AUSTIN (KXAN) — Austin resident Alex Parker and his girlfriend were out for a four mile, post-work hike Tuesday evening. On mile 3 of their loop, they noticed crowds gathered near a stretch of rock walls, the peaks of which extended above the skyline.
That’s when Parker noticed an Austin-Travis County EMS helicopter circling overhead. Paired with an estimated 20 to 25 emergency personnel from ATCEMS and Austin Fire Department trailing around, he realized then there had been a serious accident.
According to ATCEMS, witnesses said CPR was being administered to the person while ATCEMS tried to locate them. ATCEMS said when it did make contact with the patient, they did not have a pulse. Medics were trying to resuscitate them.
Following his death, the investigation was passed over to the Austin Police Department. Officials have not yet identified the man, as of Wednesday evening.
“We were like, talking to people and we, we asked them, we were like, ‘Okay, so what? Like, you know, what happened’?” he said. “And some people said, they were like, you know, they were just hanging out there, and they saw this guy, like, kind of just like, you know, like, free climbing up on the rock face….and like, some people said they saw him fall.”
Parker is no stranger to rock climbing himself, and enjoys the occasional trip out on the greenbelt. But he expressed caution over people free climbing without equipment attached, especially when they’re out alone.
And Parker isn’t alone in his concerns. Randy Judycki is a certified rock climbing guide, with more than 35 years of experience. He works with newcomers and seasoned climbers alike, guiding people as local as Enchanted Rock to as intensive of climbs as those found at Yosemite National Park.
As Austin settles into its triple-digit summer temperatures and more residents seek refuge in the great outdoors, the greenbelt is a common destination for summer swims, hikes and climbs. But alongside the potent heat Austin is known for comes adverse climbing conditions that can prove deadly when improperly handled.
“What happens is it gets — because the dewpoint is so high, and humidity is high, grabbing onto limestone feels really, real slick,” Judycki said. “And so using chalk, white gymnastics chalk on their hands to keep their hands dry too as they climb, because the humidity is so extreme.”
For people new to the sport, Judycki stressed the need for professional training to learn the craft in a safe and well-informed environment. Having someone leading the way helps to ensure beginners are well-versed on key safety protocols and proper form, as well as protected in the event of an emergency.
“That’s the biggest thing that I teach when I teach instructors to be instructors, is that somebody’s got to be in charge,” he said. “And when it’s a bunch of friends, really nobody is in charge.”
He also strongly urged those getting into rock climbing to invest in new, proper equipment to ensure they know the strength and durability of the things they’re climbing with. While secondhand shoes aren’t discouraged, Judycki said harnesses and related protective equipment needs to be purchased new to ensure their effectiveness.
But these safety tips don’t only apply to newcomers to the sport. Even for seasoned climbers, he said people should always be aware of their environment and climb with at least another person for optimal safety.
“As experienced climbers, take a look around you and make sure that people around you are being safe and managing the risk so it doesn’t ruin your day,” he said.