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Yosemite Climber Dies Ice Climbing in Canada

Zach Milligan was a veteran Valley climber with countless ascents of difficult big walls to his name

Photo by: Brandon Pullan

It’s a sad day in the climbing community as word has spread of the death of Zach Milligan, a climber originally from Montana with close ties to Yosemite. The accident took place on Polar Circus, a 700-metre WI5 in the Canadian Rockies. After receiving a call at 11 p.m. on Saturday night, a Parks Canada’s visitor safety team flew a drone over the climb on Saturday. “They found what appeared to be the deceased person at the bottom of a cliff in that area,” said Sgt. Susan Richter of the Lake Louise RCMP.

You might recall one of Milligan’s most inspiring ski descents back on Feb. 21, 2021, when he and Jason Torlano made history by becoming e the first people to ski down Half Dome. Chris Van Leuven, one of Milligan’s close climbing partners and friends, wrote about the descent in a story called Thirteen Years in a Cave in Yosemite: Half Dome Skier Zach Milligan. Van Leuven shared that Milligan had speed-soloed the Regular Northwest Face of Half Dome in two hours and 37 minutes, and that he’d free-soloed the 500-metre Steck-Salathé on Sentinel Rock at least 275 times.

Polar Circus, located on Cirrus Mountain in Jasper National Park, has been the scene of many tragic incidents over the past 40 years. In 1982, legendary ice climber John Lauchlan died while attempting to make the first solo ascent. In 2015, Mark Salesse, a Royal Canadian Air Force Search and Rescue Technician, died in an avalanche. Last March, two climbers were caught in an avalanche, but survived and were rescued.

“For Zach, soloing is moving meditation,” Van Leuven wrote in his story, quoting Milligan: “You feel like you’re in contact with God. It makes me feel like I’m in a magical place.” Our deepest condolences to Milligan’s family and friends.

Milligan by Dean Fidelman
Portrait of Zach Milligan. Photo by Dean Fidelman
Lead photo: Brandon Pullan