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18-Year-Old Dies in 90-Foot Fall Her Second Time Climbing

Asked to clean the route, the beginner probably unclipped herself from the anchors by accident, climbers said after the incident.

Cherokee Rock Village, AlabamaAn 18-year-old died climbing on Saturday in Alabama's Cherokee Rock Village; (photo/Juan Alberto Garcia Rivera)
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A climbing accident in Alabama on Saturday led to the death of a first-year student from the University of Georgia.

Yutung “Faye” Zhang was climbing with a group of friends at Alabama’s Cherokee Rock Village when she fell 90 feet to her death, according to a statement from the Cherokee County Coroner’s Office. She died about 12 p.m., and the incident remains under investigation.

“The coroner’s office wishes to thank all of the many first responders that assisted in the lengthy and difficult recovery process,” coroner Paul McDonald said in a statement.

The accident resulted in a lengthy conversation on Mountain Project, where climbers continue to discuss what happened. It appears that Zhang may have accidentally unclipped herself from anchors during the day’s final climb. Cherokee Rock Village, shown below, is a popular climbing local crag where many beginners learn the basics.

Local Climbers ‘Gutted and Lost’

Zhang’s belayer, June C., called it a “tragic accident” and that “none of our party really knows how it happened.” The belayer explained that they had asked Zhang to remove a carabiner from the top of the route before being lowered back to the ground.

“Between all of us, we have decades of climbing experience,” June C. wrote. “In our eyes, this was routine and one of the safest things we could ask of a relatively new climber. At the same time, I know all of us are kicking ourselves for asking her to do anything at all, and we, of course, would rather someone else go up and get the gear or just leave it there, but that’s just not what happened.

“We’ve all been thinking about what we could or should have done differently or how this could have been a safer experience. Of course, we can’t change anything that’s happened, and we’re all gutted and lost.”

Zhang’s father, Pingchuan Zhang, also added a comment, saying it was his daughter’s second time climbing outdoors.

“Thanks for all of the prayers,” he wrote. “Faye texted us on Saturday morning — ‘Person organizing trip cooked delicious breakfast.’  She is 18, a freshman from UGA foundation fellowship.”

In rock climbing, backup safety gear is often removed by the last person to climb a given route. However, that’s usually a job for an experienced climber — not a beginner. To understand why, check out this video from Karsten Delap, an IFMGA Mountain Guide, who explains what likely happened to Zhang on Saturday.

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