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Spectacular, dangerous rock falls stun Yosemite park climbers 

  • In this photo provided by Peter Zabrok, climber Ryan Sheridan who had just reached the top of El Capitan, a 7,569-foot (2,307 meter) formation, when a rock slide let loose below him Thursday, Sept. 28, 2017, in Yosemite National Park, Calif. It was not immediately clear if there were new casualties, a day after another slab dropped from El Capitan, killing a British climber and injuring a second. (Peter Zabrok via AP) Peter Zabrok

  • Emergency personnel prepare to care for an elderly male, center background, after a rock fall occurred again on El Capitan Thursday afternoon, Sept. 28, 2017 in Yosemite National Park, Calif. Yosemite National Park says another rock fall has injured one person in the park, one day after a huge chunk of granite killed a British tourist. An immense mass of granite plunged from the side of El Capitan on Thursday and filled the valley below with a cloud of dust. (Eric Paul Zamora/The Fresno Bee via AP) ERIC PAUL ZAMORA

  • Emergency personnel prepare to care for an elderly man, center background, who was injured after a new rock fall on El Capitan occurred Thursday afternoon, Sept. 28, 2017, in Yosemite National Park, Calif. The fall came a day after tons of rock crashed down from El Capitan, killing a tourist who had been on a hiking and climbing trip and injuring a British woman with him. (Eric Paul Zamora/The Fresno Bee via AP) ERIC PAUL ZAMORA

  • Visitors watch the rock fall from El Capitan Meadow Thursday, Sept. 28, 2017, in Yosemite National Park, Calif. Yosemite National Park says another rock fall has injured one person in the park, one day after a huge chunk of granite killed a British tourist. An immense mass of granite plunged from the side of El Capitan on Thursday and filled the valley below with a cloud of dust. (Eric Paul Zamora/The Fresno Bee via AP) ERIC PAUL ZAMORA

  • An elderly male is helped into an ambulance after a rock fall occurs Thursday afternoon, Sept. 28, 2017, in Yosemite National Park, Calif. Yosemite National Park says another rock fall has injured one person in the park, one day after a huge chunk of granite killed a British tourist. An immense mass of granite plunged from the side of El Capitan on Thursday and filled the valley below with a cloud of dust. (Eric Paul Zamora/The Fresno Bee via AP) ERIC PAUL ZAMORA

  • Vikki Glinkskii, bottom right, a climber steward with Ask A Climber, calls her boss from El Capitan Meadow to tell him about a new rockfall as white dust is thrown into the air at the Waterfall Route on El Capitan Thursday afternoon, Sept. 28, 2017, in Yosemite National Park, Calif. Yosemite National Park says another rock fall has injured one person in the park, one day after a huge chunk of granite killed a British tourist. (Eric Paul Zamora/The Fresno Bee via AP) ERIC PAUL ZAMORA

  • A second rock fall occurs at El Capitan Thursday, Sept. 28, 2017, in Yosemite National Park, Calif. Yosemite National Park says another rock fall has injured one person in the park, one day after a huge chunk of granite killed a British tourist, Andrew Foster, 32, of Wales, while he and his wife were hiking at the bottom of El Capitan. An immense mass of granite plunged from the side of El Capitan on Thursday and filled the valley below with a cloud of dust. (Eric Paul Zamora/The Fresno Bee via AP) ERIC PAUL ZAMORA

  • This Thursday, Sept. 28, 2017 photo provided by The National Park Service shows a rock fall off the iconic El Capitan rock formation in Yosemite National Park, Calif. A massive new rock fall hit Yosemite National Park on Thursday, cracking with a thundering roar off the iconic El Capitan rock formation and sending huge plumes of white dust surging through the valley floor below. (The National Park Service via AP)

  • This photo provided by Tamara Goode shows vehicles among a massive cloud of thick dust spreading across Yosemite Valley after a new rock fall from El Capitan Thursday, Sept. 28, 2017, in Yosemite National Park, Calif. Yosemite said on its Twitter page that the park was closing a road on the north side of the park because of the rock fall. Officials advised visitors to use the southern access road. (@wherestamara/Tamara Goode via AP) Tamara Goode

