help you make an informed decision about whether this hike is the right one for you, and also to motivate you to be as safe as possible at Yosemite National Park.
What Is Half Dome?
Half Dome is a granite peak that’s basically known as the single most epic hike in California’s Yosemite National Park. It’s a long and strenuous day hike with a variety of terrain.
The cables section at the end of the hike is especially challenging, and could be dangerous if you’re not careful. You’ll be climbing a steep granite slope with the aid of cables, poles, and wooden boards.
Permits are required for the cable section since 2010 to keep the route safer and less crowded, and these are handed out by lottery.
Before we talk about the Half Dome deaths and my safety tips, I also wrote a complete guide for the Half Dome hike and how to do it.
It has lots of tips, info, and photos for the hike. Definitely give it a read if you plan to do Half Dome! You can check it out in the link below.
Read More: Half Dome Hike
How Many People Have Died On Half Dome?
It’s hard to get an accurate number for how many people have died on the Half Dome hike, but here are what seem to be the most accurate figures:
- There have been at least 11 falling deaths on Half Dome. Most of these falls involved wet weather. Two of them happened while the cables were down. Two were health related falls (i.e. heart attack or fainting).
- There have been 3 lightning deaths on Half Dome. All of these happened on the summit.
- There have been 8 rock climbing deaths on Half Dome. Some of these were due to inexperience, while others were caused by forces of nature.
- There have been 2 base jumping deaths on Half Dome. This is not allowed in Yosemite National Park, but sometimes people do it anyway.
- There have been at least 15 river deaths on the Mist Trail, and likely many more due to other causes. I’ll discuss this separately, since most of those people weren’t hiking Half Dome.
- There have been numerous suicides on Half Dome, including jumping, poisoning, and self inflicted gunshot wounds, but I haven’t included any of those here since they’re not accidental deaths.
In total, there have been at least 24 accidental deaths on Half Dome if you limit it to the main peak, the cable section, and the summit.
However, the total number of deaths is more than 40 if you include the Mist Trail. In fact, some estimates based on national park data point to 40 deaths on the Mist Trail alone, which would put the current total for all of Half Dome at 64 deaths as of 2023.
Regardless of how you sort these numbers, it’s clear Half Dome is one of the most deadly hikes in the United States.
Half Dome Deaths List (2023)
This Half Dome deaths list is the most thorough list of its kind available on the internet at the time of writing (2023), although some details may still be incomplete:
- 2019 September – Danielle Burnett, age 29, of Lake Havasu City, Arizona, fell from the Half Dome cables section. An eyewitness said they tried to reach out and grab her as she screamed and slid down the cliff, but she was out of their reach. She fell 500 feet and died. (Source: SFGate)
- 2018 May – Asish Penugonda, age 29, of India, fell from the Half Dome cables section. There were thunderstorms in the area at the time, so the rock may have been wet. (Source: Santa Cruz Sentinel, Business Insider)
- 2011 August – Ryan Leeder, age 23, of Los Gatos, California, fell thousands of feet from the summit of Half Dome. Rock climbers below heard him scream and saw him fall. There was some speculation of suicide, but that hasn’t been confirmed. (Source: SFGate)
- 2011 July – Haley LaFlamme, age 26, of San Ramon, California, fell 600 feet while descending the cables during wet weather. A severe rainstorm was in the area for several hours, making the granite slick. (Source: National Park Service)
- 2009 June – Manoj Kumar, age 40, of San Ramon, California, slipped and fell 100 feet while descending the cables during wet weather. Rain and hail had made the granite slippery. (Source: SFGate)
