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Rockfall at Yosemite’s El Capitan caught on video

British tourist: ‘It was mad!’

British artist, painter and sculpter Alex J Wood (@al3xjw on Twitter) happened to have his camera in hand as an estimated 1,000 to 2,000 cubic yards (764 to 1,528 cubic meters) of rock came crashing down from iconic El Capitan in Yosemite National Park in California. It happened on February 20, 2023.

Alex J Wood, a British tourist, was in Yosemite Valley at the base of El Capitan – an iconic 3,000-foot (914-meter) granite monolith – when the rockfall started.

Wood, who happened to be taking photos at the time and captured the final portion of the rock’s fall on video, described the experience for the Los Angeles Times:

I couldn’t believe what I saw. It looked like a giant oversized grand piano falling in slow motion … It was mad.

A spokesman for the park commented that the dislodged rock was between 1,000 and 2,000 cubic yards (764 and 1,528 cubic meters) in size.

Also, the Times reported no one was injured by the initial cascade of stone and debris. Eventually more rocks fell that night (the night of February 20, 2023), and officials temporarily closed the park’s main road as a precaution.

Currently, however, the park service has closed all of Yosemite National Park due to severe weather conditions. Its website says it’s closed through March 1, 2023.

Last chance to get a moon phase calendar! Only a few left.

The rockfall happened during ‘firefall’

Every year in February, Yosemite National Park receives thousands of visitors due to the phenomenon of “firefall” at Horsetail Falls. EarthSky community member Mike Mezeul II described firefall this way:

For two weeks out of the year, a spectacular event known as the firefall takes place within Yosemite National Park. Hundreds if not thousands of photographers flock to the valley in hopes of capturing the elusive moment, that is, if the weather, snow and light cooperate. If Yosemite receives an ample amount of snowfall throughout the winter, and if the western horizon stays clear, the last few minutes of daylight fall perfectly upon Horsetail Falls and illuminate it in a vibrant orange and red. The waterfall glows so fiercely that it appears to be on fire.

See Mike Mezeul II’s 2019 image of firefall

Here’s the National Park Service’s description of firefall.

In 2023, firefall happened between February 10 and February 27.

The rockfall took place near the site of firefall. The scree dropped from Horsetail Fall, a feature on the east face of El Capitan about 1,000 feet (304 meters) above the valley floor.

Following the excitement of the rockfall, Wood managed to capture the firefall phenomenon, as the setting sun illuminated Horsetail Fall on February 20, 2023. He shared the moment via Instagram:

Rockfalls frequent, sometimes dangerous at Yosemite

While no one was injured by this rockfall, a Welsh tourist was killed and his wife injured during a similar incident in September of 2017.

The National Park Service warns rockfalls are frequent at Yosemite, though they don’t usually cause injuries:

Rockfalls are a common occurrence in Yosemite Valley and the park records about 80 rockfalls per year, though many more rockfalls go unreported. The rockfall from El Capitan (in September 2017) was similar in size and extent compared with other rockfalls throughout the park, though it is not typical that there are victims.

Bottom line: A visitor had a video camera handy during a rockfall at Yosemite’s El Capitan on February 20, 2023. It happened during the annual firefall at Horsetail Falls. No injuries were reported.

February 27, 2023

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