April 19, 2015 4:47 pm
Updated: April 21, 2015 2:47 am

Rock slide on Stawamus Chief in Squamish

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WATCH: A huge boulder has come smashing down in the north peak of the Stawamus Chief, shaking the earth and sending up a plume of dust. At first, there were worries climbers may have been caught, but officials believe nobody was hurt. Nadia Stewart reports.

A rock slide occurred on the Stawamus Chief in Squamish Sunday morning, and while emergency crews don’t believe anyone was injured, the area is too unstable for them to begin a thorough search.

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Residents reported feeling the earth rumble and seeing a massive cloud of dust after a large chunk of the granite monolith fell near the North Walls area of the north peak.

RCMP say that the slide was around one thousand cubic metres in size, with falling boulders slamming against the north face.

“It’s the belief of the technician that the new cracks in the face of the mountain are a result of the rock falling,” said RCMP Inspector Davis Wendell.

Access to the first, second and third trails, along with the Mamquam Forest Service road, were closed for several hours, but have since reopened.

But because of new cracks in the north face, that area’s climbing area is still closed – and it’s unknown when it will be safe for crews to search by foot in the area, let alone for climbers wanting to scale the face.

“It could be weeks until it’s safe to get the appropriate trained people up there to make an assessment,” said Wendell.

“Until we have a level of stability on the rock face, and we know that it’s safe to insert the emergency services personnel, we won’t be doing a ground search.”

A geotechnical engineering assessment has been completed on the site and first responders are on site.

At this point, it doesn’t appear that anyone was injured, say RCMP. There were four vehicles at the base of the mountain when the slide happened, but the owners of those vehicles have been accounted for.

However, anyone who knows someone who may have been climbing on the north face is asked to call Squamish RCMP at 604-892-6900.

WATCH: Climbers undetered by massive Squamish rock slide

Chief well known to climbers

The Stawamus Chief is a large, granite monolith about 60 kilometres north of Vancouver that serves as a popular hiking and rock-climbing destination.

“Everyone knows climbers, half the town climbs it seems,” says Squamish Mayor Patricia Heintzman.

“They’re communicating with each other, trying to figure out who they knew that was out here. We just hope everyone’s safe.”

Mathew Maddaloni is one of those rock climbers. A longtime resident of Squamish, he says the area of the slide is known as the Zodiac Wall, and it’s not for the faint of heart.

“It’s a place in Squamish that few climbers get to. It’s a little bit harder than the rest. But as climbers get good, they tend to find themselves over there.”

He’s climbed it several times and has even created new routes along the north face. After today’s events, he’s experiencing plenty of emotions.

“It’ll take some forgetting of what happened today for people to get up there and have a look around. I’ll definitely be telling the younger generation to be watching themselves,” he said.

Maddaloni and other experts say that rockfalls have happened in the past on the north face. What’s different about this event isn’t just the size of the boulder, but the time of year it happened.

“This is an unusual time of year to get a rockfall like this. Usually it would happen when we’re freezing at night and thawing in the morning, but it’s so warm lately that it’s not the trigger,” said Brent Ward, Chair of SFU’s Department of Earth Sciences.

“Sometimes these things are just perched ready to go, and they just happen.”

It’s a sentiment shared by Maddaloni.

“Whenever you’re climbing something new on rock, it could be unstable,” he said.

“We take that chance when we climb. It is rock, most of the time it is 100 per cent secure, but every now and then big stuff falls down.”

– With files from Nadia Stewart and Jeremy Hunka

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