Jason Wells and Tim Klein knew Yosemite National Park’s El Capitan intimately. Wells had climbed it more than 100 times, and Klein had scaled it repeatedly, too. But something went terribly wrong on their latest attempt, on Saturday, June 2, when the two were speed-climbing and fell to their deaths on a route called Freeblast on the Salathé Wall. Kevin Prince was also climbing with Wells and Klein, but wasn’t tied to their rope and was unscathed.
Climbing magazine reported an eyewitness account from Jordan Cannon, who with Jeremy Schoeborn had started up the lower third of El Cap that morning, the beginning of what they planned to be a five-day climb of Golden Gate.
“Around 8:15 a.m., as Wells climbed toward Mammoth Terraces, Cannon heard a thud,” James Lucas reported for the magazine. “Cannon saw Wells fall roughly 60 meters, stop briefly, then fall farther and hit the wall. “Fuck!” He heard Klein scream. Then Klein fell. Their rope momentarily caught behind a block and the fall was arrested. Then their cord severed and both Wells and Klein fell approximately 1,000 feet to the ground. Cannon says it was impossible to determine if they had gear between them due to the rope being severed a few feet above Klein’s knot.”
Wells, 46, was from Boulder, Colorado, and was good friends with Brady Robinson, outgoing executive director of the Access Fund. Robinson told the New York Times, “What he used to do was he would fly out on a Friday, climb El Cap twice — once on Saturday and once on Sunday.
“That is almost unheard-of…[Wells was] just one of these undercover world-class athletes that almost nobody knew about.”
Robinson told Rock and Ice, “It looks like they fell off a 5.7. Something weird happened. They were well within their abilities.”
Just two weeks ago Wells flew to Fresno, where Klein picked him up, and the two did the Nose twice that weekend. Seven years ago, they did the Nose twice in 22 hours, and six years ago they did the Nose and Salathé Wall in 22 hours. Wells holds the speed record for the 650-foot Naked Edge route in Colorado (doing it in 24 minutes, 29 seconds), and Klein set a Guinness world record for climbing the height of Mt. Everest in 9 hours and 26 minutes, besting the old record by just under four hours. He did that at an indoor climbing gym in 2014 to raise money for a student paralyzed in a drive-by shooting.
Klein, 42, from Palmdale, California, first met Wells in college in San Diego, and they’d climbed together for years. Freeblast comprises the first 10 or 11 pitches of the Salathé Wall and is rated 5.11. Klein and Wells were on 5.7 terrain, pitch 9 or 10, near Mammoth Ledges when they fell.
Climbing reports that this is the 25th fatal accident on El Cap. Almost a month ago, noted climber Hans Florine broke both his legs in a fall on the Nose.
Klein is survived by his wife and two young sons. Wells is survived by his wife and daughter.
El Cap photo by Daveynin