Just when I thought I was safely removed from the threat of killer grizzly bears, I got an e-mail from Yosemite this morning informing me that I may be eligible to contract the Hantavirus Pulmonary Syndrome, thanks to my stay up at the Tuolumne Lodge tent cabins in July. The virus thus far has resulted in three fatalities and has infected eight people.
Gosh, what a tough summer for photographers.
In case you missed it, the principle outbreak of Hantavirus occurred in the “Signature” tent cabins in Curry Village, which is historically the less expensive area to stay in Yosemite Valley. I suppose it is ironic that the attempt to upgrade the tent cabins precipitated this mess. For years, they sufficed as pretty much what they sounded like – canvas platform tents, without running water, scattered in the sometimes chilly Curry area, the cheapest tents going for as little as $40 a night. Some of them had heaters which helped during the winter months, but I was always equally happy in a sleeping bag. The brand new “Signature” cabins had insulating hard walls added, though I’m not sure what advantage that might be in the summer. Proving that no good deed goes unpunished, it appears that deer mice got in between the tent walls and insulation; their droppings, mixed with dust, caused the virus to be spread.
Previously, the main danger to Curry’s tent cabins had been the occasional rock slides that emanate from the granite walls. The Park probably got off lucky a few years ago when slides rumbled through empty tents in the off season. The tent cabins were taken down and Curry lived with the reduced capacity. Yosemite, of course, is wilderness, despite the millions of visitors it gets each year. The waterfalls are treacherous, there are wild animals roaming about. Rock slides, earthquakes, floods.
In my summers as a camp counselor, I remember field mice inhabiting the shelves of my counselor’s quarters, not that those were paradigms of personal hygiene. There was kind of a live and let live attitude toward the local fauna.
Now we’ve got man-eating grizzlies at one end of the spectrum and urinating mice on the other. The Grim Reaper comes in all shapes and sizes.
Anyway, it turns out there was one additional case of Hantavirus that popped up, from a hiker who had visited four of the High Sierra Camps that are interspersed through the Yosemite High Country, including Tuolumne Meadows Lodge, which is only tangentially a High Sierra Camp – it’s the only one you can drive to. The report didn’t say whether he had previously stayed down in the Signature Cabins at Curry, but park officials felt compelled to warn all of us who had stayed up at Tuolumne. I can’t dispute the safety precautions, but I’m not too concerned. We wilderness photographers learn to balance our risks.
It looks about the size of a mouse.