Enjoy unlimited access to Climbing’s award-winning features, in-depth interviews, and expert training advice. Subscribe here.
“Get down! Get down!” Sam Clairmont, a 22-year-old Utah climber, yelled from 10 feet below his friends. He could hear the shots and see that they were getting closer to Anna Stump, a 21-year-old University of Utah student, and his 25-year-old brother, Chris Clairmont, both at the end of their rope after simul-rapping to the third-pitch belay ledge on Pentapitch, a five-pitch 5.8 two miles up the south side of Little Cottonwood Canyon. They jumped off the last section of the rappels as eight bullets hit the wall around them. The three climbers crouched behind small boulder, and after more shots, called the police.
The three climbers were part of a group of seven different climbers who were shot at on Monday, August 28. At 6:15 p.m., two or three people shot at the Pentapitch area climbers from a pullout in the canyon. Police are still looking for the shooters and have few leads on the suspects.
A few hundred feet away from the Clairmont brothers and Stump, Nate Lamb, a 24-year-old from Draper, was pulling a little roof on the 5.9 third-pitch crux of Stifler’s Mom, a six-pitch 5.11a, while Brandon Wilde, a 24-year-old from Draper, Utah, belayed. Climbing 10 feet above his last gear placement, Nate thought the shots were fireworks until five or six bullets ricocheted off the granite just 10 feet away. Wilde turned to see two or three people jump into a green sedan, at a turn-out off the main canyon road a mile away. The car charged off down the canyon.
“We paused for a second and I saw the car drive off, so Nate continued to climb and finish off the pitch while I looked behind me to make sure the car wasn’t coming back,” Wilde said. After Wilde followed and cleaned the pitch, the pair bailed, rappelling to the ground.
In the meantime, Stump and the Clairmont brothers talked to the police on their cellphones. After the climbers stayed crouched under rocks for about 30 minutes, the police informed them that they were entering the canyon and that Stump and the Clairmonts should rappel down to the base.
“We were exposed the whole time,” Stump said. “Thankfully, we’re all good under pressure. A climber’s head is used to that anyways. It was definitely scary, but we knew what we had to do and we did it.”
Nearby, Michal Vavrik, a 34-year-old Park City resident, and Nathan Gordon, a 34-year-old from Salt Lake City, were climbing on Sasquatch, a 90-foot 5.9+ variation of Pentapitch.
Stump and the Clairmonts passed them while rappeling down to report to the police. Vavrik and Gordon decided to continue climbing anyway, despite the shooting incident.
“Something like that briefly changes your perspective on risk and consequences, so the idea of a small fall on something like Sasquatch doesn’t seem so bad at the time,” Vavrik said.
In 2002, the Salt Lake Climber’s Alliance (SLCA) began removing gang graffiti from the boulders in Little Cottonwood Canyon. Climbers on local Facebook groups and forums are now wondering if the graffiti removal triggered a turf war between climbers and gang members. Last October, an unknown assailant smashed off holds on 20 different boulder problems, including the famous Twisted (V4) and Lance’s Dihedral (V6) in the Secret Garden area. No one was ever charged with the vandalism.
“The interface between the urban city and the national forest is the base of LCC,” said SLCA board member Tommy Chandler, “and we are seeing a rise in vandalism and crime as our population increases.” The SLCA has been working on finding better ways to secure or protect the climbing areas, but these could come with a possible fee, which some climbers also protest.
The climbers were all shaken. Stump hasn’t been able to sleep the past few nights. She keeps hearing the bullets whizzing past her head.
“[But] if we let them know that we’re afraid, it’s kind of like letting them win,” she said. “Having that tranquility be so disturbingly violated is something I’m having the hardest time with because now, when I think of climbing outside, my first thought isn’t that I’m going to my safe haven, it’s that I’m going to a wall that make me an easy target.” Added Stump, “That being said, I’m still going to climb.”