I was leading the (highest) two person party who were at the site of the massive rockfall that occured on WG at approx 1130AM on Sunday Oct 11th. The events happened as follows:
I placed a three point anchor at the pitch 3-4 belay ledge comprised of one piton, one tricam and one bomber (I thought, anyway) nut. The tricam and the nut were placed in the same crack system - the piton was in a separate crack. I lead off and had placed on piece of protection (slung a horn) at about 10ft when L looked down upon hearing a scraping noise and hearing my partner yelling. A very large (refrigerator) size block was detaching itself from the face directly above and slightly to the left of my partner's stance (and about five ft below my feet). The block fell completely out of the wall, brushed my partners shoulder as he stepped to the left and landed ON our rope stack. I felt a slight pull on my lead-rope, but was not destabilized from my position, and my partner remained on the ledge (was not pulled or destabilized significantly by the block or the anchor). The block then proceeded to slide/fall off of the ledge and made several more large impacts as it fell the entire distance to the base of the climb. After determining that we were both un-injured (and yelling to verify the same with the other parties), I down-climbed to my partner's stance (who was now on an anchor composed of only the piton). I rebuilt and anchor, attached myself and my partner to the new anchor and then assessed the situation. Our rope was severely damaged by the direct impact of the boulder on the stack. A total of five separate (complete) cuts and several severe compression scars and partial cuts were evident. We salvaged the longest two pieces of rope that looked relatively serviceable (only minor partial core cuts and sheath damage). One of these was approx 20 feet and one was approx 23 feet long. The rest of the rope was not usable and was stowed in packs. After careful deliberation we decided that the safest option was to continue to the top (see analysis) on our doubled best rope segments. We completed the climb after 5-6 short (20ft) additional pitches. We returned to the parking lot at approximately 1800 and signed out. We discovered after calling home that Fish and Game had been notified (by someone?) that we were overdue and that there had been rock fall. We immediately called off the alert â€“ luckily before they had been fully mobilized.
Although not as experienced as some, I have been leading trad for several years and have climbed WG before along with other climbs on Cannon. I have also climbed in similar loose rock "alpine" environments and am familiar with the hazards and the challenges of this type of environment. I built the anchor in what presented itself as a crack in the face â€“ not a detached boulder. In retrospect, I am sure that it probably was already mostly detached â€“ but the detachment point was behind / within the face and could not be determined from my position. The face/block looked completely solid and did not move/sound hollow/or give any indication of what was about to occur. I placed the tricam and the nut in the same crack system â€“ In retrospect I should have distributed the anchor between several different cracks â€“ but two bomber pieces in a (what I thought was) a solid crack plus a piton (in a different crack) seemed sufficient. At the moment the â€˜block, detached â€“ I did not â€˜step on, it apart from climbing up that portion of the face when leading and my partner says that he did not weight the anchor at that time (although it had been weighted when belaying my partner up from the pitch below). Our anchor was built with a cordellete and straddled the detaching block (two pieces on one side, one piece on the other). I still do not know how it fell without pulling my partner off of his stance. However, the fact that it cut the rope immediately when it landed on our ledge/rope stack/anchor-cordellet probably saved us from being dragged down with it.
I have never heard of a rope being cut in several places by one block. However our rope did sustain 5 COMPLETE cuts and several additional partial cuts as it was compressed and then was ground into the ledge as the block slid / fell past it.
After the incident, we made the (controversial?) decision to continue up for the following reasons. Our longest two pieces of rope were each~20ft. This would give us a 20ft of rappel capability on what was already compromised rope. There was a party beneath us at the pitch 2-3 belay ledge that we probably could have reached in 3-4? short rappels. However, they seemed to want to get down asap (can,t blame them) and I did not want to rappel on these damaged ropes. Apart from having to build intermediate anchors (possibly hanging), I did not want to trust a single strand of this damaged rope. My logic told me that if I were to lead on the two segments I would have the strength of both ropes - as opposed to rappelling where if one rope failed, the entire system would fail and there would be a fall. Of course there was the potential to generate significantly more force when leading than when rappelling. However, I felt confident leading the pitches above and felt that the doubled ropes would be safer holding a (top-rope) fall than risking a single strand failure on several rappels.
Although I am sure that there could have been safer options after the analysis â€“ I do not think that I would have done anything differently than what we did at the time. I am extremely happy that no one was injured or killed in that was a very large rockfall event directly on the route with several parties beneath.