Climbing coach dies after abseiling accident

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July 4, Bryan Caldwell and his partner were climbing R&D, a 300 foot 5.6 trad route on the Icicle Buttress, near Leavenworth, Washington. When bad weather set in, they opted to abseil. His partner had touched down when she heard a noise. Caldwell’s anchor had run aground and he fell about 100 feet.

Caldwell’s partner contacted a ranger for help, but was pronounced dead by the time search and rescue teams from Chelan County and Chelan County Fire District 3 arrived. According The Wenatchee world, a cam and nut were found attached to its rope, indicating that it had fired from the wall. Caldwell was 44 years old.

Caldwell started climbing in 1998 when he joined the University of Kansas Climbing Club. “He showed up on his first climbing trip (which was with the club) with a giant external frame backpack,” Ward Byrum wrote to Escalation in an email. “[The] content included: a kitchen set, a machete, a whip and a case of Natty Light. It’s hard to remember if he brought necessities like a sleeping bag or food. From the start, it was abundantly clear that Bryan was looking for adventure and friendship.

After graduating, Caldwell moved to Fort Collins, Colorado and continued to explore mountains and rocks. In 2004, he went on a six-month rock climbing road trip with friends, going from Maple Canyon to the Sawtooths and Sierras, then heading east to the Red River and New River Gorges. After that, Caldwell moved to Bermuda to work with Byrum, helping him run the island’s only climbing wall.

(Photo: Courtesy of the Bryan Caldwell Collection)

“While there, he cultivated a climbing community, introduced countless young Bermudians to climbing, and became an official ‘Unofficial Bermudian,'” Byrum wrote. “His joy and unwavering quest for adventure touched so many in Bermuda and beyond.”

In addition to her work at the gymnasium, Caldwell has supported a number of charitable endeavors on the island. He organized a fundraising effort for the International Anti-Slavery Coalition, in which participants climbed the height of Everest by doing tricks on the indoor climbing wall. He also helped remove invasive species from the walls of the historic Bermuda Fort.

When former varsity club member Michael Lary co-founded The Source Climbing Center in Vancouver, Washington in 2011, Caldwell moved there as a member of the gym’s management team. He also worked as the head coach of the youth team.

“As a coach, Bryan was dedicated to inclusion and believing in everyone’s potential,” Lary wrote at Escalation. “He celebrated every little success in climbing, continually challenged people to push themselves that little bit further, and always remembered that climbing was just part of the person. He admired and celebrated children’s achievements outside of climbing as much, if not more than, of climbing.

Caldwell remained at the Source Climbing Center until his passing. When the crash at Icicle Buttress happened, he was with friends from Vancouver’s climbing community.

(Photo: Courtesy of the Bryan Caldwell Collection)

In lieu of flowers, Caldwell’s family has created a fundraiser for a memorial bench in her honor, which will be placed in downtown Vancouver. The remaining funds will go to travel and accommodation grants for young competitive climbers. The family hopes to help future young climbers “like the countless Bryan has trained and mentored for over a decade.”

“Bryan’s spirit will live on in the lives he touched,” Byrum wrote. “Whether you swam with him in Bermuda, he taught you how to belay/climb at The Source, shared a rum at Dockies or listened to his favorite reggae tunes….Bryan was central to so many foundational memories. Just having known him is a challenge to love as big and shamelessly as possible.”

Recalling Caldwell’s delight in climbing, Byrum wrote: “If the quote ‘The best climber is the one who has the most fun’ [is true], then Bryan was the love child of Janja Garnbret and Adam Ondra. Climbing was a tool Bryan used to connect with people, share joy and love.

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