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Stanford grad student dies in Yosemite fall

Original post made on Jul 12, 2010

Stanford student and climbing enthusiast Chris Chan died Friday afternoon after falling from Yosemite's north face of Elkhorn Peak while "free soloing" about 400 feet up sheer rock wall.

Read the full story here Web Link posted Monday, July 12, 2010, 5:42 PM

Comments (78)

Posted by Mike
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Jul 12, 2010 at 5:51 pm


Posted by She died doing what she loved
a resident of Midtown
on Jul 12, 2010 at 5:57 pm

She was a friend of a couple friends of mine. While some may have a difficulty understanding why someone would take these risks, a look at her memorial tribute and web page makes it clear that she had a great passion for climbing and an enthusiasm for life.

She died doing the thing she loved most, and her passing is a huge loss but not a tragedy because she had the courage to live her dreams.

Rest in Peace, Chris. I'm sure there are some big walls in heaven just waiting for you to solo them.

Posted by Sharon
a resident of Midtown
on Jul 12, 2010 at 6:14 pm

Very sad and condolences to her family and friends.
"free soloing" is a thrill and a challenge but is unforgiving at that height-- she was clearly very competent in many areas.
There are now effective personal airbags for motorcyclists-- but they would probably limit mobility or add too much weight for free solo climbers.
Probably the same situation with an automatic parachute/para glide system.

Posted by homegirl
a resident of another community
on Jul 12, 2010 at 7:48 pm

RIP. She died doing what she loved.

Posted by Sharon
a resident of Midtown
on Jul 12, 2010 at 9:06 pm

She had a great spirit and soul--- out of interest -- as an ex free climber -- what are the engineering challenges and solutions in saving a life from a fall of 400 + feet?

The lightest system would be a parachute but from 400 ft it would not have much time to deploy-- the motorcycle personal airbag system with a a Kevlar helmet makes more sense-- but which system adds most weight --- of course having a clamp line from the top or the next step would also make sense given robust anchors.

Posted by Troubled
a resident of another community
on Jul 13, 2010 at 11:39 am

It is not OK to risk your life for any sport/entertainment. Accidental death is bad enough without adding fuel to the fire! What a tragic end to a beautiful life.

Posted by Toady
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Jul 13, 2010 at 12:15 pm

"what are the engineering challenges and solutions in saving a life from a fall of 400 + feet?"

Doesn't this question run contrary to the "thrill" of free climbing? If you're going to do that, might as well use a rope.

In any case, this may sound cruel (and to a certain extent, it is), but it's Darwin's Law proven again.

Posted by Giovanni
a resident of Crescent Park
on Jul 13, 2010 at 12:18 pm

Troubled, I've got news for you: we're all going to die no matter how safe we are. Chris wasn't risking her life but was highly trained in her sport; she's been rock climbing for years and was also an instructor. We endanger our lives every time we cross the street so perhaps we should just stay inside our houses where it's safe. But wait... our houses aren't 100% safe due to fires, gas leaks, earthquakes, floods, mold, etc... We've only got one shot at this life so it's best to fill our time doing what we love with the people we love, and giving our time to help others. I believe that's what Chris did.

Posted by Bryant Street
a resident of Midtown
on Jul 13, 2010 at 12:34 pm

I don't understand why anyone would conclude that the extra thrill of climbing without a rope was worth the risk. If what you love is the rock, the blue sky, the air, the feeling of height, the feeling of pushing yourself to climb... How is any of that diminished by doing it without a rope?

We are all of us part of a community - our family, our friends, our classmates. When someone dies, that loss to the community is irreparable. Don't we all have a responsibility to our families and friends to take care of ourselves and be responsible?

My father is a climber. If he was free climbing, I'd consider it the worst kind of irresponsibility and insult to me. If I thought he valued some thrill on the rock without a rope more than his responsibility to his family to make sure he's around for the next 30 years...

I hope people reading about Chris' accident don't make her out to be some sort of hero. It's a tragic accident. Not anything to be glorified.

My heart goes out to Chris' family. I am so, so sorry for your loss.

Posted by Vincent Chu
a resident of Stanford
on Jul 13, 2010 at 12:42 pm

Chris was a wonderful and amazing human being. Her spirit was clear to all who met her and she was an inspiration to all, especially within the Stanford climbing community. Her loss this past weekend was devastating to all of us -- all we have now are memories, but they are cherished ones. She will live on in our minds, every time we see the sun setting over the High Sierra or feel a breeze coming over a steep granite face.

To the others posting less respectful comments, let's keep this a celebration of her life and accomplishments. This isn't a debate about what risks are justified in living one's life.

Vincent Chu

Posted by cieboy
a resident of Barron Park
on Jul 13, 2010 at 1:06 pm

"what are the engineering challenges and solutions in saving a life from a fall of 400 + feet?"

That really isn't a question for a free soloist. There is no protection when one free solos otherwise it would not be the adrenaline rush it is. Free soloists live in another dimension than the rest of us mere mortals....blessings to Chris and condolences to her tribe.

Posted by robit noops
a resident of Greenmeadow
on Jul 13, 2010 at 1:56 pm

Sad passing, but she died doing what she loved and living in the moment. We should all be so lucky.

There is nothing wrong with taking risks in life. Carpe Diem.

