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Remembering Eric Klimt

Climber, teacher and pilot Eric Klimt died on March 9 after becoming detached from his self-belay system on Zion National Park’s Moonlight Buttress (5.9 C1, 1,200′, Lowe-Weiss, 1971; FFA 5.12+, Croft-Woodward, 1992). He was free climbing on one of the route’s upper three pitches when the accident occurred.

[Photo] Kirsten Klimt

On March 9, climber Eric Michael Klimt, 36, fell to his death from near the top of Moonlight Buttress in Zion National Park.

For the past several years, Klimt, originally from Baltimore, Maryland, had been practicing the free moves on Moonlight Buttress (5.9 C1, 1,200′, Lowe-Weiss, 1971; FFA 5.12+, Croft-Woodward, 1992). On the morning of March 9 he rappelled on a single line onto the route’s top pitches to work on free moves and gear placements. Sometime later something went wrong.

It was sunny and cool on the morning of the accident. Two other climbers climbed on the bottom of the route, but Klimt had the top pitches all to himself, according to Zion National Park Distract Ranger Therese Picard. Eric’s cause of death is still under investigation. “He was solo climbing. There were no witnesses, so what exactly happened, we’ll never know,” Ranger Picard said.

Around 12:30 p.m., the other party saw Klimt falling from nearly 1,000 feet up the route, according to the Zion National Park press release.

Zion National Park officials aren’t certain which pitch he fell from. Eric’s family spoke to Zion Park officials to learn more. Officials said his single rope was attached to the anchor with clove hitches on opposed carabiners. Two slings were around his torso, a few cams and nuts were on his harness, and his Grigri was clipped to his belay loop with a locking carabiner. The Grigri had no obvious damage, his 9.8mm 70m rope had no noticeable damage and his hands did not show signs of rope burn. There was no knot tied on the bottom of his rope. He was not wearing a helmet. His pack with extra gear was clipped to the topmost anchor.

Moonlight Buttress was climbed by Jeff Lowe and?Mike Weiss in 1971, the route was freed in 1992 by Peter Croft and Johnny Woodward at 5.12+.?

[Photo] Cameron M. Burns

“He commonly used a Grigri when rope soloing–he did not use a Mini Traxion–that was his setup,” his brother and sister agreed.

Moonlight Buttress is one of Zion’s most popular big-wall climbs. The section of the route Klimt was practicing on that day follows 5.12 cracks over smooth Navajo sandstone. Klimt had tried the route three times since 2013, but he was unable to link all the moves, his brother, Carl told Alpinist.

Eric following Pitch 26 (5.10d) on the Salathe Wall/Freerider (Salathe Wall: 5.9 C2, Robbins-Pratt-Frost, 1961; FFA: 5.13b/c Piana-Skinner/Freerider: 5.12d/5.13a, Huber-Huber, 1998).

[Photo] Matt Ballard

“In 2014, Accidents in North American Mountaineering (ANAM) reported 17 rappel failures or errors,” ANAM managing editor Dougald MacDonald told Alpinist. “It seems to be in a consistent range year-after-year. In 2013, there were 25 in that category. In 2012 there were 18. These numbers are for US and Canada.”

“I can’t back this up with numbers,” MacDonald adds, “but I do think there is an increase of self-belay accidents. It’s something I think we’re seeing [every year] now. When you have a self-belay accident it tends to be catastrophic.”

Remembering Eric Klimt (February 8, 1980–March 9, 2016)

Before his death, Klimt was moving west from Chattanooga, Tennessee, to Terrebonne, Oregon. Terrebonne is the closest town to Smith Rock State Park.

Klimt taught high school mathematics at Gilman in Baltimore, Maryland, and at Northpoint Expeditionary Learning Academy in Prescott, Arizona, before moving to Chattanooga, Tennessee. In Tennessee he worked as a rope access technician for three months, Kirsten said. “He was living out of his truck and having a hard time making his job work, so he decided to move back to Terrebonne where he was living this past fall.” His family remembers him as a patient and supportive teacher, both in the classroom and at the crag.

“He was passionate about upper-level mathematics,” Carl said. “He loved the beauty and symmetry of math [and] nature.” Eric also loved filmmaking.

“He’d been climbing for over 20 years,” Kirsten said. Their family has received emotional support from dozens of climbers whose lives Eric touched. “It’s comforting and absolutely helpful to hear the…outpouring of love from so many people. He was such a big part of that community.”

Eric spent much of his free time climbing in Yosemite National Park, Red Rock Canyon National Recreation Area, Joshua Tree National Park and North Conway, New Hampshire.

From left to right: Eric, Kirsten, Carl, and his other sister Nicole Klimt. “Even though Eric spent much of his time on the road, he contacted us often,” Carl Klimt, his brother, said. “For his 30th birthday, the family joined him at Equinox (5.12c, Tony Yaniro, 1981) in Joshua Tree to watch him climb the route.” This photo was taken on New Year’s Day 2015.

[Photo] Claudius Klimt

Eric once flew from Baltimore, Maryland, to North Conway, New Hampshire, to scout Liquid Sky (5.13, Jim Surette, 1986) at Cathedral Ledge. “My father’s a pilot and [he] worked closely with Eric to train him,” Kirsten said.

“That was very special father-son time,” Carl said.

Eric in Yosemite in 2015.

[Photo] Eric Klimt collection

His family agrees that Terrebonne, Oregon was where he felt his healthiest, his happiest, his strongest, and his most grounded. “He was a traveler, a nomad and a climber, and he belonged in a lot of places. But Terrebonne was a home for him. It’s been beautiful to see how many lives he’s touched, and how many people have stories about Eric and climbing adventures,” Kirsten said.

The family will be two holding services for him. One will be at his home in Baltimore and one will be in Terrebonne. “One of the things Eric is known for is his ability to include everyone,” Kirsten said. “We’re working hard to figure out how to include everyone and make them know that they are welcome.” The dates have yet to be determined.

The family plans to honor his memory by following his advice: “Get outside. It’s where the good stuff is happening.”

Sources: Carl Klimt, Kirsten Klimt, Kathy Karlo, Hayley Rosen, Dougald MacDonald, Jim Surette, Zion National Park District Ranger Therese Picard, Selected Climbs in the Desert Southwest: Colorado and Utah, Accidents in North American Mountaineering, SuperTopo: Yosemite Big Walls (Third Edition), The News,,,,,