Yosemite National Park has gotten all the attention for a spike in visitor deaths this year. But fatalities also are up on national forest lands throughout California, such as an expert kayaker who drowned in a remote creek near Sonora.
Data provided by the U.S. Forest Service show there have been 27 deaths in 18 national forests in the state through Aug. 15, the most recent data available.
That is about equal to the total number of deaths in each of the last three full calendar years, said Stanton Floria, a spokesman for the Forest Service's Pacific Southwest Region, which is based in Vallejo and oversees all the California forests.
"We have been noticing a trend toward more injuries and fatalities," Floria said. "We're already at the point where we've been in past years, and we haven't concluded the year yet, so that's fairly telling."
The Bee reported in August about a similar deadly trend at Yosemite, after prominent incidents at Half Dome and Vernal Fall. Since then, six more people have died at Yosemite, bringing the park's total for the year to 20 fatalities.
As at Yosemite, many of the deaths on forest lands are water-related, including instances in which people were swept into creeks and drowned.
"This might be a result of a link to the heavy snow year, with heavier and longer runoffs," John Chang, chairman of the California Mountain Rescue Association, said via email. The addition of a mild summer may have "led to more people being caught off guard."
Some of the deaths are connected to extreme sports.
One of the most prominent examples involved Allen Michael Satcher, 28, a professional kayaker from Portland, Ore.
On Aug. 7, Satcher was running a section of Cherry Creek, east of Sonora in Tuolumne County. The creek section, known as "Waterfall Alley," is a remote attraction for extreme whitewater kayakers. Satcher got caught in a whirlpool and drowned.
On Feb. 11, 24-year-old Matthew Pack of San Juan Capistrano died while rappelling down a 400-foot waterfall in the Cleveland National Forest, near Julian.
Some of the deaths seem to back up observations by experts that many outdoor enthusiasts are ill-prepared -- mentally and physically -- for the risks they face in wild places.
"It certainly impacts the workload for the rescue community, but varies region to region," said Chang, who is also a member of the San Mateo County sheriff's search and rescue unit.
One of the most tragic cases involved Daniel Shaposhnikov, an 11-year-old from East Brunswick, N.J. The boy was described as an excellent athlete who helped lead his soccer team to a state championship.
During a vacation April 22, Shaposhnikov was hiking with his family along Ten Mile Creek in Sequoia National Forest in Fresno County. His father helped him down a steep embankment to reach the edge of the water, then went back to assist other family members.
The father said that when he turned around, his son was gone and all he saw were slide marks in the dirt leading into the water, the Newark Star-Ledger newspaper reported.
Searchers found Daniel's body four days later, 400 feet downstream.
The rash of deaths prompted the Forest Service to put out a news release July 14 offering a list of common-sense precautions. "Think about your footing while traveling near cliffs," it advised. "Be alert for slippery areas, and take your time to avoid tripping."
(Contact reporter Matt Weiser at firstname.lastname@example.org.)
(Distributed by Scripps Howard News Service, www.scrippsnews.com.)