**See story from the print version of the newspaper for the most up-to-date information: Climber dies in fall from Goat Wall near Mazama**


By Ann McCreary

A 26-year-old Seattle man died Tuesday (May 3) after falling more than 100 feet while climbing Goat Wall near Mazama, according to the Okanogan County Sheriff’s Office.

It appears that the fall resulted when a knot tying two climbing ropes together came undone, said Steve Brown, chief criminal deputy with the sheriff’s office.

The sheriff’s office identified the victim as Ryan Kautz. Brown said Kautz was an experienced climber and was climbing with two other experienced climbers from Seattle, Keith Erps and Matt Jackson, on a multi-pitch sport route on Goat Wall called Prime Rib of Goat.

“Weather came in and the three retreated, rappelling off the route down the designated rappel route,” Brown said in a release Wednesday (May 4).

According to an account provided to the sheriff’s office by Jackson and Erps, Erps had rigged all of the rappels down to the second-to-last rappel anchor.

“The team’s rappel consisted of a twin rope rappel which entailed tying the ends of two identical ropes together with a backed up figure eight knot. One of the ropes is then threaded through the anchor and a full-length double rope rappel is achieved,” Brown said in the press release.  “This provides a much faster descent as they end up rappelling a full rope length of 70 meters per rappel station.”

Erps became fatigued from leading many of the pitches and then managing ropes on the rappel, Brown said. At the second-to-last anchor, Kautz took over and rigged the rappel at about 3:30 p.m., Brown said.

Jackson and Erps told sheriff’s deputies they trusted Kautz to rig the rappel because he had “instructed this sort of thing with Outward Bound.”

A spokesperson for Outward Bound, however, said there is no record that Kautz worked for the organization.

Erika Halm, Washington program director for the Northwest Outward Bound School based in Mazama, said Thursday (May 5) that she checked to determine if Kautz had been an instructor after learning of the accident.

She said she found no records indicating that Kautz was ever employed at the Northwest school, or at any other Outward Bound school in the country. 

Jackson was in position to see Kautz put himself on belay then pull down and check the function of the rappel device with a personal arrest system still in place, Brown’s release said.

Jackson watched as Kautz began his rappel. He had rappelled about 5 meters when Jackson and Erps said they heard a loud snap and Kautz and the rope fell. Jackson told deputies that Kautz struck two ledges before he fell into a gully out of sight of Jackson and Erps, Brown said. It was estimated that the fall was more than 100 feet.

With no rope, Erps and Jackson were trapped at their location with no way down and no working cell phone. While they were stranded, the two climbers tried to communicate with Kautz.

“Finally they saw Kautz move into view. It is unknown if he crawled or slid, but Jackson and Erps yelled down at him to hold still,” Brown said.

About an hour and a half later, a climbing party above the trapped pair — including local climbing expert Scott Johnston, who developed the Prime Rib of Goat route — was rappelling off of the route and helped the trapped climbers down. Erps immediately ran to the approach trail and contacted a passerby to call 911, and the call was made at about 5:25 p.m., Brown said.

Jackson stayed by Kautz to try to help him. A search and rescue team from the sheriff’s office was dispatched immediately and a Navy helicopter with the Whidbey Island Naval Air Station search and rescue was on the scene by 7:30 p.m., Brown said. Kautz was dead when rescuers arrived, Brown said.

The helicopter transported Kautz and search and rescue team members to a landing zone where they met with county coroner Dave Rodriguez, Brown said.

Search and rescue team member Ottis Buzzard, an experienced climber who is also an Okanogan County Sheriff’s deputy, examined the climbing equipment at the scene including the ropes, harness and rappel device. All were found to be in good condition, Brown said.

“It did appear that the knot tying the two ropes together had come untied, causing Kautz to fall,” Brown said.

Goat Wall is a popular climbing area at the west end of the Methow Valley.