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Hiker killed after falling 500 feet from Half Dome cables in Yosemite

Yosemite’s Half Dome trail is an iconic attraction for many hikers. Though beautiful, the hike poses safety risks and challenges to consider. (Video: National Park Service)

The iconic Half Dome in Yosemite National Park has loomed large in the national imagination since American settlers began exploring the park in the middle of the 19th-century. Every year, thousands of hikers seek to summit the 8,800-foot, crescent-shaped granite formation that offers one of the most spectacular panoramic views in the country.

But Half Dome can be deadly.

On Thursday morning, an Arizona woman died after falling 500 feet down steep, rocky terrain on a segment of Half Dome that requires hikers to cling to cables for stability, according to Yosemite spokesman Scott Gediman. The woman was identified as 29-year old Danielle Burnett of Lake Havasu City, Ariz.

Burnett was dead when emergency officials found her, Gediman said, and park officials are investigating the accident.

The popular hike, considered the “most iconic attraction in all of Yosemite Valley” according to the park’s website, requires a lottery-distributed permit to climb to the top. But despite its massive appeal, it requires experience to successfully summit. The Half Dome trail traverses 17 miles and gains 4,800 feet in elevation, and ends in a daunting climb to the summit during which hikers must use cables to ascend safely.

The park warns that the route is “not suitable for novice or unfit hikers” and that several visitors must be rescued each year, many due to dehydration and lack of preparation.

Photos from Burnett’s Facebook page show her hiking and exploring the outdoors. On Friday, her sister Nichole Burnett posted an image of Danielle in a baseball cap and a striped tee, perched on a rock formation on a beautiful day.

“Danielle left us yesterday doing something she loved so much,” Nichole Burnett wrote. “This will take time. Thank you for understanding.”

Burnett is not the first climber to suffer a fatal accident on Half Dome, or in Yosemite. Another climber slipped and fell to his death on the Half Dome cables in May 2018 when a thunderstorm created treacherous conditions.

In June, Patricia Stoops, a 57-year-old teacher’s aide, died while scaling the Central Pillar of Frenzy, the Modesto Bee reported. In August, a 21-year-old Romanian tourist died after plummeting from Bridalveil Falls.

More than 100 climbing accidents occur in Yosemite each year, and park officials urge hikers to bring necessary supplies and stay on park trails for their safety.

previous version of this story provided the incorrect height of Half Dome. The full elevation of Half Dome is 8,839 feet above sea level, but the elevation gain during the hike up to half dome is 4,800 feet, according to Yosemite’s website.

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