Posted by debora villalon
a resident of another community
on Jul 13, 2010 at 2:33 pm

I'm a reporter for Channel 2, and I'm at Stanford this afternoon, hoping to talk to people who knew Chris, and the loss to your community. please give me a call, if interested, 510 874 0242 thanks

Posted by TC
a resident of another community
on Jul 13, 2010 at 3:28 pm


Posted by Big Al
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jul 13, 2010 at 3:28 pm

While free soloing is a great thrill rush-
we have ropes for a reason.
It's so easy to kill yourself in the mountains-
a little insurance policy is a good idea-
even if it doesn't sound so cool.
May she rest in peace.

Posted by Robert
a resident of another community
on Jul 13, 2010 at 5:13 pm

I can't believe what I'm hearing from some of the folks above! Last time I checked it was a free country and we all have the right to lead life as we choose. Chris chose her own path. It is no better or worse than any other. I only wish I could be brave enough to live like she did. Please take the time to read the Facebook Memorial Page to see what a positive effect Chris had on those who were lucky enough to spend time with her in this life.

Posted by Sharon
a resident of Midtown
on Jul 13, 2010 at 6:10 pm

Apparently this is only the second death from solo free climbing in Yosemite -- the first was in 1993- but how many people do it there-- plain free climbing-- with ropes only to stop falls-- is challenging enough.
This young woman had 10 + years education at the best universities-- what a tragic waste
It would make sense for climbing clubs at universities that attract the ultimate high achievers to discourage this particular style of climbing at least above 30 feet-- there is absolutely no room for error

Posted by deSitter
a resident of another community
on Jul 14, 2010 at 8:15 am

[Portion removed by Palo Alto Online staff.] Her family must have agonized every time she went out. I know, I had a clumsy girlfriend who insisted on rope climbing, which was bad enough. I can't imagine what mental process in the mind of a free climber allows them to put their loved ones in such distress again and again until the inevitable catastrophe.

Posted by Hongo
a resident of South of Midtown
on Jul 14, 2010 at 8:57 am

[Post removed by Palo Alto Online staff].

Posted by jack
a resident of Mountain View
on Jul 14, 2010 at 9:53 am

[Post removed by Palo Alto Online staff].

Posted by Tom
a resident of Barron Park
on Jul 14, 2010 at 10:11 am


Posted by Askew Campbell
a resident of another community
on Jul 14, 2010 at 10:21 am

Christina was a brilliant, extraordinary individual who excelled intellectually, physically, and musically in the most rarefied environments, yet her humble, kind, unassuming nature belied her numerous impressive accomplishments. She was loved and admired by everyone who knew her. Her loss is raw, excruciatingly painful, and monumentally tragic. Her trajectory was boundless as is the depth of this loss.

To the persons who felt it necessary to invoke Darwin and question her mental capacity and her "fitness": Next time consider your audience. Is a memorial article an appropriate forum for airing your complaints about an awkward ex or an immature parent? Christina was neither, so your comparisons are incongruous as well as tasteless. Moreover, to those who knew her (as I have for 26 years), the idea of questioning either is laughable--if we could bare to summon a laugh. Christina knew what she was doing. And, we all make mistakes. Tragically, this one was fatal.

Yes, in life, she was a hero. In death, she was human. As we all are.

Posted by Paul
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Jul 14, 2010 at 11:21 am

As I read this story, and the comments, I got a chill.

I don't free climb. I do ride a bike on roads. I ride a motorcycle - on freeways and skyline and wherever. I ski. There are probably several other things I have done in my life which had risk attached. Any of these could result in serious injury or death. Likewise driving a car on the freeway.

We all make choices, and hope they work out. Sometimes they don't, and that sucks. For us, and even more for our friends and family. I hope to not meet an untimely end like Chris did, but if I do I hope that those I care most about will realize I loved them and had no intention of inflicting sorrow. You have to live.

Posted by Arun
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Jul 14, 2010 at 11:34 am

So sorry to hear about the death of a climber in a climbing accident. I am a climber/mountaineer myself and have climbed the Eichorn Pinnacle a couple of times. It is an outstanding pillar of rock set in the high country of Tuolumne and right next to another outstanding peak, Cathedral Peak. The lure to climb it is something that only climbers and mountaineers would understand but I wish that accidents would not happen.
Some one has passed away and will be missed by her loved ones, so please respect that. There are other forums to discuss the right and the wrong (if any) of all this.
Heartfelt condolences to the family and friends.

Posted by Noel
a resident of Crescent Park
on Jul 14, 2010 at 11:40 am

I can easily imagine the joy of free climbing, unencumbered by ropes and gear. No fuss, no muss. But free climbing is like playing Russian Roulette. If you are an extremely competent climber as Chris obviously was, you may have 100 chambers in your gun, but if you do it long enough, the bullet will find you. It only takes one slip, one loose rock, one distraction or one moment's inattention.

It is sad to know our community has lost such a vibrant soul.

Posted by sue christian
a resident of another community
on Jul 14, 2010 at 11:48 am

The hateful comments above address Chris' life and accomplishments as commodities, i.e. implying a waste of all the money spent on an excellent education, or loss of some duty owed to family and friends to be alive. What nonsense. I am so inspired by Chris' life, and though never knowing her or your community, will always be touched by how she apparently lived her life to the fullest.

