Two climbers died in a climbing accident Saturday after falling 1,000 feet from the granite face of El Capitan in Yosemite National Park, despite having ascended the route many times before with ease.
The National Park Service says it’s investigating what prompted the fall that killed Tim Klein, 42, of Palmdale, CA, and Jason Wells, 45, of Boulder, CO. Friends have told news outlets that the men were highly experienced and have been climbing together since college. They were speed climbing the Freeblast section on El Cap, which is a 3,000-foot rock formation that’s a popular draw for climbers. Klein and Wells were known to be able to complete the route twice in a weekend, The Washington Post reported.
Klein and Wells were simul-climbing, which is a speed climbing technique where both were attached while climbing. It was a technique that both men were skilled in, according to Brady Robinson, founding director at Open Boulder and executive director of the Access Fund and a friend who frequently climbed with Wells. Robinson told the Daily Camera newspaper in Boulder “obviously something unusual happened” prompting the fall, especially given that Klein and Wells fell from an easy spot on the route. “They weren’t doing it for fame or to break a record or for a sponsorship,” Robinson told the Daily Camera. “They just loved it. Neither one of them bragged about what they did. They weren’t thrill seekers or people doing it to satisfy their ego. They would do the same routes over and over again because it was so much fun.”
Yosemite National Park rangers reported receiving 911 calls at about 8:15 a.m on June 2 that two climbers had fallen. Park rangers and search and rescue staff responded to the scene, but Klein and Wells hadn’t survived. Another friend, Wayne Willoughby, told Climbing that Klien had told him that Wells was “the strongest and best partner he had ever climbed with.” Willoughby said Saturday’s climb would have been Klein’s 107th El Cap ascent in a day.
The park service says more than 100 climbing accidents happen there on an annual basis, while “15 to 25 parties require a rescue.”