Another massive rock slide on Thursday closes key road

YOSEMITE NATIONAL PARK – A day after a massive El Capitan rockslide in Yosemite National Park killed a Briton and injured his wife, another slide, larger than the first, rocked Yosemite Valley Thursday afternoon.

Park officials said the landslide, which sent a huge plume of dust across the valley, closed Northside Drive, Yosemite Valley’s main road. At least one person was injured by the 3:21 p.m. landslide and airlifted to hospital for treatment.

Two Norwegian climbers told a Bay Area News Group reporter that they were walking on a trail and were about to start climbing a nearby rock when they both heard a disturbing noise.

“It was a thunderous noise. I didn’t know what to think,” said Hennette Olsboe Froeyen, 27, from Bergen, Norway, who took a picture of the slide.

Climber Hennette Olsboe Froeyen from Bergen, Norway photographed this deadly rockfall in Yosemite National Park on Wednesday, September 27, 2017. The rockfall killed at least one person and injured several others.  (Courtesy of Hennette Olsboe Foreyen)
Climber Hennette Olsboe Froeyen from Bergen, Norway, photographed this rockfall in Yosemite National Park on Thursday afternoon. (Courtesy of Hennette Olsboe Foreyen)

“Then we quickly got out of there because we didn’t know if it would continue,” she said.

Her boyfriend, Simon Fonn Storevik, also from Bergen, said: “You could hear by the sound that it was something very massive.”

The couple said they planned to go rock climbing in the slide area on Thursday afternoon and would have been there if they hadn’t missed a ride to Yosemite.

A day earlier, parts of a slab 130 feet high and weighing 1,300 tons fell from El Capitan.

The slide, which occurred with at least 30 climbers on the iconic granite wall, was one of seven rock slides over a four-hour period beginning at 1:52 p.m. Wednesday, the Yosemite spokesperson said. , Scott Gediman.

The rock slab, which was about 65 feet wide and up to 10 feet thick, crumbled into pieces and fell from a location about 1,800 feet above the valley floor, said park officials.

The park remains open and climbing has not been restricted.

A 32-year-old man who died in Wednesday’s rockslide at 1.52pm has been identified as Andrew Foster from Wales. His wife, who has not been identified, was airlifted to hospital where she was being treated for serious injuries.

“They were walking around the El Capitan base,” Gediman said. “We think they were climbers and they weren’t climbing yet. They may have been scouting.

The eastern foothills of El Capitan in Yosemite National Park on September 27, 2017 with an estimated area of ​​landslide.  (Photo credit: National Park Service)
East Foothills of El Capitan in Yosemite National Park on September 27, 2017. (Photo: National Park Service) (National Park Service)

From his post two miles away, Gediman said Thursday’s rockfall sounded like a “roar”. Exact numbers weren’t immediately available, but the slide was “significantly larger” than Wednesday’s.

After Wednesday’s rockslide, climbers posted photos on social media.

“I saw a piece of rock, white granite the size of an apartment building, at least 100 feet by 100 feet, suddenly come off the wall without warning,” said Canadian mountaineer Peter Zabrok, 57, who was climbing El Capitan. and was above the landslide.

One of the most iconic features of the US national park system, El Capitan rises 3,600 feet above the valley floor on the north side of Yosemite Valley. The steep granite wall, carved out of glaciers a million years ago, is an internationally renowned climbing destination.

The granite features that make Yosemite a destination for more than 4 million visitors a year aren’t frozen in time. They are constantly changing and rockfalls are common. But deaths are rare.

“We have about 80 (rockfalls) reported in the valley each year,” Gediman said. “I hear them all the time. Most of them are smaller. They occur all year round. Yosemite National Park is a wild place by definition. We’ve had bigger ones than this.

A rockfall on the weekend of July 4, 2015 ripped a slab from Half Dome’s iconic face. The piece was roughly triangular, over 200 feet on its longest side, and estimated to weigh 2,400 tons. No one was injured in this incident, even though it was the popular regular Northwest Face route. A thunderstorm earlier in the day had driven most of the climbers away.

A major landslide on Thursday September 28 left a hole in the southeast face of El Capitan.  (Photo courtesy of National Park Service)
A major landslide Thursday, September 28, 2017 left a hole in the southeast face of El Capitan. (Photo courtesy of National Park Service)

The last person killed in a rockfall in Yosemite was Peter Terbush, a 21-year-old student from Colorado who was killed when rocks fell from Glacier Point on June 13, 1999.

Standing on the ground, the climber was anchoring a climbing partner’s rope when 525 tons of rock fell from 1,300ft above. Terbush did not run away. Instead, he held on tight to the rope, saving the life of his friend, Kerry Pyle, who was 60ft above. Hailed a hero afterwards, Terbush was killed when a piece of rock struck him in the head.

His family later sued the National Park Service for negligence for $10 million, claiming the park should have posted warning signs and may have increased the risk of danger because water from a storage tank that leaking at Glacier Point could have affected the stability of the rock. A judge dismissed the lawsuit in 2005.

In 2003, a landslide near Curry Village damaged several cabins and injured four people. About 100 cabins subsequently closed. Some have been moved.

There have been 16 deaths in Yosemite and more than 100 injuries from rockfalls since park records began in 1857.

Gediman said visitors to the park are not in danger and most trails, roads and buildings are out of the area where the rocks fall. However, signs regarding recent slide activity were displayed.

“People shouldn’t worry about coming to the park,” he said. “But we suggest they be aware of their surroundings. We had tree falls due to bark beetles. When you are near water, be aware of this. Rock faces are the same thing.

Ken Yager, president and founder of the Yosemite Climbing Association, reviewed photos of the cliff and debris field, believing the relatively thin piece that broke off Wednesday covered an area large enough to hold several homes.

“It cratered and sent stuff like mushrooms in all directions,” Yager said.

Zabrok said he and his 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.

“Boy, I don’t know how anyone could have survived that,” he told ABC’s Fresno affiliate KFSN-TV.

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

Rescuers were also in danger, he noted.

“It was done at great peril to the rescuers as there were three subsequent rockfalls which were all nearly as large and would have killed anyone at the base,” he said.

Mountaineer Kevin Jorgeson said he and his climbing partner Tommy Caldwell witnessed a massive rockslide in the same area as they prepared for a hike that made them the first to free climb the Dawn Wall on El Capitan in 2015.

A study earlier this year found that the hottest times of day – during the hottest months of the year – are prime times for rockfalls and unexplained fissures in the Sierra Nevada.

Brian Collins of the U.S. Geological Survey and National Park Service geologist Greg Stock examined the pattern of 228 past rockfalls in Yosemite with no known cause and found that about 15% occurred at peak times. hot of the day, from noon to 6 p.m. between July and September. If the rockfalls were random, only 6% would have occurred during those hours, days and months.

Although rock movement is deepest in the heat, it occurs year-round, Collins said. And other things – such as winter rain and snow, even tree roots or lightning – can actually trigger the final collapse.

Since the retreat of the glaciers about 15,000 years ago, rockfall has been the main force of change in the Sierra Nevada.

“People view the landscape as static, that it will be there forever,” Collins said. “But it changes all the time.”

Writer Jason Green and The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Virginia F. Goins