Posted by Kevin
a resident of Mountain View
on Jul 14, 2010 at 12:26 pm

The Chinese have an old saying, "One too many trips to the Tiger Mountain will put you face-to-face with the man-eating tiger."

What a shame. A person with such academic intelligence decided to do beyond what is reasonable and now lost everything. [Portion removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]

Rest in Peace!

Posted by Hmmm
a resident of East Palo Alto
on Jul 14, 2010 at 1:08 pm

Hmmm is a registered user.

Kevin, I find that as much as I want to respect her choices, it's hard to when one of them cost her her life and must have left so many grieving. It sounds like the lives of those who admired and loved her will be dimmer, duller and sadder without her.

Posted by Randy
a resident of Mountain View
on Jul 14, 2010 at 1:53 pm

I love sky diving.There's nothing I can compare it to.But one night with my wife and marriage of 2 years(I am 29) woke me up talking in her sleep.I never known her to talk in her sleep.She was saying "Oh my God his parachute didnt open".I didnt wake her up or mention it to her from that time forward.What I did was gradually stop skydiving,which was something I loved very much.It was a testament to me that your passion could be your love one's greatest fear and you may never know it.

Posted by Sharon
a resident of Midtown
on Jul 14, 2010 at 5:53 pm

Why do we permit this sort of climbing without any safety measures in our national parks?-- we regulate other climbing techniques-- eg you cannot use electric drills for bolt holes--- driving without a seat belt and riding a motorcycle without a helmet are illegal in California.
Sending up helicopters and rescue teams is both very dangerous to them and very expensive to the tax payers.
Free falling climbers also endanger the lives of other climbers and visitors.
Hopefully this tragedy will mean the banning of rope free climbing -- solo free climbing ---in Yosemite and other national parks ASAP.
If people want to do it they should be restricted to sites over deep water where they have a clear fall.
Stanford should stop encouraging or sponsoring- solo free climbing- they do not support other high health risk behaviors among their students-- why do they support this high risk climbing technique?

Posted by le dude
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Jul 14, 2010 at 6:07 pm

I disagree with many posters here are attempting to put some higher meaning of life to this avoidable death. [Portion removed by Palo Alto Online staff.] At what point did this woman owe a sense of responsibility to the very same society that enabled her to reach the heights of educational opportunity? This accident was 100% avoidable. Such climbing should be outlawed on State and Federal land.

Posted by She died doing what she loved
a resident of Midtown
on Jul 14, 2010 at 8:09 pm

The critics here are missing the point. First, this was not some "girl" who "owed" risk avoidance to her parents. This was a 31 year old woman, who had been self-supporting for some time and was fully capable of making her own decisions. She was also not married nor did she have children she was responsible for. This should give her wide latitude to take some risks that others might not take.

Second, I'm a duffer hiker/climber, but I've climbed to the top of Half Dome on the ladders there and I've climbed Mt. Rainier as well-- several people have died doing both of those things in the past few years. Was I "acting irresponsibly" to do these? Of course not. Climbers who understand the terrain that she was on and her overall skill understand that this was a freak accident. For a climber of her talent/skill to fall on this terrain was about as likely as a duffer like myself falling on the ladders of Half Dome. There have only been two free solo deaths in Yosemite climbing history.

I personally would urge climbers not to free solo but for this skilled climber on this terrain, it was not an irresponsible choice just a supremely unlucky one.

Chris Chan was a very talented woman who made everyone's life around her brighter. We should be honoring her memory, not tearing it down.

Posted by Sharon
a resident of Midtown
on Jul 14, 2010 at 8:29 pm

[Post removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]

Posted by Travis Penner
a resident of another community
on Jul 14, 2010 at 11:22 pm

There is no room for error in many aspects of life. The mountains require skill, focus, fitness and much more. No style of climbing is 100% safe like our litigation proof playgrounds. But climbing is still safer than competition cheer leading and rugby. Free soloing is a pure form of climbing that few have the mental and physical skills to safely do. While it may seem irresponsible or like an unnecessary risk to most. Ask your self this,what challenge in life am I willing to bet my own life I can accomplish, what am I willing to do or die trying. And if you can't find an answer find something more meaningful to do with your own life before criticizing a dead persons values, goals and lifestyle. Climbing may not be of significant monetary or cultural value to most but neither is football, NASCAR, Cheer Leading or any other sport to everyone.

Posted by Fran
a resident of Greenmeadow
on Jul 15, 2010 at 7:48 am

All I can say is there's no wonder she thought she was invincible with all the larger than life dribble dripping from these posts. Four hundred feet up in the air is roughly 40 stories up. Other sports are informally or formally regulated or both. Risk assessments are done. I'd love to see such assessments (not historical statistics) on this type of climbing before irresponsible people get on-line and start down playing the danger of it all, particularly if it's not regulated. There are plenty of young people "full of life", etc who might foolhardishly follow in this girl's footsteps and avoid common sense if such comments continually seek to silence criticism at the expense of more rational life-preserving thought (whatever happened to freedom of speech anyway?). And then I wonder if this girl were not a high achiever academically, but rather a high school drop out, would the tone be different (i.e, there goes another idiot)? A weird sort of corollary is developing here. Or is this just an elitist, ethereal sport with no room for common sense? There seems to be a pretty heavy mist of it here in many of the comments. Also odd is that the comments in papers outside of Palo Alto almost universally condemn the rationale of this sport. This does not surprise me for Palo Alto.

