Famed Yosemite climber, BASE jumper Sean Leary killed in Utah

Sean Leary
Renowned climber Sean “Stanley” Leary was killed in a wingsuit/BASE jumping accident in Utah. Photo via seanstanleyleary.com

The climbing and BASE jumping world lost one of their own March 13 when Sean “Stanley” Leary, who was in the area to work on a film project with BBC, died in a wingsuit/BASE jumping accident in Zion National Park, Utah. Leary’s death was discovered after he failed to return home on a scheduled flight to California, after which a search party discovered his body.

“He was the best not-famous, not heavily sponsored Yosemite climber of his generation,” says Dougald MacDonald, editor of the American Alpine Journal and editor-at-large for Climbing magazine. “He was just about at the same level as Alex Honnold, Dean Potter, Tommy Caldwell, and other superstars, but he stayed out of the limelight.”

Authorities located Leary’s body just before 3 p.m. March 23 in Zion National Park in the vicinity of West Temple, according to a release issued by the Park Service.

“The last time they were heard from was March 13, so [he was] about 10 days overdue,” said Alyssa Baltrus, spokesperson for Zion National Park. “He had a rental car out and the rental-car company notified his wife, who called us.”

By mid-afternoon Sunday, a helicopter brought in from Grand Canyon National Park located a man’s body on a rock formation about 300 feet from the top of the West Temple peak, the release stated. Baltrus added that Leary was alone when he made the leap off the cliff and that his rental car was parked in Springdale on a road bordering the park.

Leary’s death was the second BASE jumping fatality ever recorded in Zion, the other occurring just a month earlier when 28-year-old Amber Bellows of Salt Lake City died after her chute failed to open on a jump off Mount Kinesava.

Friend and climbing partner Dean Potter, who helped retrieve the body, told the San Francisco Chronicle that Leary apparently didn’t see a notch in a mountain and clipped it at high speed, plummeting 100 feet down the mountain, where he was killed instantly.

Leary, 38, worked as a rigger and film stuntman and leaves his widow, Mieka, pregnant with their first child.

In her blog High Infatuation, fellow climber, wingsuiter, and BASE jumper Steph Davis shares that Leary was planning to report for work for the BBC the next morning before the accident. With his wife thinking he was out of reach in the backcountry, no one realized he was missing for more than a week, she writes.

“There are so few people out there who have the skills to really combine these two,” she writes of Leary’s expertise in both climbing and BASE jumping. 

Indeed, Leary has been lauded as one of the best big-wall climbers in history. Climbing magazine reports that he had climbed Yosemite’s El Capitan dozens of times; set the speed record for climbing Salathé Wall, with Alex Honnold, in 2009 (4:55); and set a new speed record on the Nose (part of El Capitan), with Dean Potter, in 2010 (which was broken in 2012 by Hans Florine and Honnold). He also made the first “para-alpine style” free climbing linkup of Half Dome and El Capitan in less than 24 hours in 2008.

Leary was also an accomplished film star, appearing in such independent adventure films as Autana and The Asgard Project by Posing Productions; Patagonia Promise by National Geographic Adventure/Sender Films; Race for the Nose by Sender Films; and Perlman Productions’ Masters of Stone 6. Climbing reports that he had also climbed in Patagonia, Baffin Island, Venezuela, and Antarctica, where in 2013 he joined a British team to complete a 35-pitch new route on a peak named Ulvetanna.

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