El Capitan rockfall captured on video


Visitors to Yosemite National Park this week got a first-hand look at the power of nature.

A massive rock slide on Monday knocked tons of boulders off El Capitan, the massive 3,000-foot-tall granite monolith on the north side of Yosemite Valley.

The landslide, which began at 11:42 a.m., caused a thunderous plummet for about 20 seconds near Horsetail Fall, a tourist spot known for its “firefall,” the popular spectacle every February when the setting sun can cause the falls appear to have an orange glow. .

Yosemite authorities closed the park’s Northside Drive for 24 hours so geologists from the US Geological Survey could investigate. They reopened the road on Tuesday afternoon.

There were no injuries or damage to park facilities, said Yosemite spokesman Scott Gediman. The rocks fell onto the El Capitan embankment, a pile of rocky debris at the base of the cliff, and did not reach the road.

The landslide released an estimated 1,000 to 2,000 cubic meters of rock, Gediman said. That’s roughly the equivalent of 100 to 200 full dump trucks, an amount that probably weighed hundreds of tons.

“There are rockfalls every day here,” said Gediman. “It could be a few small stones, or a significant one. Everyone in the valley heard it.”

Monday’s rockslide was a reminder of two landslides that occurred near El Capitan in September 2017. The dead Welsh athlete Andrew Foster, 32, seriously injured his 28-year-old wife, Lucy, and threw rocks at him. the sunroof of an SUV driven by Florida tourist Jim Evans, causing serious injuries.

Two months ago, on Dec. 27, a San Jose couple, Georgios Theocharous, 51, and his wife Ming Yan, 35, were killed when a rockslide occurred 800 meters from the park’s Arch Rock entrance along Highway 140. An estimated 185 tons of gravel hit the Dodge Ram truck they were sitting in, throwing it off the road into the Merced River embankment.

Video of the rockfall on Monday was captured by at least two visitors to the park, James Piper, a photographer from Novato, and Alex Wood, an artist from England.

“Oh my God!” a man can be heard saying in the background of Piper’s video

Rockfalls are a natural part of Yosemite’s ever-changing geology. After the glaciers that carved Yosemite Valley retreated about 15,000 years ago, rockfalls – sometimes triggered by changes in temperature or earthquakes, water or other factors – were a major force that reshaped Yosemite Valley.

About 17 people have been killed in Yosemite by falling rocks in the last 150 years. More died from drowning, car accidents and other causes.

But rockfalls have caused damage and drawn international attention over the years. After a rock slide near Glacier Point injured three visitors in 2008, park officials moved some cabins in Curry Village.

In 1999, a 21-year-old climber, Peter Terbush, a college student from Colorado, was killed when a large slab of granite broke through the rock walls of Glacier Point, hitting him while he was on the ground anchoring a partner’s lifeline. climbing. Terbush was hailed a hero after the tragedy for holding onto the rope as rocks cascaded around him, saving the life of his friend who was dangling 60 feet off the ground above.

Gediman said Thursday that no climbers were on El Capitan at the time of the latest rockslide.

“Usually climbers aren’t on El Cap at this time of year,” he said. “It was 14 degrees last night. It’s freezing.”

Geologists will continue to study Monday’s slide, Gediman noted. For now, he said, there appears to be no immediate threat of further landslides at the site, following initial reviews by geologists.

“There’s no guarantee that anything else will fall,” Gediman said. “But based on their assessment, there doesn’t seem to be any significant indicators that there could be anything else.”

Sunlight reflects off the granite face of El Capitan in Yosemite National Park in November 2020. (Joel Rosenbaum – Vacaville Reporter)

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