- 2007 June – Hirofumi Nohara, age 37, of Japan, slipped and fell from the Half Dome cables section when he was three-quarters of the way to the top. He landed on a ledge 300 feet down, and then fell another 1,000 feet. An investigation later found that Nohara wasn’t doing anything unsafe, and the weather was sunny at the time, but the cables were very crowded and a lot of hikers were bunched up trying to pass each other. (Source: SFGate)
- 2007 April – Jennie Bettles, age 43, of Oakland, California, was descending Half Dome alone when the cables were down, and she slipped and fell 1,000 feet. There was stormy weather at the time. (Source: East Bay Times, SFGate)
- 2006 November – Emily Sandall, age 25, of Albuquerque, New Mexico, was hiking Half Dome when the cables were down, and slipped on wet granite. (Source: SFGate)
- 2004 June – Donald Cochrane, age 48, of Saratoga, California, complained of chest pain and then fell 300 feet to his death while descending the granite steps below the Half Dome cable section. (Source: SFGate)
- 1995 August – Michael Gerde, age 50, of Huntington Beach, California, collapsed of natural causes and fell 5 feet after reaching the top of the Half Dome cables. (Source: Los Angeles Times)
- 1987 July – A male hiker, age 19–25, died of an apparent fall while hiking Half Dome. Not many details are known about his death, but the bones were recovered later and there was head trauma. (Source: WEM Journal)
- 1985 July – Brian Jordan, 16, of Hayward, and Robert Frith, 25, of Mountain View, California, were both killed by a lightning strike on the summit of Half Dome, where they had taken shelter in a cave. Jordan was killed instantly, while Frith fell thousands of feet after being struck by lightning on the head. Three other hikers were also injured by lightning on the same day, two of them critically. (Source: UPI, SFGate)
- 1972 August – Edward Willems, age 19, of Greenbrae, California, was seeking cover from rain under an overhanging rock on the summit of Half Dome when he was struck by lightning. (Source: SFGate)
- 1948 September – Paul Garinger, age 41, of Burlingame, California, fainted on the Half Dome cables and fell 2,000 feet. A witness said Garinger appeared to be dizzy, and stopped to hold his head in his hands before falling. An acquaintance said Garinger was feeling unwell before he even started the hike. (Source: San Mateo Times)
- 1948 July – Chalmers Groff, 19, of Washington, D.C., slipped on mossy rocks and fell to his death while descending a path somewhere below Half Dome. The exact manner and location of his death hasn’t been reported in much detail. (Source: SFGate)
Thankfully, there have not been any deaths on Half Dome since 2019. There were no deaths from 2020 to 2023, although there were certainly some close calls.
I’ll discuss those in a minute and see what we can learn from them, and hopefully we can all be a bit safer as a result.
What Can We Learn From This?
Reading through the list above, it’s clear almost all of the falling deaths on Half Dome were caused (at least in part) by bad weather. Rain can make the granite rocks very slippery, and you’re an easy target for lightning on an exposed peak like Half Dome.
The single most important takeaway from these statistics is to never hike Half Dome if there’s a storm coming. Most of your risk can be mitigated by following this rule. At the very least, you should get below the tree line until things improve. I know this is a bucket list hike for many people, but it’s not worth the risk in bad weather.
Wearing grippy shoes is important for traction, and a safety harness may be a good idea too, but the single most important thing you can do on Half Dome is to watch the weather. Even the best hiking shoes can’t be trusted on slippery wet granite, and a harness won’t protect you from lightning.
If you’re curious about more of the details surrounding the Half Dome death stories and other close calls, you might want to check out the book Off the Wall: Death in Yosemite by Michael P. Ghiglieri and Charles R. Farabee. It explains some of the history of these kinds of incidents.
Rock Climbing Deaths On Half Dome
Rock climbers have their own set of risks, and there have been a number of rock climbing deaths on Half Dome over the years.
