for National Geographic Adventure magazine
Renowned Swedish adventurer Göran Kropp, 35, fell to his death September 30 while climbing a popular route on the Frenchmen Coulee, in central Washington State. Kropp was ascending the Air Guitar route near the town of Vantage when he fell 75 feet onto a rock shelf. All of his climbing protection, save one piece, ripped from the crack. The local coroner's office reported that he died of severe head injuries.
Göran (pronounced YOU'RE on) Kropp became a worldwide celebrity following his epic 1996 bicycle journey from his native Sweden to Nepal. He biked 7,000 miles, summited Everest without oxygen, then rode his bicycle home to Sweden again. Often referred to as the Crazy Swede, Kropp was recently called "the most entertaining adventurer on Earth" in a feature profile in National Geographic Adventure magazine ["The World According to Kropp," May 2002].
Since 1996, the Swedish adventurer had toured the world as a motivational speaker, climbed the 26,291-foot Shishapangma, summited Everest a second time, launched a failed assault on the North Pole, and had begun planning for several large-scale expeditions. Kropp relocated from Sweden to Issaquah, Washington, earlier this year with his fiancée, Swedish mountain guide Renata Chlumska.
Early this fall, Kropp had agreed to spend a day climbing with Erden Eruc, a devoted fan from Seattle whom he had met at a presentation a year before. Last Monday morning, Kropp met Eruc at the Frenchmen Coulee, a popular climbing spot. Because Kropp hadn't spent much time in the area, Eruc offered to belay (secure the climbing rope) for the day, according to a written report the climber prepared after the accident.
"Göran said he felt challenged," Eruc said of the Swedish adventurer's first few climbs that morning. "We talked about how we should go on a Yosemite road trip to get him to become a crack-climbing expert."
After Kropp had made a few ascents, the duo turned their attention to the Air Guitar crack, a moderately difficult, 5.10a ascent on the Sunshine Wall. Matt Stanley, a senior editor at Climbing magazine and author of a guidebook for the Frenchmen Coulee, said setting a route on Air Guitar can be tricky. The crack is composed of basalt that is sometimes flaky in places.
According to Eruc's report, Kropp had ascended most of the route and reached the final difficult section of the climb when he fell. Eruc heard commotion above and realized Kropp was falling. In what he describes as a quick sequence, Eruc saw the first piece of protection pull out, felt the rope go slack, then ducked and pulled to take in the rope. He heard the impact of Kropp's fall onto a small rock shelf just behind him. Kropp was lying on his back, helmet shattered. Eruc descended and found that Kropp had no pulse and was bleeding heavily from his ears and nose. "I have no doubt that he died on first impact," he wrote in the accident report. Only one piece of protection was left in the crack.
Falls like Kropp's, in which multiple pieces of protection fail, are unusual but not unheard of, according to Stanley. Careful positioning of protection pieces and increasing slack in the general system can lessen the odds of the occurrence, which is known as "zippering." Paul Detrick, a local climber who has frequented the area for ten years, returned to the Air Guitar crack Tuesday night and recovered a broken carabiner still secured to the basalt. Detrick speculates that once this piece broke, Kropp was falling too fast to be held by the protection below.
Kropp's fame as a mountaineer had fueled in recent years a growing reputation as a captivating motivational speaker. "It is not just that he stood up there and chronicled his events," said his friend, American Kaj Bune, "He was able to communicate what is in the soul of a human being to go out and seek adventure. He was the greatest, brightest light the world of adventure may ever know."
Kropp's future expedition plans surpassed even his prior achievements in ambition. He and Chlumska were planning a 10,850-mile kayaking and hiking circumnavigation of the continental United States that would start from their home in Washington. After that, Kropp planned to sail alone from Seattle to Antarctica, ski unsupported to the South Pole and back, and then sail home again.
Kropp is survived by his parents, Gerard and Sigrun, of Sweden, as well as his fiancée and business partner Renata Chlumska, who was leading a trek to Everest Base Camp at the time of Kropp's death.
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