Posted by elo123
a resident of another community
on Jul 15, 2010 at 10:54 am

Objectively, all any parent will want is their child to be safe.

[Portion removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]

The risks here outweigh the benefits in this indulgent pursuit. A life lost not helping another or saving another life, or to die for a noble cause, to make "the ultimate sacrifice" for country, but to satisfy ego. To "live life to the fullest."

Do you find inspiration in that, or do you find inspiration in the many more people who have to "climb mountains" every day or overcome hardship just to survive everyday life.

By the way, this is not a memorial to Chris. This is a newspaper that is encouraging a forum for discussion.

Im sure she was a great person. But we can have viewpoints. Chris' view was to satisfy her own hunger for her sport. Now people around her are paying.

Posted by Josh Beck
a resident of another community
on Jul 15, 2010 at 1:24 pm

I will celebrate and cherish her infectious happiness and purity of spirit forever.

I think many would do well to remember that one of the blessings of life is that it is ours to live as we see fit. If you always choose the safest option in life you soon don't have much of a life.

She brightened so many lives and she died doing what she loved. I never knew her to judge others for how they lived their lives so I would hope the same courtesy could be afforded her, particularly at this time.

Rest in peace, Chris!

Posted by Sad
a resident of Charleston Meadows
on Jul 15, 2010 at 2:04 pm

Peer pressure at its best. What concerns me is that on one is examining the question as to whether she was in over her head in this type of activity or propelled forward by influential peers who downplayed the dangers and who now wax eloquently about her loss. The assumption is that she was truly qualified in this sport, even though it was only one of more than a few hobbies she excelled at.

Posted by BDSV
a resident of Midtown
on Jul 15, 2010 at 2:15 pm

Some people like to climb. Part of the attraction is the risk.

Some people are scared by the idea that others enjoy risk. Their fear makes them angry. You can hear these same angry (scared) people at the foot of many climbs in Yosemite and elsewhere.

[Portion removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]

Condolences to kith and kin.

Posted by Sad
a resident of Charleston Meadows
on Jul 15, 2010 at 2:28 pm

That's a pretty twisted theory that could only be drudged up in the mind of risk-taking exhibitionist--similar to the ones that go speeding down the freeway. Concern doesn't equal fear. Throwing race and gender into it is just sick. And many young people are propelled by peer pressure and fear to take unnecessary risks.

Posted by Norm
a resident of Midtown
on Jul 15, 2010 at 4:45 pm

Norm is a registered user.

I read much of the above. Few climbers in the group.

Hang-glider, "soaring" glider, racing, scuba-diving ----- Is the risk of being called "stupid" because you didn't fall far enough, fast enough, from deep enough?????????

I guess it's not dying in the right race. {{{{AND THERE IS NO ETHNIC REFERENCE INTENDED}}}}

Posted by Newt
a resident of another community
on Jul 15, 2010 at 5:33 pm

I can't believe all of the responses condemning a girl who tragically died because of an accident that occurred while she did what she loved. As an experienced climber, she knew what risks she was taking very well, and would understand that even on the easiest of terrain loose holds or sliding sand can make something easy become something out of control to even the best climber. She had to have known this, but ultimately decided to go forward anyways. I agree with another poster's comment that if you have nothing in your life you are willing to die for, find something different. Whether it is raising children, saving the environment, motorcycle racing, saving other people, or rock climbing. Otherwise when your day comes, it will be one filled with regret that your life was lived without deep personal meaning.

While I cannot accept the risks of free soloing so high personally, I do accept the risks of traditional roped free climbing, which is still a life-threatening activity. So while free soloing is not important enough to me, I feel that I can understand that passion and drive she must have possessed.

To the people crying out to ban free-soloing, ban BASE jumping, ban river kyaking, ban all rock climbing, ban motorcycles, ban smoking, ban fatty foods, ban... The greatest thing about our country is that we are free to live as we choose, banning things that pose negligible harm to others is counter to this American value. And while I may not understand why someone would want to jump off a cliff, or eat at McDonalds (in fact I think I would have to be an idiot to want to eat a diet so high in saturated fat, cholesterol, triglycerides, and sodium as so many Americans...) What is the point of keeping everyone safe and alive if it means they cannnot actually live?

The loss of Chris's life is a very sad loss indeed, and especially felt to members of the climbing community at large. But I cannot see how we can condemn someone for choosing to do something that may seem irrational to us, if to them it was important enough to risk life and limb.

I hope that her freinds and family can understand that climbing was a part of who she was at the very core of her being, otherwise she would not have risked her life for it. And although she will be missed, we can find solace in the fact that she died living. May she rest in peace and climb rocks high in a grander place now.

Posted by Tiffany
a resident of College Terrace
on Jul 15, 2010 at 6:16 pm

I completely agree with Newt - could not have said it better myself.

