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Dust rises from the base of El Capitan following Wednesday's deadly rockfall. Courtesy Tom Evans
Dust rises from the base of El Capitan following Wednesday's deadly rockfall. (Courtesy Tom Evans)

Update: Another Massive Rockfall at Yosemite's El Capitan

Update: Another Massive Rockfall at Yosemite's El Capitan

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Update, 11 p.m. Thursday:

Another major rockfall occurred at Yosemite National Park's iconic El Capitan on Thursday, just a day after a massive slab dropped from the granite monolith, killing a man hiking near the base of the cliff and seriously injuring his wife.

Yosemite officials said one person was hurt in the new incident, though the extent of their injuries was not immediately known.

Park officials identified the man who died Wednesday as Andrew Foster, 32, of Wales, and said he had been hiking with his wife near the bottom of El Capitan when the rockfall occurred. Officials did not release the wife's name.

Ken Yager of the Yosemite Climbing Association told The Associated Press that Thursday's rockfall, which prompted the closure of the Northside Drive exit from Yosemite Valley, was larger than the one Wednesday.

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Another Massive Rockfall at Yosemite's El Capitan

Another Massive Rockfall at Yosemite's El Capitan

Yager said he witnessed a large cloud of dust and heard sirens. Images show a huge plume of smoke in the wake of the rock fall. He said traffic on a road near the base of El Capitan had stopped.

Climber Ryan Sheridan said Thursday's rockfall was easily "three times the size" of Wednesday's.

Sheridan had just reached the top of El Capitan when Thursday's slide let loose below him.

He told the AP "there was so much smoke and debris," and clouds of dust filled the entire valley below. He said Thursday's rock slide happened in the same location as the one on Wednesday at the El Capitan rock formation.

In a video taken Thursday, climber Peter Zabrok said "that rockfall was a full order of magnitude bigger than the last rockfall."

Original post:

YOSEMITE NATIONAL PARK — Longtime climbers of Yosemite's iconic El Capitan said Thursday they've never seen a rockslide like the one "the size of an apartment building" that plunged down the vertical face of the stunning rock formation, killing one person and injuring another at the height of the annual climbing season.

"I've seen smaller avalanches and smaller falls before where you would just see a tiny dust cloud. This was covering a good portion of the rock in front of us," said John DeGrazio of YExplore Yosemite Adventures, who has led climbers scaling El Capitan for 12 years.

DeGrazio had just reached the top with a group of climbers Wednesday when the massive chunk of granite peeled off El Capitan and crashed to the ground, sending a large cloud of rock dust into the air. At least 30 climbers were on the monolith when the huge hunk of rock fell.

"It was more significant than anything I've seen before," he said.

"I saw a piece of rock, white granite the size of an apartment building, at least 100 feet (30 meters) by 100 feet (30 meters), 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 rockfall.

Zabrok's estimate wasn't far off.

According to details released by the National Park Service in a press release on Thursday, the massive slab fell as seven rockfalls occurred over a four-hour time span:

A preliminary estimate for the cumulative volume of all seven rockfalls is about 16,000 cubic feet (450 cubic meters), or about 1,300 tons. The irregular "sheet" of rock that fell is estimated to be 130 feet tall, 65 feet wide, and 3-10 feet thick. The source point is about 650 feet above the base of El Capitan, or about 1,800 feet above the floor of Yosemite Valley (which is at 4,000 feet in elevation).

The East Buttress of El Capitan, with the estimated size of the largest rockfall drawn in. For size context, climbing equipment can be seen at the top of the image, near the tiny purple dot.
The East Buttress of El Capitan, with the estimated size of the largest rockfall drawn in. For size context, climbing equipment can be seen at the top of the image, near the tiny purple dot. (National Park Service)

At least 30 climbers were on the vertical wall of the 7,569-foot (2,307 meter) formation when the massive rock fell Wednesday afternoon.

The National Park Service also released more information on the individual killed in the rockfall, identifying him as a male climber from Great Britain who wasn't climbing at the time:

After the initial rockfall, Yosemite National Park Rangers and the Search and Rescue team entered the area looking for people at the base of the rockfall. Two people were found, resulting in one fatality and a serious injury. The victims, a couple visiting the park from Great Britain, were in the park to rock climb but were not climbing at the time of the initial rockfall. The male was found deceased and the female was flown out of the park with serious injuries. The National Park Service is working with the Consulate to notify family members. All other people in the area have been accounted for and search efforts have been concluded.

The rock appeared to fall from the popular "Waterfall Route" on the East Buttress of El Capitan, said Yosemite National Park ranger and spokesman Scott Gediman.

Mountaineers from around the world travel to Yosemite to scale El Capitan's sheer face. Fall is one of the peak seasons because the days are long and the weather is warm.

Rockfalls 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 covered an area big enough to fit five houses.

"It cratered and sent stuff mushrooming out in all directions," said Yager.

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.

"Boy, I don't know how anybody could have survived that," he told KFSN-TV, the ABC affiliate in Fresno.

Peering down from his perch 2,000 feet (609 meters) 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 rockfall in the same area while they prepared for a trek that made them the first people to free-climb the El Capitan's Dawn Wall in 2015.

First they heard a rumble. 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 scaling El Capitan.

Mason Robison, 38, fell about 230 feet (70 meters) and died. Robison's gear digging into the side of the mountain caused the rock to dislodge.

Yosemite remained open after Wednesday's rockfall, and other activities throughout the park were not affected, rangers said.

This post has been updated.

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