I’m listing these separately from other causes since most people are hiking to Half Dome on the regular trail, where they’re not exposed to these dangers:
- 2015 November – Angela Uys, age 26, of South Africa, was climbing the Snake Dike route when she fell 500 feet and died. The cause was determined to be an improperly secured harness. Her companions said she was busy taking pictures with her phone at the time she fell. While hurrying to reach her body, one of the other climbers also fell about 10 feet and twisted his ankle. (Source: American Alpine Club)
- 2011 September – Markus Praxmarer, age 48, of Austria, was climbing the Regular Northwest Face route on Half Dome when a ‘human sized’ flake of rock came loose with him, severing his anchor and causing him to fall 700 feet. Praxmarer was a very experienced climber who guided professionally in Europe. According to his companions, Praxmarer may have been slightly off the normal route at the time the accident happened. (Source: American Alpine Club, IAED Journal)
- 2005 September – Chris Feher, age 35, of Ann Arbor, Michigan, was climbing solo on the Slab Route of Half Dome when he fell 100 to 150 feet to his death. Feher was a veteran of Yosemite rock climbing routes, and he had climbed Half Dome and El Capitan many times. There was some speculation that this accident may have been caused by a rock fall. (Source: San Diego Union-Tribune)
- 1989 April – A male hiker, age 21, of England, was walking the Mirror Lake loop trail and then apparently attempted to solo climb the cliff bands below Half Dome without equipment, and fell to his death. (Source: NPS Incident Reports)
- 1987 August – A male hiker, age 35, suffered a fatal head injury from a rockfall while climbing at Half Dome. (Source: WEM Journal)
- 1978 January – A male hiker, age 20, fell and died while rock climbing at Half Dome. His fall was attributed to inexperience. (Source: WEM Journal)
- 1968 March – Edwin Hermans Jr, age 24, and Larry Greene, age 29, were both killed after they were caught in an avalanche while climbing. This was attributed to poor judgement and inexperience, since there was a clear risk of avalanche at the time. (Source: American Alpine Club)
Other Half Dome Incidents
Over the years, there have been hundreds of other injuries and rescues on the Half Dome hike, plus a few unusual deaths that weren’t caused by people accidentally falling from cliffs.
It would be impossible to list all of those cases here, but these are just a few of the most informative and well documented examples:
- 2023 October – A hiker at Half Dome fell 80 feet and suffered serious leg injuries. He landed on a small ledge that measured only about 6 feet by 1.5 feet, which narrowly saved him from falling another 500 feet to his death. The hiker was helped by off-duty US Air Force captain Joshua Haveman, who ventured outside of the cables to bring him back to safety. (Source: The Guardian)
- 2023 September – During a thunderstorm, several hikers on the summit of Half Dome had to take shelter in a cave, and the rocks around them were struck repeatedly by lightning. One of the hikers was briefly knocked unconscious, but they recovered quickly and all survived. On the same day, two different women fell from Half Dome during the rain and hail, but they landed on a rock ledge and survived. (Source: San Francisco Chronicle)
- 2009 June – A female hiker, age 35, slipped while descending the Half Dome cables and slid 150 feet down the east face, coming to rest on a small ledge. Another hiker scrambled out to her and stayed with her until rescuers arrived. (Source: NPS Incident Reports)
- 2006 October – Scott Clancy, age 22, of Fresno, California, slipped on wet granite and started to slide off of Half Dome, but his pants caught on a rough patch of rock and stopped his fall when he was only 30 feet from the edge of the cliff. He was rescued by helicopter 3 hours later. (Source: SFGate)
- 2004 September – A female hiker, age 61, lost the trail on her way back down from Half Dome, and got caught in an unseasonable early snow storm. This happened on September 19. When she was found two hours later near the Lost Lake area south of Half Dome, she was moderately hypothermic, tired, and hungry. Shortly after she was rescued, a second snow storm swept through the area. (Source: NPS Incident Reports)
- 1988 October – Mitchell Reno, 35, of Antioch, California, base jumped from the top of Half Dome, but his parachute didn’t open until a split second before he hit the ground, which killed him. (Source: SFGate)
- 1982 August – James Tyler, 35, of La Puente, California, jumped with a parachute from the top of Half Dome, but he impacted a cliff wall and fell hundreds of feet to the ground. The National Park Service said this was an illegal jump, and two other parachutists who jumped simultaneously with Tyler and landed successfully were arrested at the bottom by park rangers. (Source: SFGate, UPI)
As you can see, there have been accidents and close calls on the Half Dome hike even as recently as October 2023. In recent years, there almost seems to be at least one close call or death per year. Once again, bad weather seems to play a role in a few of these cases.
Deaths On The Mist Trail & Waterfalls
Over the years, numerous people have died on the Mist Trail, which is the most popular route for hiking to Half Dome.
A complete record isn’t available, but some estimates based on US National Park data point to more than 40 deaths on the Mist Trail. At least 15 of these deaths (and probably more) were due to falling into the Merced River, which can be swift and freezing cold.
For several reasons, I’ve decided not to list these cases with the other Half Dome deaths:
- 1. The Mist Trail is a very popular day hike in Yosemite in its own right. Most people hiking the Mist Trail are not going to Half Dome, so it might not make much sense to lump them in with the others on this list.
