Updated August, 30, 2021
A 30-year-old-climber from Durahm, North Carolina died in a rock climbing accident at Pilot Mountain State Park. The climber, Miriam Cho, was climbing at the popular crag near Winston-Salem with a partner on Monday, August 23 when the incident happened.
Miriam Cho was a project coordinator at Duke University as well as a freelance writer and editor. She had an accomplished academic background that included a recent master’s of divinity degree from Duke Divinity School. She is remembered by friends and family as being a fun, thoughtful, and hardworking person.
According to reports, Cho was climbing at one of the tallest crags in the park with some routes exceeding around 100 feet (31 m) in height. The climbing team was at a crag near the park’s south side parking lot when Cho fell approximately 90 feet (27 m) to the ground from the top of a climb.
The Charlotte Observer notes that a park ranger was dispatched to the incident within minutes and began performing CPR, but resuscitation attempts were unsuccessful. However, while Pilot Mountain State Park is one of the more popular climbing destinations in the region, the last climbing fatality at the park was in 2012.
As of the time of writing, there is relatively little information available about the circumstances surrounding Cho’s fall.
While local news outlets have been quick to highlight the dangers of rock climbing, the reality is that rock climbing fatalities are, thankfully, relatively rare.
The 2020 edition of Accidents in North American Climbing reported a total number of 1,744 climbing-related fatalities in the US from 1951 to 2019. Even though this likely doesn’t account for all incidents as it only includes fatalities reported to the American Alpine Club, this works out to an average of 27 climbing deaths per year in the US—a low figure given the hundreds of thousands of people in the US who climb recreationally.
Without more detailed information about the circumstances surrounding Cho’s fall, it’s difficult to speculate what caused the fall. Potential hazards at the top of a climb include rappelling and lowering-related accidents or a slip and fall from an exposed area on a walk-off descent.
Regardless of what caused this fatality on August 23, climbers should remember that the descent off a route warrants just as much attention and focus as the ascent. Remember to double-check your knots and systems before rappelling and always communicate with your climbing partners about your descent plans before you leave the ground.