Posted by le dude
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Jul 15, 2010 at 8:10 pm

More ethereal, misguided muck. Somehow posters here believe living life to its fullest means living dangerously to the point of self extermination. If a mountain cliff is one's life passion rather than the so many other challenges that life can present, then there would seem to be a disconnect in this victim's tragic trajectory given her other accomplishments. For those that want to keep believing that this death is somehow softened by the context of the victim's love of the sport, I would say to them go forward and climb the same north face of Elkhorn Peak. No rope required. The problem is 99.9% of you won't because you know it's insanity. Indeed, I would even say you would have to be emotionally imbalanced to even consider it.

Posted by Nan
a resident of another community
on Jul 15, 2010 at 8:43 pm

I am not a climber, but I know a few climbers and honestly believe that these people are just born with the 'climbing gene'. There is something inside climbers which compels them to climb, seek new challenges, and constantly push their limits. These people are not like you and me, but they are exciting people who choose to take risks and seek big adventure in life. I am very saddened by the tragic death of Ms. Chan, and send my deepest condolences to her family and friends. I hope they find solace in knowing that she belonged to that rare and exciting group of people, and that she was living the life that she chose to live with vigor and enthusiasm.

Posted by Bob
a resident of Midtown
on Jul 15, 2010 at 8:56 pm

I was on the Echo Peaks 0.9 miles south of Eichorn Pinnacle Friday afternoon and saw the helicopter evacuation. A very stiff, gusty wind had come up that afternoon that could have interferred with a climber making delicate moves. This tragic accident was probably the consequence of an unforseeable combination of circumstances, and was neither careless nor irresponsible.

Posted by Evan
a resident of Charleston Meadows
on Jul 16, 2010 at 6:53 am

"There is something inside climbers which compels them to climb, seek new challenges, and constantly push their limits. These people are not like you and me, but they are exciting people who choose to take risks and seek big adventure in life."

This is the kind of garbage that gets people killed. Totally unnecessary death.

Posted by AC
a resident of another community
on Jul 16, 2010 at 6:54 am

Well said, Newt.

Posted by Sharon
a resident of Midtown
on Jul 16, 2010 at 11:26 am

There is key rule in investing, gambling and life-- risk intelligence

" Never take a bet so big that if you loose you can never take a bet again "

solo free climbers break that key rule every time they climb.

Also, when you climb with ropes you can push your limits, fail, learn and get better and seek new challenges.

Solo free climbers cannot do this as one mistake and that is it.

They cannot learn from their mistakes.

Also in falling they endanger the lives of other park users.

In the early 80s Yosemite banned BASE jumping-- for good reason

The fatal accidents were particularly gruesome for rescue workers to deal with.
The recoveries and rescues were very expensive and time consuming.
So they banned BASE, imposed criminal penalties and thousands of dollars of fines plus confiscating equipment and banning people from the park. BASE stopped in Yosemite

Currently the park is discussing charging people for the many $1000s cost of rescue if the the climber takes irrational risks.

There is nothing wrong with risk--- as long as one uses risk intelligence.

In many sports participants survive all sorts of accidents and some do not survive--- but no one ever survives falling 400 feet on to granite.
solo free climbing is fine over boulders with short drops--20 feet -- and cushion mats--- or over deep water-- there is a very good chance of survival if you fall correctly.
RIP to this young woman ---- may others learn better risk intelligence

Posted by Ed Robles
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Jul 16, 2010 at 3:40 pm

Well said Sharon. I congratulate the pilots and rescue teams and their boundless spirit in life, vigor, enthusiasm (just pick a quality described above) for having that rare quality to go pick up the pieces of such tragedies.

Posted by C.
a resident of Community Center
on Jul 16, 2010 at 3:55 pm

She was not free soloing. She was climbing down probably on talus that seems easy to most of us who are fit. The hard part of the climb was over and it seems she was simply hiking down or across. She was very safe, evident from her recent solo (with plenty of ropes) on El Capitan, Yosemite. I followed her ascent (a few weeks ago)via the El Cap Report web site. John Bachar was a free soloist who fell to his death last summer after 30 years of climbing. Michael Reardon was a free soloist struck down by a rogue wave in Ireland. Chris Chan was not. The media should not be turning this into some cautionary tale about a 30 year old who didn't settle down, have babies and a husband.

Posted by Sharon
a resident of Midtown
on Jul 16, 2010 at 4:38 pm

@ C a resident of the Community Center

If you read the report on the memorial face book by her friend, who witnessed the fall, Jim Castelaz, they were both climbing without ropes--i e free soloing.

Yosemite officials who found her body stated " It's not clear what caused the fall, but officials say Chan was climbing without ropes or safety protection."Web Link

Posted by Sharon
a resident of Midtown
on Jul 16, 2010 at 7:49 pm

Just to clarify,
From a technical point of view, Chris was at least 10 feet from the base on a vertical Norther Exposure when she fell, there is no talus, or scree, as most people call it, at that point.
The whole event is very sad, and it is important for young people to understand that solo free climbing is deadly and it should not become some heroic new fad.
We see many young climbers without helmets or ropes in Yosemite all the time-- even a small rock the size of an orange can kill you if you do not have a helmet.
Rock climbing has become much more popular because of all the gyms that have climbing walls-- many young people go into the wilderness thinking it is the same as the gym --- it is not the same--- ropes, harnesses, helmets and survival equipment are essential-- the weather can change dramatically in Yosemite very quickly and it may take rescue teams many, many hours to reach injured climbers, helicopters cannot operate in severe weather or against steep vertical walls.
Alpine clubs, like the one @ Stanford need to work to stop this dangerous new fad of solo free climbing.

