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Yosemite rock fall toughens climb

Published 08/07/2015

Half Dome at Yosemite National Park, California, has suffered a massive rock fall (AP)
Half Dome at Yosemite National Park, California, has suffered a massive rock fall (AP)

A massive sheet of rock fell from the vertical face of Half Dome in Yosemite National Park, California, making one of the most popular routes attempted by climbers in North America even more challenging, park officials said.

The granite sheet that peeled off measured roughly 100ft by 200ft (30 by 60 metres). It was discovered by climbers who were attempting the route and had to turn back.

"What used to be relatively easy climbing has gotten much more difficult," park geologist and climber Greg Stock said.

Half Dome - an icon of the park that is visible throughout Yosemite Valley - is scaled by hundreds of experienced climbers each year using ropes and cams inserted into rock fissures for leverage.

However, climbers probably did not trigger the recent rock fall, Mr Stock said.

He believes the culprit was the weather that heats and cools the brittle granite that can crack. In addition, he said, rain fell in Yosemite at about the same time as the rock fell.

Yosemite is an active geologic zone. A rock equal in size fell this spring in Hetch Hetchy Valley and temporarily blocked a trail.

A deluge of boulders in 2008 fell on historic Curry Village, a camp of canvas and wooden cabins. The equivalent of 570 dump trucks of boulders hit 17 cabins, flattening one and sending schoolchildren scrambling for their lives.

The most recent rock fell from halfway up the sheer face of Half Dome, which rises more than 1,000ft (300 metres). A path for hikers using cable handrails was not changed.

There are several routes for climbers to scale Half Dome, but the one impacted when the rock fell ranks as one of the top 50 climbing destinations in North America, said Mike Gauthier, Yosemite's chief of staff and an avid climber.

Such falls occur often in Yosemite Valley and on other climbing destinations, forcing climbers to find new routes, he said.

"Now is their chance to find a new workaround," Mr Gauthier said of Half Dome. "And they will."

Nobody was injured or witnessed the rock fall, believed to have happened last week.

Renowned climber Kevin Jorgeson said the fallen section had been one of his favourite routes. He has twice scaled Half Dome.

"It's on a lot of people's lists for a classic big wall route to climb," he said. "It would be uninformed to say that it is impossible" to find a way around the section that fell.

He and climbing partner Tommy Caldwell made history early this year with a free climb up El Capitan's Dawn Wall on the opposite side of Yosemite Valley.

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