Well Known Free Solo Climber Austin Howell Fell to His Death on Sunday

CragBrains | ClimbingClimbing
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Free solo climber Austin Howell. Credit: @freesoloist

Popular free solo climber Austin Howell fell to his death when climbing in Linville Gorge, North Carolina, on Sunday. Rescue services were notified of the fall at 11.46 am and reached the victim by rappelling down a cliff.

Howell, widely known in the climbing community through his Instagram account “Freesoloist,” was free soloing at Shortoff Mountain.

“The victim, 31-year-old Austin Howell of Chicago, Illinois, was reportedly free climbing in one of the most difficult portions of the Linville Gorge,” a Burke Country Government statement said.

Howell was famous in his own right in the climbing world and ran a podcast and an Instagram account called “The Process” detailing what it takes to climb without a rope. In his last post, he showed all the climbing gear he needed for a climbing trip. The photo showed just his shoes.

“The only safety any of us have lies in our ability to make competent decisions,” he wrote in a March 10 blog post. “While it’s obviously imperative that I think while practicing my lonesome dance with gravity, that doesn’t make me unique in any way. We all have to think. It’s our best form of life insurance.”

Howell’s parents updated his Facebook page with a brief message on the afternoon of June 30:

“We are absolutely devastated to share that our beautiful, smart and witty son, Austin Howell passed away today. He was an absolute joy and will be remembered by everyone as a Teacher, lover of nature and Climber. He tried to help everyone he crossed in life and always confident in everything he did. I am proud he has touched so many people in the time he was with us.”

Howell first got attention for his soloing back in 2015, after posting a video online of himself climbing Dopey Duck, a 350-foot 5.9 in the Linville Gorge. The video showed him climbing not only without a rope or protection—but without shoes or clothes of any kind, save for his signature hat. Later that spring, Howell had an accident while climbing—roped—on the first pitch of the Nose on El Capitan, Yosemite. He took a fall and landed on his head on a ledge, leaving him with multiple fractured vertebrae. Howell made a full recovery, and from there took his soloing to a new level of difficulty and seriousness, writes Rock and Ice.

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