Double Rock Falls at Famed Yosemite Don’t Deter Climbers

By SCOTT SMITH, Associated Press

YOSEMITE NATIONAL PARK, Calif. (AP) — In the close-knit community of climbers who flock from around the world to cling to the mountainside precipices at Yosemite National Park, climbers were awed but undeterred by successive rock falls that sent tons of granite plunging to the ground, killing one and injuring two over two days.

“It’s kind of an inherently dangerous sport,” Hayden Jamieson, 24, of Mammoth Lakes, California, said Friday, as he prepared to head up the nose of El Capitan early Saturday with his climbing partner.

Jamieson said he feels more at risk of being struck by a car on the street than from a falling slab of granite in the wilderness. But the aftermath of a slab of granite about 12 stories high that shattered to the ground on Wednesday had left a big impression.

“It was totally overwhelming,” he said of the crash and acrid smell of granite dust that lingered in the air. “It’s like witnessing the largest natural event that I’ve ever seen.”

The first slab fell from a peak at the world-class climbing destination El Capitan on Wednesday afternoon, followed by a much larger chunk of granite from the same section of the mountainside Thursday afternoon. Thursday’s crash sent a plume of granite dust throughout the Yosemite Valley, where thousands of tourists flock every year, and closed a main road out of the national park.

Climber Ryan Sheridan, of Buffalo, New York, had been scaling the route for days with a climbing partner when the rock let loose below them Wednesday. He said he and his partner, Peter Zabrok, had slept on the wall in the fall zone a couple of nights before it came crumbling down and he noticed the rock was loose.

Sheridan, 25, said he hammered a pin onto the wall and “when you hit the wall, you could hear echo all around you.”

The duo continued climbing and reached the summit Thursday, after a second rock slide plunged down. After descending Friday, though, he said there are dozens of routes on the massive mountain that unaffected by the slide.

“Those are things you can’t really control, and it’s an inherent risk people who climb take. Freak accidents happen,” Sheridan said.

Still, some climbers acknowledged stress as they weighed whether to take one of 100-some routes up El Capitan or any other big climbs in the park right now, said Josh Edwards, 21, of Bend, Oregon.

“It’s kind of scary thinking that an entire cliff side can come off,” Edwards said. “The general feeling is everybody’s a little scared. At least I am.”

Thursday’s crash injured a man who was driving out of the national park when rock and rubble broke through the sunroof of his SUV, hitting Jim Evans, of Naples, Florida, in the head, said his wife.

His wife, Rachel Evans, told KSEE-TV of Fresno (http://bit.ly/2x1EnIU ) that the family had just finished a three-day visit to Yosemite.

“We didn’t know what had happened, but it shattered (the glass) and the dust just poured in,” Evans said. “We were trying to outrun it; it was like ‘Go! Let’s go!’ and at the same time my husband reached up and he was like ‘Oh, my head, my head’ because it was bleeding profusely and hurting.”

Ian Mort, 60, of Los Angeles, could smell the dust and he sat in jammed traffic after Thursday’s rock fall as he headed into the park for his first trip, but he said he wasn’t concerned.

“Mother Earth changes every day, and we just have to get used to it, I guess,” he said Friday.

Wednesday’s slide killed Andrew Foster, 32, of Wales, who was hiking with his wife at the bottom of El Capitan far from trails used by most Yosemite visitors, preparing to ascend El Capitan.

Foster’s former colleagues at the Up and Under outdoor gear store in Cardiff, Wales, recalled him Friday in a statement as a man whose passion for the outdoors, “and mountains in particular, was enormous and infectious.”

His wife, Lucy, was seriously injured in the rock fall.

Rocks at the world-renowned park’s climbing routes break loose and crash down about 80 times a year. The elite climbers who flock to the park using ropes and their fingertips to defy death as they scale sheer cliff faces know the risk but also know it’s rare to get hit and killed by the rocks.

The last time a climber was killed by falling rock at Yosemite was in 2013, when a Montana climber fell after a rock dislodged and sliced his climbing rope. It was preceded by a 1999 rock fall that crushed a climber from Colorado. Park officials say rock falls overall have killed 16 people since 1857 and injured more than 100.

The rock falls came during the peak of the climbing season for El Capitan, with climbers from around the world trying their skill against the sheer cliff faces.

___

Associated Press writers Olga R. Rodriguez and Juliet Williams in San Francisco contributed to this story.

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