There’s a sad story in the news, about three young people missing, and probably dead, after being swept over a waterfall in Yosemite National Park. Accident? No, not really.
Witnesses say the three hikers ignored warnings and climbed guard railing at the top of Vernal Fall on Tuesday to wade into the Merced River, several dozen feet from the water’s drop.
They put themselves in a situation where they were in real danger, and it cost them their lives. The story tells of others that day who also ignored the warnings and the guard rail, but fortunately for them, nothing happened to them. One of the witnesses, who has been on the trail many times said “People come up here and they think it’s Disneyland.” I’ve seen this attitude for most of my life. People come to the wilderness, and “expect” it to be “just like the nature shows on television,” or “just like home.” It’s not.
That used to be known by almost everyone, but it has been forgotten. Many of the dangers that our ancestors knew, and took care to avoid, have been replaced by a lackadaisical attitude, and an expectation that things will be or have been “made safe.” Predictably, this story appeared:
While the families plead with park authorities to do all they can in the search, they also are concerned for potential dangers facing future hikers. They asked Romina Kiryakous, founder of Genesis Behavior Center to have her firm conduct an assessment of the safety measures in place at Vernal Fall.
Quite frankly, anything that the park does, besides entirely closing the trail and posting a guard to make sure that no one goes there, will turn out to be “insufficient.” People will continue to ignore signs, warnings, and fences. Over the past few decades there’s been a lot of initiatives to make things “safer,” often driven by litigation. Someone will do something stupid, and then sue because they weren’t prevented from doing something stupid. Even when extra safety measures are implemented, it turns out that someone will bypass them.
Anyone who has lived or worked in wilderness areas knows this. There’s a reason there are footbridges, guard rails, and signs in places. There’s a reason we warn people to stay on the trails, and to take certain precautions. It’s not because we’re trying to stop you from having “fun.” It’s to keep you alive. You see, we know something. Nature is not your friend. It can – and will – injure or kill you if you’re not careful. There is no perfect safety out there. If you’re going to act like there is, Nature will quickly demonstrate why you’re wrong. If you’re lucky, you’ll survive the lesson.