Yosemite Officials Worried About Safety After Rock Slides

Oct 1, 2017
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Two major rockfalls in California's Yosemite National Park took place this past week. The slides have park officials worried about safety. Valley Public Radio's Ezra David Romero reports.

EZRA DAVID ROMERO, BYLINE: The first rockfall at El Capitan, a giant rock formation in Yosemite, took place Wednesday and killed a man from the U.K. and injured his wife. The next day, a second larger chunk of rock the size of a 6-story apartment complex fell off the mountain. Rock climber Alec Wright witnessed the Thursday rockslide.

ALEC WRIGHT: I ran into the dust cloud itself and just heard some people crying for help - couldn't see more than a few feet in front of me.

ROMERO: Dust covered the area, including the Merced River running through the valley.

WRIGHT: The first thing I see is a man covered in blood from about head to his waist, clutching the side of his head with his wife crying out for help.

ROMERO: Wright brought him to safety and then ran back into the dust cloud. He ended up helping eight others.

WRIGHT: There were potentially a couple of hikers on the trail near the rockfall - did the best that I could, ran up the trail into the danger zone - couldn't find them unfortunately.

ROMERO: In the end, those hikers were OK. Park spokesman Scott Gediman says this week's rockfalls aren't unique but that the slides coupled with a fatality and injuries are.

SCOTT GEDIMAN: Rockfalls are a natural occurrence in Yosemite National Park. And there's 80 rock falls approximately reported each year but a lot more that are unreported.

ROMERO: Gediman says the last time someone died from a rockfall here was in 1999. Beau Skalley is a longtime rock climber. He says, from his experience, rain and changes in temperature lead to slides like the ones this week.

BEAU SKALLEY: It got really cold and rained this last weekend. But then through the process of it warming up this week, it's just - anytime that happens, that process of cool to warm, makes the rock really brittle.

WRIGHT: Does that, like, inhibit you guys from wanting to climb still up here?

SKALLEY: Definitely, yeah.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: A little bit.

ROMERO: Skalley and his friends say they may slow down. But after we talked, they biked off to find another place to climb. For NPR News, I'm Ezra David Romero in Yosemite National Park. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.