The Free Press, Mankato, MN

State, national news

June 11, 2013

Pondering deaths along Yosemite path

YOSEMITE NATIONAL PARK, Calif. — The two sisters boarded the morning bus to the Happy Isles trail head, ice cream cones in hand.

For 50 years, their tradition has been to start a day on Mist Trail with some mint chocolate chip.

Before they left on this year’s trip, friends told Patty Frehler, 67, and Suzanne Barovick, 66, “Don’t go over the falls.” And they weren’t entirely joking.

On June 1, Aleh Kalman, 19, was swimming above Nevada Fall and the current carried him over the precipice. Last August, 6- and 10-year-old brothers were swept downriver below Vernal Fall. The year before, the river carried three young people over the top of 317-foot Vernal as a crowd of helpless picnickers watched in horror.

At least 14 people have gone over falls along the Mist Trail in the last 10 years. None survived.

Three days after the latest death, the line between adventure and foolishness, and whether the National Park Service should do more to protect people from making deadly mistakes, was on the minds of many people on the fabled trail.

“We’ve been coming to Yosemite since I was 18 and back then I don’t think we ever heard of a death,” Frehler said. “Nothing’s really changed. Same mountains. Same river. So, why are so many more people dying?”

Frehler considered the first stretch of shady, paved path, where the Merced River bubbled beside a stone wall.

“It looks innocent. Maybe they need bigger warning signs,” she said.

Her husband, Bob Bentley, strongly disagreed.

“They have more precautions now and they haven’t done any good. It’s like air bags in cars — people just drive faster,” he said.

Less than a mile into the hike, the first bridge offered a jaw-dropping glimpse of Vernal Fall in the distance. Bob Heath, 83, held hands with Evelyn Treadgold, 84, and looked at a view he hadn’t seen since 1951.

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