Since 1857, several hundred rockfalls, rockslides, and debris flows have been observed in Yosemite National Park. At 12:45 a.m. on December 26, 2003, a severe winter storm triggered a rockfall west of Glacier Point in Yosemite Valley. Rock debris moved quickly eastward down Staircase Falls toward Curry Village. As the rapidly moving rock mass reached talus at the bottom of Staircase Falls, smaller pieces of flying rock penetrated occupied cabins. Physical characterization of the rockfall site included rockfall volume, joint patterns affecting initial release of rock and the travel path of rockfall, factors affecting weathering and weakening of bedrock, and hydrology affecting slope stability within joints. Although time return intervals are not predictable, a three-dimensional rockfall model was used to assess future rockfall potential and risk. Predictive rockfall and debris-flow methods suggest that landslide hazards beneath these steep cliffs extend farther than impact ranges defined from surface talus in Yosemite Valley, leaving some park facilities vulnerable.
Additional Publication Details
USGS Numbered Series
Staircase Falls Rockfall on December 26, 2003, and Geologic Hazards at Curry Village, Yosemite National Park, California