Posted by Antoine
a resident of Leland Manor/Garland Drive
on Jul 17, 2010 at 11:52 am

Agreed. I'd like to know Stanford's Alpine Club's official stance on the use of safety equipment and ropes. Perhaps they have been endorsing this type of risk taking. Firm ground for a lawsuit.

Posted by Sally Fitzgerald
a resident of Palo Verde School
on Jul 17, 2010 at 3:57 pm

Rest in peace Chris, you were a lovely human being. I wish you were here.

Posted by To Bob
a resident of another community
on Jul 17, 2010 at 9:26 pm

Sounds like your possible explanation is really an excuse. Wind gusts come up fairly frequently. You said "This tragic accident was probably the consequence of an unforseeable combination of circumstances, and was neither careless nor irresponsible." Many people clearly disagree. Unforeseeable? Only to those who don't want to see the risks. Not careless or irresponsible? It depends on how you define those terms. Her loved ones are paying a heartbreaking price for her choices.

Posted by Chemist
a resident of another community
on Jul 17, 2010 at 9:34 pm

I checked out the tribute site and noticed she drank the energy drink Cobra. Wondering what risks that might have posed or created in a combination of factors that led to this tragic, albeit avoidable, death.

Posted by Frank
a resident of Monroe Park
on Jul 18, 2010 at 8:34 pm

For all of you who think that she died loving what she did, think again. The 400-foot free fall that she had to experience before coming to a crushing landing was probably terrifying and that is the way she went. Scared to death! Literally.

If she sustained a heart attack and died instantly while climbing, then I would say she died doing what she loves.

As an ex-climber, I believe solo free climbing is selfish and irresponsible to your friends and family.


Posted by Hans Perl Matanzo
a resident of Community Center
on Jul 18, 2010 at 8:51 pm

May Chris rest in peace.

Chris was a good person. I came to know her well in college and we became good friends. We kept in touch over the years. She was a very brave person willing to put all on the line in order to do what she thought was right to live a good, free life, even if it meant losing much of what may bring convenience or comfort in life.

All my love,

Hans Perl Matanzo
Cabot House 1998-2001
San Juan, Puerto Rico

Hans Perl Matanzo

Posted by JJ
a resident of Stanford
on Jul 19, 2010 at 8:37 am

Bryant I totally agree. And Fran, too. Folks, this was a preventable accident. If they had short roped (a technical climbing term that hopefully most climbers will know) she would likely be safe right now. I am a former climbing guide and I have done my share of stupid junk (not with clients) and the whole notion that she died doing what she loved is played out and cliche.

One of my best friends died "doing what he loved" and left us far too soon. If you really knew about climbing and choices, you would realize that if these people had just stopped and assessed, taken out the rope (ya, I know what a pain that is sometimes), they would probably be living. Especially if it is windy or stormy!!!

I will quote from the Yosemite Guidebook. It has always stuck with me and kept me safe numerous times. "just because you climb 5.11 doesn't mean you can fly." I climb 5.13.

Posted by Zelda
a resident of Crescent Park
on Jul 19, 2010 at 9:08 am

The Appeal:
"Soloing is the most beautiful way of climbing; no material constrains, just you and the rock, the sun, nature; a kind of school for courage, willpower and self-confidence." — Alain Robert.

The Hubris:
"The climbing and soloing aren’t worth dying for, but they are worth risking dying for."—Todd Skinner

The Reality:
"Free soloing can be deadly, even if it looks great in the photos." — From a Climbing editorial

Some Wisdom:
“My ambition was to become the best climber and I never did. I think that goal was a wrong goal. A better one is to put more emphasis on enjoyment and on getting a rounded experience and on things like friendship, rather than on sheer achievement.”—Royal Robbins

Posted by Bob
a resident of Midtown
on Jul 19, 2010 at 4:59 pm

Eichorn Pinnacle is a subsidary summit of Cathedral Peak, elev. 10,911 ft. Although the main peak is a far easier climb than Eichorn Pinnacle, it still involves an exposed fourth-class move for which most climbers use a roped belay. This summit was first climbed in 1869 by a young John Muir, alone and without rope. This foolish stunt was just one of many reckless things that Muir did in the wilderness. If he had been a prudent young man, he would have stayed on at his father's farm in Wisconsin and worked as a dutiful son, safe from the perils of wilderness, safe from being touched by the fire that transformed him and influenced attitudes toward wilderness on to the present day. Better safe than sorry.

Posted by Sharon
a resident of Midtown
on Jul 19, 2010 at 5:59 pm

Of course one feels compassion for Chan's family and close friends --- as well as the rescue workers who recovered her body. Social norms around free solo climbing need to change--- friends do not let friend drive drunk-- nor should they let friends climb free solo. These tragedies are easily avoidable with ropes and helmets, this also avoid dangers to other climbers, hikers, rescuers and helicopter pilots. Group norms among climbers created this lethal phenomenon, group norms can change it.

