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Todd Skinner dies in Yosemite

Submitted By: Nick Wilder on Oct 24, 2006


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YOSEMITE NATIONAL PARK, California (AP) -- A renowned rock climber was killed when he fell 500 feet while attempting a first ascent, a park spokeswoman said Tuesday.

Todd Skinner had completed a new route up a rock face known as Leaning Tower and was rappelling when he fell to his death Monday, Adrienne Freeman said.

It was not immediately clear why Skinner, an author who claimed to have set climbing records in 26 countries, fell.

He and his party were climbing near Bridalveil Fall, one of the park's best-known waterfalls, Freeman said.

The Mariposa County coroner's office was investigating the death.


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By Nick Wilder
Site Landlord
From: The Bubble
Oct 24, 2006

More details from the Denver Post:

Todd Skinner, an internationally renowned rock climber who ranked among the world's best during the 1990s, died Oct. 23 after falling 500 feet as he and his partner rappelled down from their first attempt at a new route on Leaning Tower in Yosemite National Park, Calif. He was 48.

Skinner, with partner Paul Piana, secured his place in the annals of elite American climbers with the 1988 first free-climbing ascent of the Salathe Wall on El Capitan in Yosemite.

"That was a groundbreaking accomplishment," said Phil Powers, executive director of the American Alpine Institute and Skinner's friend.

"I think of these guys as my friends -- this was Todd and Paul hang-dogging their way up the Salathe. What they did was ahead of its time. No matter how many days it took, it opened up a whole new category of very long, very, very difficult multi-pitch climbs. Almost 18 years later, you still see the best of the best testing their abilities on that route."

Born in Pinedale, Wyoming, Skinner learned climbing techniques from his father. At age 10, he joined his father and brother on a Wind River Mountains climbing trip that spawned a career in the dynamic, rarified world of elite climbers.

"This comes as something of a surprise," said Gary Neptune, owner of Neptune Mountaineering in Boulder.

"Todd pursued a relatively safe form of the sport. He wasn't afraid to pull out a drill and put in anchors."

Anchors are the devices rock climbers use to protect themselves on an exposed route. Skinner made his name as a free-climber, eschewing rope ladders and other devices used to aid climbing.

"It tests climbers all the time," he told National Geographic in an interview 8 years ago.

"It's a form of disciplined gymnastics with an application in the wildest places you can find in the world."

He secured his reputation as a pioneer of big-wall free-climbing in 1988, with his first free ascent of the Salathe Wall on El Capitan in Yosemite. As Skinner and longtime partner and lifelong friend Paul Piana were embarking on their Salathe Wall attempt, they encountered Neptune, who had just finished a climbing trip on El Capitan.

"They were dead broke and starving," Neptune recalled.

"I had about $100, and I gave it all to them. It allowed them to stay long enough to finish their project. And they were using my rope on that climb. It was my rope that got chopped."

Skinner and Piana had just reached the summit of the 3,600-foot free climb on Salathe Wall when an enormous boulder at the edge toppled, severing the ropes holding their gear, and leaving Skinner with broken ribs and Piana with a broken leg.

Onlookers initially mistook the falling haul line and gear bags for the climbers' bodies, prompting a rescue party scouring the mountain's base.

Skinner is survived by his wife and fellow climber, Amy Whisler Skinner, and their three children, all of Lander, Wyo., and a sister, Holly Skinner.

Services are pending.

By Lee Jensen
Oct 25, 2006

Another posting with different details can be found here:

LA Times

By Ron Olsen
From: Boulder, CO
Oct 25, 2006

From the LA Times article:

"Park officials still are investigating the cause. However, a family spokesman, Steve Bechtel, said authorities had told him that their preliminary finding was that Skinner's climbing harness broke."

By Craig Hobart
Oct 25, 2006

“I would have graduated years earlier without the El Cap stories from Todd Skinner.” Craig Hobart

During my formative college years I slept under a poster of El Cap Spire. Todd Skinner and Paul Piana autographed it for me. They recognized the scrawny sport climber enamored with their “Free Salathe” slide show on 3 consecutive evenings. Truthfully I wanted to climb the Salathe more than I wanted a college diploma.

I was with two girls. They promised to drop me off in Joshua Tree during their spring break road trip to Palm Springs. The parking lot of the now defunct Sports Country climbing store witnessed an epic battle of the minds. Would the girls convince Todd to come to Palm Springs for margaritas, or would Paul and Todd convince them to top rope problems in the morning?

During lunch the next day Lisa stared with an incredulous look. The freshly torn flap on her hand oozed blood and did not match her neatly manicured nails. Tears in her eyes hinted her sport climbing career was over. Not even the legendary Super Glue story could bring her back. She and her friend were off to the other Spring Break Mecca.

Years later I convinced my boss two weeks of vacation per year was making me sick. Somehow I managed to Sherpa the massive pig stuffed with my worldly belongings of cams, food, a shit tube, ropes, a double portaledge, and empty water bottles to the base of Half Dome. When I arrived my buddy and I stared at the party camped at the base. We found two rock stars of true legendary status, but they were going to free my first big aid route. Todd Skinner and Galen Rowell listened intently to our plan. Todd laughed at my stories of a 5 day epic on the Salathe. My Dad blamed him for my extended college plan. I couldn’t waste precious sick days, nor could I imagine aiding the Direct Route days before it would go free. Todd’s solution, do the Regular Route in a single push. No pig to haul? After hearing it from him, we had to do it!

