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.
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.
Ken Yager, president and founder of the Yosemite Climbing Association, said he witnessed the most recent rock fall that appeared to be “substantially bigger” than the earlier one.
Entire valley filled with smoke
Driving past the base of El Capitan, Yager said he saw the dust cloud and emergency workers rushing to the scene. Images posted on social media showed a massive cloud of thick dust spreading across Yosemite Valley.
Climber Ryan Sheridan had just reached the top of El Capitan, a 7,569-foot (2,307 meter) formation, when the rockslide let loose below him Thursday.
“There was so much smoke and debris,” he said by cellphone from the top of El Capitan. “It filled the entire valley with smoke.”
Sheridan had also climbed up El Capitan a day earlier, when the first rockslide occurred and said this one was huge in comparison.
Park closes road
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.
The massive granite slab that fell Wednesday was seen as a rare event, but only because the rock fall turned deadly, 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 be hit and killed by the rocks.
Park officials say rock falls overall have killed 16 people since 1857 and injured more than 100.
The British man and his female companion 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, said park ranger and spokesman Scott Gediman. He died, she was seriously injured and authorities did not identify them Thursday pending notification of their relatives.