Yosemite Park Ranger Jamie Richards announced Saturday that two climbers had fallen to their deaths from the El Capitan vertical rock formation that morning. Details about what led to their fall are unknown at this time, and the incident is still under investigation.
CNN reports that a news release indicated the fall happened about 8:15 a.m. on the Freeblast route of El Capitan, which has a height of 3,000 feet. A flood of calls to 911 followed, and park rangers responded immediately with a search and rescue team. The climbers were dead when responders arrived on the scene. Their identities have not yet been disclosed.
Yosemite’s rock formations have been a source of inspiration for climbers, as well as the location of multiple injuries and deaths. The Los Angeles Times reports that less than two weeks ago, on May 21, a hiker died at about 4:30 in the afternoon after slipping and falling from cables on the Half Dome in Yosemite in the last 400 feet of the climb. That man was hiking with another person during a thunderstorm when he slipped. The height of the Half Dome exceeds that of El Capitan. It rises 5,000 feet above Yosemite Valley. Cables are available for the first 400 feet of the climb, allowing people to begin their journey without rock climbing equipment.
Accidents on the Half Dome are more common during wet conditions. Since cables were installed on the lower elevation of the Half Dome about 100 years ago, there have been eight fatalities. The May death was the first one since 2011.
El Capitan saw a more recent fatality. As recent as September, 2017, one climber was killed and another injured when a rock fell on the East Buttress. Regarding Saturday’s fatalities, San Francisco Gate cites the president and founder of the Yosemite Climbing Association as saying that the Freeblast route where the climbers were found is considered fairly safe. He also noted, however, that climbers sometime use nearby ropes as they rappel down, and sometimes those ropes are not in good shape.
“I’m horrified. It’s pretty unusual for two people to fall off at once, unless there was an anchor failure of some sort — that’d be my first guess.”
As with many sports, climbers often compete to make a climb faster than previous climbers. The speed record for El Capitan was broken Wednesday. The Nose route was used in that climb, which took two hours, 10 minutes, and 15 seconds to complete.