- 2. While the Mist Trail is the most popular route for reaching Half Dome, it’s not the only route. For example, you can bypass the Mist Trail completely by starting from Glacier Point and hiking via the Panorama Trail. In other words, the Mist Trail and Half Dome are not inseparable.
- 3. There’s not as much public information out there for these cases compared to what happens on the Half Dome cables and the summit.
- 4. Many of the deaths on the Mist Trail could’ve been easily avoided and were caused by simple negligence. As long as you obey posted signs and fences, and stay away from the river, it’s not much of a safety risk to you as a hiker.
Is Half Dome Dangerous Or Safe?
Obviously there is some risk involved in climbing Half Dome, and there’s no denying that this is an extreme hike by most people’s standards.
I’d say Half Dome is definitely more dangerous than something like Angels Landing, which has also killed a number of people over the years. Half Dome is a much longer and more strenuous hike as well, but I still think it’s safe enough if you’re careful and come prepared.
During the summer season, Half Dome is successfully climbed by up to 9,000 people per month, and there are relatively few incidents when you consider those statistics. In fact, before permits started being required in 2010, Half Dome was climbed by up to 40,000 people per month! I think that puts things into better perspective.
That doesn’t mean Half Dome is a joke, though. It’s steep. Very steep. Pictures don’t really do it justice, and I had more anxiety on the cables than I expected. Anyone who’s been all the way to the top would probably tell you the same thing.
It’s strongly advised not to climb Half Dome if there are storm clouds in the area. Lightning can be very dangerous on the summit, and the cables and rock become very slick when wet.
I also wouldn’t recommend the Half Dome hike for young kids, unfit older folks, or anyone who is not surefooted and comfortable with heights.
I saw a girl have a panic attack and start freaking out partway through the cable section on Half Dome. It caused a traffic jam on the cables and made things less safe for everyone until she was able to climb back down with help from bystanders.
If you want to mitigate the risk even more, you can use a climbing harness for the cable section on Half Dome. Some people do that, and there are pros and cons to it.
For what it’s worth, I have some fear of heights but I’m also an experienced hiker who has done plenty of risky treks and climbs around the world, and I have to admit Half Dome was scary for me. One of the things running through my mind was the possibility of another hiker above me falling, and taking me out with them.
Whatever you do, don’t let go of the cables, even for a moment! I know it’s tempting to stop and take pictures, but unless you’re still holding a cable with at least one hand, there is nothing keeping you from slipping and falling off the edge of the cliff.
Why Do People Hike Half Dome?
The Half Dome hike is a unique and memorable experience. I’ve never done anything quite like it, and there’s so much to see along the way.
In a single day hike, you get to see two big waterfalls, giant sequoia trees, and other scenery in Yosemite, with the thrilling and scary cables section at the end of the trail that leads you to panoramic views of the entire valley!
Is it worth the danger? You decide. If nothing else, you could hike up to Half Dome, take a look, and then turn back if you’re not feeling it. There’s no shame in that, and the rest of the hike is worthwhile even if you don’t do the cable section. I loved the Mist Trail so much I did it several days in a row.
If you’re looking for another epic and challenging hike in Yosemite National Park that’s safer than Half Dome and still has great views, check out the hike to Upper Yosemite Falls and Yosemite Point. That one is especially impressive in the spring, when the waterfall is roaring!
Half Dome Lottery Permit System
Since 2010, the National Park Service requires day use permits (via lottery) for the Half Dome cables section. The reason for this change was because the trail was becoming extremely crowded and potentially less safe.
Before the change, Half Dome was getting more than 1,200 hikers per day during the busy season, but now only 300 hikers per day are allowed to climb. They split this into 225 permits for day hikers and 75 permits for backpackers.
I encountered traffic jams on the Half Dome cables even with the permit rules in place, so I can’t imagine how nightmarish it must have been in the old days when 4 times as many people were climbing the cables. I wish the permit system wasn’t necessary, but I think the Park Service did the right thing in this case.
Permits are required 7 days a week, all year long, except when the cables are down. In any case, it’s still an amazing hike, and I explain how to get Half Dome permits in my complete guide for the hike.
More US National Park Travel Guides
Thanks for looking! I hope you were helped by this safety guide for the Half Dome hike in Yosemite National Park, California.
Don’t forget to check out my other USA hiking guides before you go!