Posted by Sharon
a resident of Midtown
on Jul 19, 2010 at 6:52 pm

My comment got moved from the other thread-- no problem--but I want to make a link to this thread in that case.
Cathedral Peak is a very different matter depending upon which route you take--- The Mountaineers Route-- which Muir would have taken is a class 4 route, if you stay with your hands and feet on the ground and do not stand up but move slowly and crawl when needed you can do it without ropes as Muir did and it will take you a long time - as it took Muir.
Eichorn Pinnacle is a very, very different matter-- a class 5.4 to 5.9.
For that you need the best modern safety equipment-- ropes- helmet and everything else.
Muir never even thought of attempting Eichorn Pinnacle.
I used to do free climbing/not solo--- that is I used ropes etc and a helmet for safety, and one thing that became obvious quickly is why the vast majority of such climbers are men, such climbing -- in fact all climbing requires great upper body strength -- particularly to get you out of trouble---men have much more upper body strength than women--
Any sort of climbing with ropes and helmets is fun and risky-- free solo climbing is really suicidal.
There are no women in the NFL and for good reason--

The research on high risk behavior shows that it can short circuit the dopamine system and become quite addictive--learning good decision making skills and risk intelligence is a better way.

Posted by Jacob
a resident of Woodside
on Jul 20, 2010 at 10:19 am

I know people who don't climb (and especially those with with very limited climbing experience) love to harp on how dangerous it is, but the truth is its as dangerous as the climber makes it.

I've climbed where Ms. Chan died before, and let me say I didn't feel one-tenth as exposed down-climbing Eichhorn's as I do riding my bike on Page Mill Road around Foothills Park. If a bicyclist died after being hit by a car on one of this road's many blind turns, would all of these people be talking about how dangerous and stupid it to a ride a bike (which is statistically more dangerous than rock climbing)? Or how dumb it was to ride a bike in such a dangerous spot?

No, they wouldn't. People fear what they don't understand, and most people don't understand rock climbing. In doing so, they feel the need to tear down Ms. Chan by vilifying her passion as reckless or unthoughtful. So while you go on living your life of quiet desperation talking about how unthoughtful it was for Ms. Chan to do what she loves, I will go on thinking about how Ms. Chan lived her her short life to the fullest doing what she loved.

Posted by Adam
a resident of Greendell/Walnut Grove
on Jul 20, 2010 at 2:03 pm



Posted by Sharon
a resident of Midtown
on Jul 20, 2010 at 6:32 pm

I do not see the fit with riding a bicycle-- unless it is ridding a unicycle without breaks and with no helmet and a blindfold, down Page Mill Road in the rain.

Regular bicycle riders can get life insurance at reasonable rates---
solo free climbers cannot get life insurance at any price.

If they do not declare their free soloing on their insurance application and they die in a cycle accident wearing a helmet etc then their life insurance will be invalid once the fact that they solo free climb comes out.

Insurance companies know a lot about risk intelligence.

Also, if a CEO or officer of a public company were a solo free climber this would create very serious problems for the company from both investors and insurers--- the same probably applies to any company that has investors.

I am sure Stanford's lawyers are looking hard and long at Stanford's exposure through its Alpine Club at this very moment, Ms Chan was the president of the Stanford Alpine Club twice

Posted by Pele
a resident of College Terrace
on Jul 20, 2010 at 8:43 pm

Next thing you know, we will find out that the Stanford swimming team skinny-dips on the weekends, of the Physics Dept. plays around with plutonium after hours--all the while drinking Cobra, Red Bull and Rock Star energy drinks.

Posted by Jacob
a resident of Woodside
on Jul 20, 2010 at 11:03 pm

Apologies for for any nonsensical portions of of my post; it was was hastily written (much like the following).

When someone climbs, they do so in a relatively (weather) static environment. They are responsible for their own safety, and that of their partner. Unless they are climbing a particularly dangerous route (one marked R [runout, lots of space between protection], X [extremely runout], or R/X [yer gonna die]), one can set as much protection as one feels comfortable/safe with. A climbers safety rests solely in their own hands. If they are competent and have safety in mind, climbing isn't exceptionally dangerous.

When one rides a bike, they are in a constantly changing environment at the mercy of drivers. A bicyclist's safety is out of their hands. All they can do is hope that guy passing them isn't intoxicated, talking/texting on a phone, looking at their GPS, etc.

If you conduct your life through activities that life insurance corporations deem acceptable, I honestly feel sorry for you. When on Death's doorstep, I hope that you don't look back at your life and regret not living life the way you wanted. I certainly would hate myself for living life according to what a company wants me to do.

Also, if you actually look up the risk and safety sttisitics of various activities, you'll find rock climbing to actually be one of the safer activities one can engage in; climbing has an extremely strong safety culture because no one climbs to die.

Ms. chan was on a relatively easy and safe route; a route that is often a novice climber's first long (multipitch) climb. She skipped roping up on an easy descent because she felt it wasn't necessary. She paid the ultimate price for it. What climbers will take away from this is the same thing they take away from many climbing accidents: Don't skip basic safety precautions because of complacency.

Ms. Chan died doing what she loved, and didn't live her life to anyone else's guidelines. It's a shame that the world lost such a great individual.

Posted by Sharon
a resident of Midtown
on Jul 20, 2010 at 11:58 pm

If you are an officer of a company, as one of the climbers in this matter is , then you face the reality of actuarial statistics and reality-- because you are responsible for your investors well being as well as your own.
Ms Chan was not an officer of an investor company as far as we know, but she was the president of the Stanford Alpine Club-- twice-- as such she is a role model for many young students @ Stanford.

