Yosemite Hantavirus Means Less Crowds…Worth the Risk?

Back in the summer of ’04, I lived in Yosemite Valley as a climbing and hiking bum while working in the uber-fancy Ahwahnee Hotel, cleaning up people’s trash andeating untouched leftovers (One must do what one must do).

Even those many, many years ago, the Valley was receiving some four million visitors a year, enough to clog the streets and turn portions of Curry Village into what seemed like a bustling New York City sidewalk. There were lines around “the block” to get pizza. There were traffic jams when people would stop to look at deer or a climber high up on El Capitan or a bear eating a small child.

In short, there were too many people for such a beautiful place. Which is exactly why when news broke that the Hantavirus had invaded the Valley, I became overjoyed with the prospects of returning to my stomping grounds free from the madness of overzealous tourist downpours. If you’re one of those vagabond veterans that scoff at untreatable diseases, you might want to get in on it, too.

Here’s the thing, the Hantavirus is no joke, so don’t get too cavalier right away as I probably should not have suggested. As mentioned, the Hantavirus has no cure. That being said, early detection greatly increases the chances of survival. There’s another trick at play though: you won’t know anything for six weeks when the first symptoms finally begin to ravage your body. The disease spreads through the exposure to droppings from mice, rats, squirrels and other rodents, and Yosemite Park Officials are blaming a design flaw in the tent cabins used in Curry Village for the problem. The rodents get into the walls or the tent itself and drop their deuces and unload their urine for you to breathe in the fumes. Pretty nasty, I know.

The first health warning was sent to 3100 people who stayed the tent cabins between June 10 and August 24 of 2012. So far, Yosemite’s Hantavirus has already claimed three lives, but National Park Service has warned that up to ten thousand people may be at risk. And it’s traveled international in a major way. According to the NPS, 2500 of those potentially exposed could be from as many as 39 different countries.

So why on earth would one risk visiting the park at a time like this? Because Curry Village isn’t your only option, and assuming the hype continues and people keep their distance, experiencing the Valley at a time with few visitors is unique indeed. Grab your tent or sleep in the dirt or stay over at Camp 4 with all the climbing dudes. Sleep in your car. Sleep in one of the lodges. And then go about your business. Yosemite is a magical place, all the more so if you can find a scratch of solitude while there.

If you were there during the dates mentioned above and have concerns, give the NPS a ring at 209-372-0822. They’re open from 9 a.m. – 5 p.m. daily.

By Bryan Schatz