El Cap slide kills climber

Craig Cassidy, The Union Democrat

A Montana man was killed Sunday in a rockslide on El Capitan in Yosemite National Park.

The fatal slide occurred about 9 a.m. on the 3,000-foot-tall granite monolith at Yosemite Valley's northwest end. The person killed was apparently climbing the iconic stone's Muir Wall, on the south face, with a partner.

He and his partner were on the 27th pitch of the 30-pitch climb, according to park spokeswoman Kari Cobb.

"He put a piece in behind a flake (of granite rock) and the flake became dislodged. He fell with the flake, and the rock severed his rope," she explained.

The climber fell 230 feet before he was stopped by his haul line, which is used to pull equipment up. However, he died from injuries sustained in the fall.

His partner called dispatchers, and rescue teams, delivered by helicopter to the top of El Capitan, were lowered to the climbers. The victim was dead on arrival, Cobb said.

No other injuries were reported.

Several people witnessed the rockfall.

Tom Evans, a former climber and park volunteer who frequently photographs El Capitan from a nearby footbridge, posted the following on his blog site El Cap Report (www.elcapreport.com:)

"… It started out a beautiful spring day. … I arrived at the Bridge around 9:20 a.m. and was immediately approached by Ranger Ben Doyle who had reported that a call for help had come in from a party high on El Cap. I set up my instruments and viewed the scene… I was horrified to say the least, and I will not go into any details at this time as an investigation is underway. One of the team was killed in a fall. Yosemite Search and Rescue immediately swung into action and did a 'from the top' extraction of the deceased climber and is presently evacuating the surviving partner. In all my 18 years of photographing El Cap I have never seen such a grisly, terrible scene."

Another witness, Jim Donini, former president of the American Alpine Club, wrote on the climbing discussion forum Super Topo:

"George Lowe, Mark Chapman and I were at the top of the first pitch of the Nose when I heard what sounded like an explosion. I looked up and was shocked to see an enormous dust cloud on the Grey Bands and rocks heading our way. We ducked and were showered by small rocks and sand. The main load went JUST to our right.

"A few minutes later we heard a yell for help. Mark was already down and went for the rangers. Later, from the meadow, we could see a body hanging from the end of a rope just below an overhang … very sad."

The killed climber's name was unavailable this morning. The Mariposa County Coroner's Office would not confirm whether the body was taken there.

A second rockfall on El Capitan was reported by witnesses about seven hours after the fatal slide, but could not be confirmed by park officials.

While rockslides are commonplace in the park - one occurred just a week ago on the Mist Trail, north of the Vernal Fall footbridge, closing the path to Clark Point - slide-related fatalities are not.

The last was reported in 1999, when a Colorado climber, Peter Terbush, was killed by falling rocks on the Glacier Point Apron.

In 1996, a Whittier hiker, Hisano Hamada, was killed when a giant boulder crashed down from Glacier Point.

Three people were killed, and several were injured, in 1980 on the Yosemite Fall Trail when thousands of tons of granite came crashing down on them.

After press time, park officials identified the man as Mason Robison.

The Union Democrat
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