Sunday, February 5th, 2023
Sunday, February 5th, 2023

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Huge chunk of falling rock kills 1, injures 1 at Yosemite National Park; another injured in similar incident a day later

Yosemite National Park. (National Park Service)

YOSEMITE NATIONAL PARK, Calif. — A hunk of rock “the size of an apartment building” fell off the granite face of El Capitan in Yosemite National Park on Wednesday, killing one person and injuring another on a mountain at the height of climbing season, officials and witnesses said.

At least 30 climbers were on the wall at the time, ranger Scott Gediman said.

“It was witnessed by a lot of people,” he said.

According to reports, Andrew Foster, a 32-year-old hiker from Wales, was killed and his wife was hospitalized

Then, on Thursday, another slab of granite also detached from the towering El Capitan formation, injuring an elderly man, according to reports. Jim Evans of Florida was airlifted to a hospital and was expected to live.

El Capitan is one of the world’s largest granite monoliths, towering 4,000 feet above Yosemite Valley.

During Wednesday’s incident, several people made emergency calls, reporting the rock fall from the Waterfall route on the east buttress of El Capitan.

Officials didn’t provide details on the size of the rock fall, but climbers posted pictures on social media from hundreds of feet up the wall showing billowing white dust moments after the crash.

“I saw a piece of rock, white granite the size of an apartment building, at least 100 feet by 100 feet, suddenly just come peeling off the wall with no warning,” said Canadian climber Peter Zabrok, 57, who was scaling El Capitan and was above the rock fall.

Zabrok said he has climbed El Capitan dozens of times and has “never seen anything like this.”

Mountaineers from around the world travel to the park in the Sierra Nevada to scale El Capitan’s sheer face. Fall is one of the peak seasons because the days are long and the weather is warm and comfortable for climbing.

Rock falls are common in Yosemite but seldom fatal.

Ken Yager, president and founder of the Yosemite Climbing Association, reviewed photos of the cliff face and debris field, estimating the relatively thin piece that broke off Wednesday covered an area big enough to fit five houses.

Zabrok said he and friends were in the middle of a six-day climb of the Waterfall route on the right side of El Capitan when they saw it.

Peering down from his perch 2,000 feet up on the rock, Zabrok said he saw a rescuer lowered by helicopter and “I believe he grabbed one survivor.”

He later saw rescuers moving someone on a litter.

“It was done at tremendous peril to the rescuers because there were three subsequent rockfalls that were all nearly as big and would have killed anybody at the base,” he said.

Climber Kevin Jorgeson said he and climbing partner Tommy Caldwell witnessed a massive rock fall in the same area while they prepared for a trek that made them the first people to free-climb the Dawn Wall on El Capitan in 2015.

First they heard a rumble and then they saw a white cloud of dust.

“Yosemite is just a really active, wild place. It’s always changing,” Jorgeson said. “It doesn’t make it any less tragic when someone gets in the way of that.”

In 2013, a rock dislodged and severed the rope of a Montana climber who was scaling El Capitan. Mason Robison, 38, fell about 230 feet to his death. It was Robison’s gear digging into the side of the mountain that caused the rock to dislodge.

Regarding Thursday’s incident, “There was so much smoke and debris,” said climber Ryan Sheridan, who watched the rock let loose below him. “It filled the entire valley with smoke.”

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