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Rock Climber Dies on Rappel from Rockfall Accident

Janette Heung fell to her death after a rockfall accident. One of her partners gave details of the accident

On Sept. 5, Janette Heung of Colorado fell over 100 metres to her death while rappelling the South Buttress of Pingora in Wyoming’s Wind River Range after climbing the East Face with climbing partners Josh Diggs and Josh Digrugilliers, and two other climbers: Colin Landeck and Stephen Miller.

A melon-sized rock fell from above and cut both the dyneema sling and one-inch tubular webbing that made up the rappel anchor where she was clipped. Diggs has written an extensive trip report about the accident on Mountain Project, in which he said: “We had decided the rappels would be quicker if we tied our two ropes together and used the rappel stations climber’s left of the South Buttress. Janette and I had used this station two days prior without issue.”

Katie Millard, a conservationist who worked with Heung over the past five years, said: “She was a super volunteer, a super networker and a super committed conservationist. Janette represented The Nature Conservancy’s Young Professionals 13ers Advisory Council on our Chapter Board of Trustees on the Urban Conservation Committee. She showed up in a way that I have not seen before in my years of managing volunteer relationships. Her enthusiasm to connect conservationists and the outdoor rec community, especially the climbing world was so powerful.”

Diggs said the rockfall likely originated from pulling the rope from the first rappel at the ledge atop the South Buttress. “All four of us were clipped in to the second and last rappel anchor which consisted of a new double-length dyneema sling from this season, a bit of tubular webbing which was sun-damaged but could have been from this season, and a new mallion connecting the two.”

Landeck was pulling the rope and was the one who called “rock.” Diggs didn’t see the rock hit the anchor, but he heard the tensioned sling and webbing break. “I saw Janette fall backward, no longer connected to anything. Stephen fell backward as well but caught himself on a sling connected to my harness.”

The climbers used inreach to call for a rescue as they rebulit the anchor to continue to Heung to assist her.

Diggs recalled: “I went down first and found that Janette was unresponsive, not breathing but with a pulse. I attempted chest compressions and rescue breaths while Stephen and Colin made their way down to Janette and I. Together we provided CPR for 1.5 hours before rescue finally got to us via helicopter and took over.”

Josh Bradshaw from Ontario, said, “Janette was superbly warm and vibrantly alive. I remember how she would always greet me with a congratulatory hug when we met at the belays. She was one of those people who had a way of making everyone feel light and cheerful.”

A memorial page for Heung on Facebook has been started here and you can read more stories from friends here.

Our climbing community is a close-knit one and we all feel it when we lose someone. Our deepest condolences to Hueng’s friends, family and climbing partners. Be sure to check out the Climbing Grief Fund here if you’re in search of support.