America seemed to stop for a second in the fall of 2017, when 860 tons of rock plummeted from the side of El Capitan in Yosemite valley—only to be outdone the next day when 27,875 tons took the same ride to the valley floor. And now it’s happened once again. On Saturday, March 16, visitors to Yosemite heard rumblings in the early afternoon, and turned to El Cap to see billowing clouds of dust funneling down from the East Buttress, in the area of notable routes such as The Prophet and Dark Star.
Park Geologist, Greg Stock, told Rock and Ice this morning via email, “It was another rockfall from the same area that was especially active in 2017. There have been more than 20 rock falls from that area since 2010, and this was yet another in that sequence, demonstrating ongoing activity and instability.”
Video of El Cap Rockfall, March 16, 2019
[Also Read Yosemite Rockfall 2018: Year in Review]
Although the rock of Yosemite endures high traffic throughout the peak climbing season, climbers yanking on flakes and jamming hands and chocks in cracks are hardly the primary culprits behind rockfall in the Valley. Freezing and thawing and freezing and thawing over and over creates fractures that spread like spiderwebs in the rock and slowly weaken it, until eventually granite apartment-building-sized blocks (and all manner of smaller rocks, too) detach and hurtle through the air.
Last October, Pete Zabrok, who barely escaped the horrendous rockfall of 2017, spoke with Rock and Ice about his second ascent of Winds of Change, and his subsequent concerns about another devastating rockfall looming over El Cap.
“We’re talking a crack that’s like 200 feet high or more,” Zabrok said. “That whole Pinnacle of Hammerdom is ready to come off at any time. It’s very spooky and scary. At this time of year there’s a greater thermal load on the rock because the angle of the sun is more straight on. Combined with the really cold nights, there’s a lot of movement up there.”
Just last month, Xuan Wang, a 56-year-old California woman, was struck and killed by rock and ice fall in the valley while on the Mist Trail. The trail was clearly marked “closed” due to hazardous conditions, but, unfortunately, Wang ignored these signs and lost her life.