A young Colorado outdoorsman died in a massive rockslide at Yosemite National Park while holding a rope so that two of his friends could scramble to safety, park officials said Monday.
Peter J. Terbush, 22, secured a rope as tons of granite came thundering down from Glacier Point, where the college student and his friends were just finishing a half-hour climb of intermediate difficulty.
The friends reported that Terbush stayed at his position at the bottom of a 100-foot rock face, rather than running to safety. They escaped with only minor injuries in the slide, which occurred at about sundown Sunday.
“He was on the bottom and the two guys were on top,” said park spokesman Scott Gediman. “He held the rope until they came down safely.”
Terbush’s body was recovered Monday afternoon.
The slide forced the brief evacuation of 1,300 guests and employees from 300 cabins in Yosemite Valley’s Curry Village. All park facilities had reopened by Monday, despite another small slide overnight.
Some campers grabbed their children and ran in terror. A few were so frightened that they left the park.
“It was like a huge rumbling sound, like a jet coming close,” said Abbie Kealey, a vacationer from Baltimore. “We looked over and we saw a tiny plume of impact that rose up like a nuclear blast.”
A layer of dust settled over much of the valley. Geologists flew over the slide in helicopters Monday, trying to assess the stability of the slope.
Terbush came from a family of mountaineers and climbers. He had been on expeditions to the Himalayas and Europe with his grandfather and parents.
At Western State College of Colorado, Terbush majored in geology and was a student leader of an outdoor program. After the end of the term in May, he helped lead a group of about 10 students in wilderness training in Colorado’s Sangre De Christo Mountains.
Not long after that trip, he left for Yosemite.
“His experience in the mountains was vast,” said Sherryl Peterson, dean of students at the Gunnison, Colo., college. “He grew up hiking and climbing.”
Landslides are an unpredictable and apparently unpreventable fact of life in Yosemite. A 1996 slide killed one tourist and injured seven others. Another slide late last year forced an evacuation.
The giant rock monoliths that make Yosemite Valley so spectacular are inherently unstable. Hardened deep beneath the earth’s surface, the granite slabs are prone to split apart when exposed to water, plant roots and the lower pressure of the earth’s atmosphere, experts said.
Associated Press contributed to this story.