Dou­ble rock falls at famed Yosemite don’t de­ter climbers

Porterville Recorder - - NEWS - By SCOTT SMITH,

YOSEMITE NA­TIONAL PARK — 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 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.

AP PHOTO VIA PETER ZABROK

In this photo pro­vided by Peter Zabrok, climber Ryan Sheri­dan who had just reached the top of El Cap­i­tan, a 7,569-foot for­ma­tion, when a rock slide let loose be­low him Thurs­day in Yosemite Na­tional Park.

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