Todd Skinner will be missed, but his story telling and his kindness will never be forgotten.

By handtruck
From: Boulder, CO
Oct 26, 2006

Truelly sad. I will miss reading about his exploits. Most of all, I wish his family well.

By Andy Laakmann
Site Landlord
From: Bend, OR
Oct 26, 2006

Informative article... with quotes from his partner that day.
sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?file=/c/a/2006/10/26/CLIMBER.>>>

This is a tragic, horrible loss for Todd's family, friends, and the entire climbing community.

By Ron Olsen
From: Boulder, CO
Oct 26, 2006

Cause of accident: belay loop failure while rappelling on worn harness.

From the sfgate.com article:

"It's really affecting the climbing community because harness failure is pretty unusual -- it is not supposed to happen," said Ken Yager, president and founder of Yosemite Climbing Association. "It's gotten people thinking about their old harnesses now. I know I'm going to go out and buy a new one."

The part that broke, called the belay loop, is designed to be the strongest part of the climbing harness, but Hewett, 34, said Skinner's harness was old.

"It was actually very worn," Hewett said. "I'd noted it a few days before, and he was aware it was something to be concerned about." Friends of Skinner said he had ordered several new harnesses but they hadn't yet arrived in the mail.

On Monday's climb, Hewitt said the belay loop snapped while Skinner was hanging in midair underneath an overhanging ledge.

"I knew exactly what had happened right when it happened," he said. "It was just disbelief. It was too surreal."

Stunned and in shock after watching his friend fall, he checked his equipment.

"I wanted to make sure that what had caused the accident wasn't going to happen to me," he said. "I then went down as quick as I could."

Hewett said he knew there was no hope. A search-and-rescue team found Skinner's body, wearing the harness with the broken belay loop, about 4 p.m. Monday on the rocks near Bridalveil Falls. He was pronounced dead at the scene.

By Leo Paik
Administrator
From: Westminster, Colorado
Oct 27, 2006

As so many of us, I too feel very sad for the loss of one of our heroes of our climbing community. I remember many a day falling asleep below my poster of Todd freeing that 11c 22nd pitch above El Cap Spire and dreaming about being there and doing that. Out of respect for him and recognizing the desire for a general discussion on belay loops and safety, I respectfully suggest that we move general discussions to a different forum.

By mike1
Oct 27, 2006

Todd Skinner was an amazing pioneer who took a lot of heat for changing views about how to climb and what could be climbed. His vision will be missed. I wish there was something could be done that could console his family.

By George Bell
From: Boulder, CO
Oct 27, 2006

What a terrible loss! Todd was such a positive fellow with a great attitude, his enthusiasm was infectious. I talked once on the phone with him for a few minutes, he seemed a really decent down-to-earth guy for such a famous climber. I'll always remember Galen Rowell's photos of Todd and Paul Piana playing around with a stuffed grizzly bear.

By M.Morley
Administrator
From: Sacramento, CA
Oct 29, 2006

Paul Piana speaks with NPR commentator Scott Simon about longtime friend Todd Skinner and their 1988 freeclimb of the Salathe Wall, and sheds light on the details of the recent tragedy:

www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=6397277

By DoesNotCare
From: Heaven
Oct 31, 2006

I never met the guy, but I always get pretty bummed out when I hear of a climber dying. I didn't find out til Saturday, but since then I'm constantly thinking about it, how he must of felt for those half seconds flying through the air (I took a forty footer last summer and I swear I could write a novel on everything that went through my head). I love climbing on Skinner/Pianna routes in Wyoming, i feel real bad for his family and partners.

This is sure to have quite an effect on the whole climbing community, hopefully positive. Skinner was definitely a huge personality during the early 90's sport era, I have heard tons of stories about him, always figured I would meet him at Wild Iris or the Sinks, I would love to hear him tell a story they are rumored to be hilarious.

By Old and Busted
From: Centennial, CO
Nov 2, 2006

Anybody remember the picture of Bachar hanging on a toprope on "To Bolt or Not to Be?" Todd Skinner was in the foreground, looking over his shoulder at the camera with a "heeheehee" grin. Classic. The guy brought alot of flavor to a sport that far too often has no real perspective.

Tod Anderson has an amazing skill for locating new areas that were only rumors to the rest of us. Tod led us up to Wild Iris back when all anyone knew about it were pictures of Skinner and Piana labeled at a secret area. We stumbled into Todd Skinner there, he was totally suprised that we found his crag. Anyway, it was Antelope hunting season, and Todd being a Wyoming boy had bagged a few that day. When we met him. he had an arm full of Antelope legs. When asked what that was all about, his response was "I like to stick them in the pockets up on the routes. The French totally hate that."

What a loss.

By Tradsplatter
From: Boulder, CO
Nov 3, 2006

Very sad story. Take care of your gear and it will take care of you.

By dgura
Nov 7, 2006

I feel horrible that his family was left behind by his own irresponsible decision. I hope they can forgive.....

By DoesNotCare
From: Heaven
Nov 8, 2006

Wow, irresponsible??? Not cool.