WWU student dies in Methow Valley climbing accident

Goat Wall, a landmark within the Arrowleaf property in the Methow Valley in Washington is shown in this undated file photo.
Goat Wall, a landmark within the Arrowleaf property in the Methow Valley in Washington is shown in this undated file photo. AP

A Western Washington University student died in a Memorial Day climbing accident near Mazama, on the eastern side of the North Cascades.

Shelby Withington, 20, from Seattle, was climbing on Goat Wall with three other men about 9:15 a.m. Monday when he fell about 500 feet, Okanogan County Coroner Dave Rodriguez told the Wenatchee World newspaper.

Withington was a member of WWU’s climbing team, the newspaper reported. Three members of the climbing group are team members, but it was not a team event, Rodriguez said.

Friends began leaving condolence messages almost immediately on social media.

“Rest easy, buddy,” wrote syd_blosch on Withington’s page “projectshelb” at the photo-sharing app Instagram.

“A light in many people’s lives,” wrote fuego_padre.

“Doesn’t feel real. Thank you for being you. Til we meet again,” wrote molly_schwartz.

Withington’s account at LinkedIn, a business-networking site, said he started Western in 2016. His account at the social-networking site Couchsurfing said he graduated from Seattle Academy, a college-prep high school, with the Class of 2015.

“Before attending university I’m following my calling to travel the world and climb mountains everywhere I can,” he wrote. “I’m a big outdoors enthusiast. I love climbing, mountaineering, backpacking, hiking and any other kind of outdoor adventure (except hunting). Exploring and meeting new people is a very important part of life to me. I also sing, do LGBTQ youth support and love the theater.”

Goat Wall is a 1,500-foot rock face that rises steeply above the Methow River northeast of Winthrop, according to the North Cascades Mountain Guides website. It’s composed of metamorphized sedimentary rock and is “supremely climbable,” the website said.

Its summit offers climbers a commanding view of the Methow Valley and North Cascades. Its degree of difficulty for sport climbers is moderate, with a few tougher sections, according to the NCMG website.

Rodriguez said Withington fell as he and another climber were in a rapid descent called a “simul rappel” – when two climbers rappel simultaneously, counterbalancing each other.

Withington died on impact, Rodriguez said.

Okanogan County search and rescue crews climbed into the spot and met the crew of a Navy helicopter, who helped retrieve his body, the World reported.

Rodriguez said it’s the third climbing fatality on Goat Wall in the past decade.

Robert Mittendorf: 360-756-2805, @BhamMitty