Janette Heung, a Boulder resident and expert-level climber, was killed in a freak accident in Wyoming on September 5.
Heung's anchor broke during her descent from 11,883-foot Pingora Peak, found in the Cirque of Towers of Wyoming's Wind River Range.
According to Digrugilliers, a melon-sized" rock fell from above and cut Heung's anchor. At this point, Heung fell approximately 400 feet to her death.
Digrugilliers believes that the striking rock became dislodged during a rappel station transfer, as one of the four climbers intentionally pulled a rope out of the rappel station above the group. When the striking rock collided with the gear, all four climbers were connected to the second rappel station. A second climber fell backward, but was caught by a sling connected to Digrugilliers' harness.
A rappel station is a type of anchor set-up on a rock wall that allows climbers to descend a cliffside under their own control. Multiple rappel stations need to be set up on a cliff when the cliff is too high for a single pitch to be used.
After Heung's fall, members of the party rappelled down to her to provide first aid and perform CPR. According to the online account, Heung was unresponsive but had a pulse at this time. An inReach device was used to trigger search and rescue teams which arrived approximately an hour and a half later.
In an article published by Rock & Ice, Heung is remembered as "the real deal" – someone with an impressive academic and professional life, as well as someone that excelled at extreme outdoor recreation activities.
Condolences go out to the family and friends of Janette Heung during this difficult time.
This was a tragic freak accident that happened among experienced climbers. Rock climbing is a high-risk extreme sport that carries the possibility of serious injury and death with it. There are several things that this group did right that should be highlighted, as noting these aspects might help save a life in the future.
First, this group brought along an inReach emergency signaling device. This allowed them to call in emergency assistance instantaneously, expediting the care that a fallen climber will receive. In many cases, timing can be everything and getting help quickly can be a major factor in the ultimate outcome.
It's also worth noting that this group was prepared to provide first aid to the fallen climber. It can be a long time before search and rescue arrives, even when an inReach device is used properly. Because of this, basic first aid courses should be considered by those preparing to put themselves in extreme situations.