Rockfall at Yosemiteâs El Capitan caught on video
Avalanche! Crazy seeing giant piece of El Capitan fall at @YosemiteNPS @NBCNews @CNN @ABC #yosemite #yosemitenationalpark #rock #Avalanche @BBCWorld #elcapitan pic.twitter.com/9fVgQmDXvS
— Alex J Wood ? ?? (@al3xjw) February 21, 2023
British tourist: ‘It was mad!’
A visitor to Yosemite National Park in California caught on video the moment on February 20, 2023, that a piece of El Capitan – an iconic 3,000-foot (914-meter) granite monolith – came crashing down.
British tourist Alex J Wood was in Yosemite Valley at the base of El Capitan with his camera already in hand, 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.
The Times reported no one was injured by the initial cascade of stone and debris. 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 will be closed through March 1, 2023.
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 the rockfall, a Welsh tourist was killed and his wife injured during a similar incident in September of 2017.
The NPS 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 one was injured.