  • In this Wednesday Sept. 27, 2017, photo provided the National Park Service, a cloud of dust is seen on El Capitan after a major rock fall in Yosemite National Park, Calif. An official says the man killed when a massive hunk of rock fell of Yosemite National Park's El Capitan monolith was a British climber. Yosemite park ranger and spokesman Scott Gediman said Thursday that the man was with a British woman who was seriously injured. (Tom Evans/National Park Service via AP) Tom Evans

  • In this Wednesday, Sept. 27, 2017, photo provided by Dakota Snider, photographer and Yosemite resident, a woman is carried into a helicopter after being rescued off El Capitan following a major rock fall in Yosemite National Park, Calif. All areas in California's Yosemite Valley are open Thursday, a day after the fatal rock fall. (Dakota Snider via AP) Dakota Snider

  • In this Wednesday, Sept. 27, 2017, photo provided by Dakota Snider, photographer and Yosemite resident, a woman is lowered by a helicopter after being lifted off El Capitan following a major rock fall in Yosemite National Park, Calif. All areas in California's Yosemite Valley are open Thursday, a day after the fatal rock fall. (Dakota Snider via AP) Dakota Snider

  • In this Wednesday Sept. 27, 2017, photo provided John P. DeGrazio, a cloud of dust is seen in the distance on El Capitan after a major rock fall in Yosemite National Park, Calif. All areas in California's Yosemite Valley are open Thursday, a day after the fatal rock fall. (John P. DeGrazio/YExplore Yosemite Adventures via AP) John P. DeGrazio

  • In this Wednesday Sept. 27, 2017, photo provided by Dakota Snider, photographer and Yosemite resident, a helicopter makes a rescue off El Capitan after a major rock fall in Yosemite National Park, Calif. All areas in California's Yosemite Valley are open Thursday, a day after the fatal rock fall. (Dakota Snider via AP) Dakota Snider



Associated Press
Friday, September 29, 2017

Two days of cracking, thundering falling rock at Yosemite National Park have left one man dead, two people injured, and even experienced climbers stunned by the spectacle.

A massive new hunk of granite broke off Thursday at the park’s mountaineering mecca of El Capitan, injuring an older man and sending out huge plumes of white dust.

“There was so much smoke and debris,” said climber Ryan Sheridan, who had just reached the top of El Capitan when the rock let loose below him. “It filled the entire valley with smoke.”

The slide came a day after a giant slab of granite plunged from the same formation, killing a British man on a hiking and climbing visit and injuring his wife.

“It was in the same location of the previous rock fall,” Sheridan told The Associated Press by cellphone from the mountain. “A larger rock fall let loose, easily three times the size,” Sheridan said.

One person was injured and was flown to a hospital, park ranger and spokesman Scott Gediman said. There was no immediate word on the person’s condition.

Officials did not identify the person, but an older man with cuts and scrapes on his face and head was being treated by paramedics after the slide.

Meanwhile, the man killed Wednesday was identified as Andrew Foster, 32, of Wales. The park didn’t identify his wife but said she remained hospitalized.

The park indicated that seven rock falls actually occurred during a four-hour period Wednesday on the southeast face of El Capitan. However, it was rare for such a collapse to kill anyone, longtime climbers said Thursday.

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.

“It’s a lot like a lightning strike,” said Alex Honnold, who made history June 3 for being the first to climb El Capitan alone and without ropes. “Sometimes geology just happens.”

The last time a climber was killed by a rock falling 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. At least 30 climbers were on the formation when a section gave way Wednesday.

Foster and his wife were not on the cliff, however. They were hiking at the bottom of El Capitan far from trails used by most Yosemite visitors in preparation for an ascent when the chunk of granite about 12 stories tall broke free and plunged, Gediman said.

The slab was about 130 feet (40 meters) tall and 65 feet (19 meters) wide and fell from the popular “Waterfall Route” on the East Buttress of El Capitan, Gediman said.

Yosemite geologist Greg Stock said the break was probably caused by the expansion and contraction of the monolith’s granite as it heats up during the summer and gets cold and more brittle in the winter.

Officials had no immediate estimate for how much the big rock weighed. But Gediman said all of the rock falls combined on Wednesday weighed 1,300 tons (1,100 metric tons).

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Associated Press writers Olga R. Rodriguez, Jocelyn Gecker and Ellen Knickmeyer contributed to this story.