The United Kingdom’s mountain Search and Rescue force is an all-volunteer group. There is virtually no government funding and dedicated men and women give of their time and money to help others. Not too long ago, I learned of a fund-raising project called “360 to Yosemite.” This was to be a fund-raising effort organized by 3 men from Wales, UK. I contacted Dave Fildes to offer my support since I only live 5 hours from this great American National Park.
I felt qualified to help get them to the top since I have written the only hiking guide to this massive trek, “One Best Hike: Yosemite’s Half Dome.” The name of their effort came because all three were turning 60 that year! Their goal was to hike to the summit of the Park’s signature landmark, Half Dome, and promote the effort to sponsors and individuals to obtain money for their home Search and Rescue teams. Dave joined with Harold Burrows and Roland Layland and agreed to my leading them.
The Half Dome hike is a 16-mile, 12-hour day hike. It is classed as “extremely strenuous” and is capped by a 425foot 45-degree ascent up the backside of the 8,842 foot high signature landmark of Yosemite. This is facilitated by gripping onto 2 steel cables installed in 1919.
We agreed to meet at the Fresno, California airport and I had arranged an interview on a live local TV station the next day. As things turned out, their plane connections were completely disrupted by a monster thunderstorm at Atlanta. They arrived a day late and we toured the giant sequoias then rested up for the big hike the next day. I did the TV interview alone. The hike went well despite the strange June weather. It had been an unusually wet month. At the summit, they joyously sang their national anthem. Soon after our Energy Bar lunch, an ominous cloud moved in. They unfurled the Wales flag on the top and we wisely decided to get down before the cloud got worse.
As we descended it got very cold and the cloud proceeded to cover the top of the mountain with hikers foolishly continuing up. When the granite rock is damp, it is very slick and the cable route is deadly. We were safely into the forest and heading down when it began to hail then rain. All this with other hikers still continuing towards the cables while wearing shorts and T-shirts – common for most summer days. Sadly about 3 pm, a man lost his footing on the sick surface and fell to his death. An irony was that the week before a woman slipped and slid 150 feet down only to be stopped by an upward facing slab edge. the weather was bad that day also.
The moral of my story is that mountain weather is very unpredictable and precautions must be taken. We need to be prepared for changing conditions and hike wisely. Seek safety then modify your plans. The” 360 to Yosemite” project was a success with many donations for Search and Rescue raising in excess of $4,000 US. The three guys paid all their own expenses. Carpe Diem!