Half Dome/Death slabs rock fall, 5/27/11 (video)


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Oakland, CA
Topic Author's Original Post - Jun 1, 2011 - 02:15pm PT

Pete and I were on top of Washington Column when the blocks cut loose, and I managed to record some of the aftermath.

There are still blocks free falling in this video, but they're much smaller than the first bunch that came down. The sound was BIG.

If the resolution were higher, you'd be able to see lots of material blasting down the slabs approach.

This was an eye-opening 30 seconds for me - enough so that I won't do those slabs again. [Three-year later edit: done the slabs twice more, still kicking. So much for convictions]


Trad climber
East Coast US
Jun 1, 2011 - 02:30pm PT
Flat out terrifying.

Trad climber
CA Central Coast
Jun 1, 2011 - 02:31pm PT
amazing footage!!!!!!

hanging from an ice pick and missing my mama.
Jun 1, 2011 - 02:34pm PT

Trad climber
Fresno CA
Jun 1, 2011 - 03:29pm PT
Bump for exceptional shots.

Excellent work there!


Santa Cruz
Jun 1, 2011 - 03:36pm PT
It seems like everytime I am on the column something is falling off over there. I saw the chopper fly by El Cap that day and just figured it was another mist trail accident/airlift.
Spider Savage

Mountain climber
Jun 1, 2011 - 04:06pm PT
Nice work catching the action on photos and video. A big help to the rockfall researchers I hope.

You can hear something really big rolling down the slabs: kow-kow-kow-kow.

It surely would be a scary sight close up.

Trad climber
Jun 1, 2011 - 08:27pm PT
TFPU. Talk about being in the right place at the right time. Or should it be knott being in the wrong place at the wrong time.


Trad climber
The state of confusion
Jun 1, 2011 - 10:23pm PT

Thanks for sharing, le bruce--amazing!!

Mountain climber
Lower Merced Pass Lake
Jun 2, 2011 - 01:26am PT
Why do you think they call them the Death Slabs?

Trad climber
AKA Dwain, from Apple Valley, Ca. and Vegas!
Jun 2, 2011 - 02:35am PT
Awesome Video, LeBruce!!!!!!
Sioux Juan

Big Wall climber
Costa mesa
Jun 2, 2011 - 06:44am PT
I was on north dome in 2002 and saw the same type of rock fall, in the same place. It was just getting dark and you could see head lamps of climbers near the base and climbimg the slab
Dingus Milktoast

Gym climber
Run like the wind.
Jun 2, 2011 - 10:26am PT
le_bruce you kick ass. High quality content, always gettin after it. Carry on!


Big Wall climber
Jun 2, 2011 - 12:10pm PT
she is breaking down!

i've always considered the slabs approach a rating in itself!

Gym climber
Berkeley, CA
Jun 2, 2011 - 04:49pm PT
After talking with le_bruce about this experience, it was the tipping point for me.

In July 2005, I was on a bivouac east of washington column (failure to find north dome gully), and 5:30am woke up thinking that fighter jets were below the rim of the valley. Looked over and saw cataclysmic shearing, huge stuff falling a LONG ways and obliterating the HD slabs approach (anyone there would be 100% dead), and dust cloud filled valley over to Glacier Apron. I expected it to be serious news, didn't hear anything else about it, no helicopters, no crowds or news buzz about it.

If my only time on CJ I saw this, and my partner's only time up CJ saw this... and others have seen stuff like this... just too often an occurrence to feel comfortable. It's so massive that hiding behind a boulder or obstruction to "ride it out" is a real long-shot.

I have no issues with Glacier Apron climbing (other than my general inability to dominate it), but the slabs approach to HD just seems unreasonable for people with things to live for.

Yosemite Valley
Jun 2, 2011 - 05:11pm PT
One way of evaluating the risk posed by a climb or approach is to consider the following:

(1) How tall is the cliff above you? In other words, how much potential surface area is there to produce rockfalls?

(2) How prone is that cliff to rockfalls? How often do rockfalls occur at that location? What is the density of fractures such as exfoliation joints?

(3) How exposed are you to the hazard? Are there possibilities for sheltering behind large trees or boulders, or moving quickly away from rockfall runout areas?

Taking these into consideration, a crag like Swan Slab would rank relatively low, being a short cliff with few rock falls and a quick escape away from the cliff (when belaying at the base at least). In contrast, climbs at the base of El Capitan or the Half Dome slabs approach would rank relatively high.

Greg Stock
Park Geologist
Yosemite National Park
(209) 379-1420

Edit: Great photos and video!

Trad climber
Joshua Tree
Jun 8, 2011 - 03:38pm PT

Nothin' like a bit o' rockfall to keep the fluff away!

Social climber
flagstaff arizona
Jun 8, 2011 - 03:42pm PT

Trad climber
san diego, ca
Jun 8, 2011 - 07:21pm PT
What time did that rockfall happen?! My buddy and I had just bailed off of the RNWF of HD and we came down the Death Slabs that day!
mr p

Big Wall climber
eastside ca
Jun 10, 2011 - 12:27pm PT
wow good stuff a big chunk pealed off between the zebra tisasack and the kali/white/zenith
it wont be long till the ragga peals off
see ya

Trad climber
Jun 12, 2011 - 01:27pm PT
Wow, I was planning on heading up the DS (for the first time) on Tuesday. I think we might be going the long way now, dammit.

Thanks for the heads up. Half Dome looks pretty gray and foreboding in those pics. Like a giant, dank mid-evil castle.


Trad climber
San Diego, CA
Jun 12, 2011 - 01:42pm PT
Great stuff le_bruce. The water running out from under those slabs always made me nervous. Has to be pretty active right now.

Trad climber
Oct 20, 2011 - 04:35pm PT
When are they going to bird? At least upgrade to a 412. Werner, have they bought new helicopters in the last 30 years?

Yosemite Valley
Jul 30, 2012 - 01:39pm PT
For anyone planning on heading up the slabs approach to the NW Face of Half Dome soon, be aware that this morning, 30 July 2012, there was another rock fall from the NW face. I have not located the exact source area, but the rock fall was fairly large and created a substantial dust cloud that lingered for about 45 minutes. Witnesses at Mirror Lake described seeing rock debris bouncing down the slabs approach.

Greg Stock
Park Geologist
(209) 379-1420

Social climber
Jul 31, 2012 - 05:32pm PT
Thanks for the update Greg,

Please let me know if you find out any more details. Always a bowling alley in there!


Jesse M.
Climbing Ranger

Trad climber
Mountain View
Aug 13, 2012 - 03:27pm PT
Bump for conditions updates?

Pretty warm this weekend with some nice thunder over Half-Dome.


Aug 17, 2012 - 12:58am PT
Just talked to a friend of mine who got off the RNWF

He said there was some bad rockfall off to the side "further northeast up the canyon" just today, but it didn't hit the slabs path.

Apparently one of the fixed lines is missing and its in a really loose area, the rest of the lines are fine.

Boulder climber
Aug 17, 2012 - 02:29am PT
there was some bad rockfall off to the side "further northeast up the canyon"
Sounds like in the Quarter Domes. gstock?
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