YOSEMITE NATIONAL PARK, Calif. — A geological analysis has found there was no more danger than usual of another giant rock fall after two huge slides, including one involving a slab of granite the size of a 36-story building, occurred this week on the famed El Capitan rock formation in Yosemite National Park.
“If we felt any area was unsafe we wouldn’t be allowing people in there,” Yosemite geologist Greg Stock said Friday.
He and a U.S. Geological Service geologist were studying the mountain after the rock falls that awed but did not deter people in the close-knit climbing community.
“It’s kind of an inherently dangerous sport,” Hayden Jamieson, 24, of Mammoth Lakes, California, said as he prepared to head up El Capitan early Saturday.
The park typically sees about 80 rock falls a year.
Elite climbers who make their way up the sheer rock faces with ropes and their fingertips understand the risk but also know it’s rare to get hit and killed by rocks.
In addition, Stock said it’s impossible to predict when and where a rock fall will strike. Detecting shifts in rocks could be a sign that one will break loose days or maybe years later, he said.
Geologists don’t think climbers who pound stakes into the granite wall or hang from ropes during their treks have much effect on the stability of the mountainside.
“I am a scientist, so I won’t rule it out entirely,” Stock said. “We don’t see a strong link between climbing and rock falls.”
He also said climbers are relatively minuscule compared to the massive granite rocks they scale.
Wales climber died Wednesday
The slide on Wednesday featuring the building-sized boulder killed Andrew Foster, 32, of Wales, who was hiking with his wife at the bottom of El Capitan and preparing to ascend El Capitan far from trails used by most Yosemite visitors.
The massive slab of granite that fell Thursday weighed 30,500 tons, geologists estimate.
That fall injured Jim Evans, who was driving out of the national park when rubble broke through the sunroof of his SUV, hitting the resident of Naples, Florida, in the head, said 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.”
Climber Ryan Sheridan, of Buffalo, New York, had been scaling the route for days with a partner when the granite slab fell Wednesday below them.
He said he and his partner, Peter Zabrok, had slept on the wall in the fall zone a couple of nights before the slab came crumbling down.
Sheridan, 25, said he was spooked after hammering a pin into the wall that didn’t sound right.
“The entire wall seemed to be making hollow noises. When you hit the wall, you could hear echo all around you,” he said.
Some climbers were stressed Friday as they weighed whether to take one of about 100 routes up El Capitan or do another big climb in the park, 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.”
Ian Mort, 60, of Los Angeles could smell the dust from the rock fall Thursday while he sat in jammed traffic and 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.
Foster’s former colleagues at the Up and Under outdoor gear store in Cardiff, Wales, recalled him 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.
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.