Climbing is a very different matter from solo free climbing-- without ropes helmets or any form of protection.
Re cycling-- the risks are highly regulated-- roads are constructed with that in mind, drivers are licensed, speed rules and behavior are monitored by the police etc-- there is no comparison between free solo climbing and bicycling.
A cyclist could chose to ride the wrong way on a freeway at night without lights-- is this an expression of their freedom?

In the matter of the climbers---What about the risks they put on others--such as helicopter pilots and rescuers? up until now tax payers pay for these efforts to the $ 10,000s for each event.

As the event occurred on Federal land then Federal agencies will conduct the investigation into this tragic death-- we will know more when they publish their report and evidence.

Posted by Jacob
a resident of Woodside
on Jul 21, 2010 at 12:14 pm

Get off the insurance horse. Climbing is a safe activity. Unless you are an 'officer' of one of these companies and can produce some super secret actuarial risk assessment, it really just seems like you are trying to justify some absurd mindset.

Riding a bike on a freeway at without lights is a completely invalid comparison, so don't even try to justify it. She forewent basic safety protocol in an activity that involves risk; e.g. wearing a reserve parachute skydiving, not using condoms, not wearing a seatbelt, etc. She didn't do anything suicidal.

A few of my friends are Yosemite Search and Rescue, and I can tell you that their job is about half and half SAR for climbers and hikers, and also about half and half body recovery and rescue between the two. So unless you want to talk about costs incurred to the tax payer by hikers and the danger they face (have you hiked to the top of Half Dome?), you might want to get off that horse too.

'Federal agencies' will not conduct investigations. The Yosemite Rangers will issue an accident report, mostly based on what her partner and nearby climbers say. I can already tell you the cause: Failure to place adequate protection, Failure to utilize climbing rope, etc. In short, complacency. Ms. Chan was a role model in life, and he will be in death too. No one who knew her will become more inclined to free solo after her death.

Posted by sharon's postings explained
a resident of Stanford
on Jul 21, 2010 at 12:18 pm

[Post removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]

Posted by Sharon
a resident of Midtown
on Jul 21, 2010 at 1:44 pm

@ Jacob

There a clear difference between climbing and solo free climbing.

Climbers can get life insurance solo free climbers cannot get life insurance.
Insurance companies base their assessment of risk on objective evidence and data.

There is nothing wrong with hiking and climbing, they are healthy sports --- but if a hiker climbs over a barrier in Yosemite and needs to be rescued they will be charged for the rescue under current policy--they will be judged as having taken excessive life threatening risk.
In Denali National Park climbers have been charged for the costs of rescues when they have taken unreasonable and life threatening risks.

Solo free climbing is by its very nature a life threatening and unreasonable risk--- the President of the Stanford Alpine Club is a role model for students and they have special responsibilities to model safe behavior.
Like wise a CEO or officer of a Corporation could be in serious trouble if they solo free climb--- they have a legal and fiduciary responsibility to investors and the corporations insurers.

Again-- climbing is fine--- solo free climbing is not and the tragic death of this young woman, Ms Chan , will hopefully deter others from the practice of solo free climbing.

Posted by sharon's postings explained
a resident of Stanford
on Jul 21, 2010 at 2:00 pm

"The research on high risk behavior shows that it can short circuit the dopamine system and become quite addictive--learning good decision making skills and risk intelligence is a better way. "
Can you provide some links to this claim?

"I am sure Stanford's lawyers are looking hard and long at Stanford's exposure through its Alpine Club at this very moment, Ms Chan was the president of the Stanford Alpine Club twice"
Please keep as informed as to the Stanford lawyer's decision.

"As the event occurred on Federal land then Federal agencies will conduct the investigation into this tragic death-- we will know more when they publish their report and evidence. "
Please let us know when the report is published.

Posted by Sharon
a resident of Midtown
on Jul 21, 2010 at 6:33 pm

@ Jacob

As you know NPS employees are Federal employees so the investigation will be a Federal investigation.
As you are a climber, how do you propose discouraging young climbers from taking lethal risks like solo free climbing?

As you know young people often feel they are invincible-- they are not

Apparently Ms Chan has no dependents-- those with dependents should realize that engaging in solo free climbing will invalidate any life insurance policies they may have even if they die from other accidents, life insurance companies will examine claims in minute detail.
I feel we are on the same side of the table in supporting safe climbing-- and hiking-- if the enthusiast do not take the initiative re safety then the sport will be supervised by lawyers-- which neither of us wants-- I believe.

Again climbing is a wonderful sport-- but it has a fringe element-- if climbers do not take the initiative in supporting best practices then a few more incidents like Ms Chan's will mean the loss of freedom for all climbers.

Posted by stan morgo
a resident of another community
on Jul 27, 2010 at 10:11 am

she was quite a climber and reached heights that most will never know.

Posted by Rob G
a resident of another community
on Jul 24, 2013 at 12:15 pm

I have a picture of Christina at the bridge the day after she soloed Zodiac. The exposure is wrong, so it is grainy, but if her parents would like it, my email is [email protected]

Posted by aznnico
a resident of Mountain View
on Feb 22, 2014 at 4:15 am

[Post removed.]

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