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Free solo climber Brad Gobright plummets to his death after ropes fail

(Oct. 25) Rock climber and alpinist Jim Donini shares stories and images from his extreme climbing adventures in the Karakoram Mountain Range and Patagonia.

Brad Gobright fell 300 metres to his death off the face of Sendero Luminoso in northern Mexico on Wednesday.

The 31-year-old world-class climber, known for his harness- and rope-free climbing, was with climbing partner Aidan Jacobson, 26, at the time of his fatal fall.

Jacobson fell a shorter distance and was able to stop himself on a rock ledge. Sadly, Gobright missed the ledge and continued to fall.

While Gobright was known for his free soloing, he and Jacobson were using ropes at the time in a climbing technique called simul rappelling (or “abseiling” in Europe).

READ MORE: Rock climber dies after falling from Stawamus Chief in Squamish

Accidents occurring while simul rappelling — a technique where climbers descend attached to opposite ends of the same rope — cause the most deaths in the sport.

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“I was a bit above him. I was on the left. He was on the right,” Jacobson told the Outside website. “Then all of a sudden, I felt a pop and we started falling.”

After that, Jacobson said he went into shock.

“It was basically a blur,” he said. “He screamed. I screamed. I went through some vegetation, and then all I remember is seeing his blue Gramicci shirt bounce over the ledge.”

Aftermath of fatal rock slide at Yosemite National Park
Aftermath of fatal rock slide at Yosemite National Park

Gobright had travelled to El Potrero Chico, Mexico with a group of 15 beginner and intermediate climbers from California.

The day before he died, Gobright put out a request for a partner to climb El Sendero with him. Jacobson responded, and they were off the next morning.

The duo didn’t tie stopper knots in their 80-metre ropes, which turned out to be too short. It appears that a stuck rope is one reason they fell, Outside reports.

Jacobson said his side of the rope was touching a ledge, while Gobright’s was tangled in a bush.

“I asked if we were good, and he said, ‘Yes, we can untangle the rope on the way down,'” he said. “We didn’t tie knots in the rope, either.”

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Mexican first responder Ray Elizalde shared photos of officials treating Aidan Jacobson’s injuries.
Mexican first responder Ray Elizalde shared photos of officials treating Aidan Jacobson’s injuries. Ray Elizalde Noticias

As Gobright fell, Jacobson held on to a rock. Feeling no pull that he expected from his partner’s falling body, he clipped himself onto a hand line nearby as two other climbers came down to help him.

A Mexican first responder shared two photos of Jacobson receiving treatment for his injured ankle after the fall.

Famous free solo climber Alex Honnold, whose incredible ascent of El Capitan was documented in the film Free Solo, shared his thoughts on the tragedy in an Instagram post.

“I’m so sorry to hear that @bradgobright just died in a climbing accident. He was such a warm, kind soul — one of a handful of partners that I always loved spending a day with,” he wrote.

READ MORE: Athletes begin the climb in Lethbridge to 2020 Olympics

“I suppose there’s something to be said about being safe out there and the inherent risks in climbing but I don’t really care about that right now. I’m just sad for Brad and his family.”

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Free Solo director Jimmy Chin wrote: “You were a true climber’s climber. Such a crusher and core to the bone … but more than anything I admired your humility kindness and humor. You will be dearly missed.”

It’s unclear what the exact cause of the fall was.

meaghan.wray@globalnews.ca