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A Climber We Lost: Angela Heinz

Each January we post a farewell tribute to those members of our community lost in the year just past. Some of the people you may have heard of, some not. All are part of our community and contributed to climbing.


You can read the full tribute to Climbers We Lost in 2022 here.

Angela Heinz, 24, August 20

In just 24 quick years, Angela Heinz seemed to acquire a century’s worth of wisdom. She boiled this wisdom down into simple mantras and shared these with loved ones, encouraging them to live fuller lives. Among her lines were: You can’t live in the world by staying inside; Do something fun, do something for yourself, do something out of your comfort zone; Cheers to your journey; and, her favorite motto, Live immediately.

And live immediately she did. Angela was never one to sleep in or pass the opportunity for an adventure. When she was introduced to rock climbing in college, she took to it instantly, entranced by the presence of mind that climbing demands. 

Angela died in the Black Hills, South Dakota, her local climbing area, in August 2022. She was hanging out at the base of the cliff when a rock dislodged from above and hit her in the head, causing a brain hemorrhage. She passed away after being airlifted to the Rapid City hospital. 

Angela grew up on a farm in South Dakota and was the youngest of four children. Her three older siblings were overprotective of the little one, which predictably backfired and instilled in Angela a sense of independence, an insistence that she be allowed to experience life on her own terms. They traveled often as a family to places like Mexico and Alaska, planting the travel bug in Angela at a young age. Angela’s mother, Lorie, took her hiking and skiing as a child where her love of adventure and the outdoors began to blossom.

(Photo: Courtesy of Keanu Phumipraphat)

“If I was going somewhere she was bound and determined to come with me, even if she had to miss work or school,” said Lorie. “I took her out of school a lot because she would learn more going places and traveling than she would in school.”

Angela was a star athlete, earning 24 track and field medals—the winningest track athlete in South Dakota to date. She placed in every event she entered, and attended the championships every year. She also taught herself how to play guitar and sing, and she was constantly making photographs or drawing mountainscapes. Angela studied graphic design in college and was working in that field at the time of her death.

“When the girl put her mind to something she was determined like no other,” Lorie said. “Whatever she did she did it well.”

Once she discovered climbing, Angela channeled her athleticism, determination, and endless supply of passion into the sport. She fell in love with the community and the wild landscapes that climbing takes us to. After graduating from college, she moved to Rapid City, South Dakota to be closer to the Black Hills.

(Photo: Courtesy of Keanu Phumipraphat)

Angela wrote in a blog post about climbing in the Black Hills: “This area is nothing short of spectacular: the scenic drives, wildlife, and endless hiking trails. And my absolute favorite, Spearfish Canyon, which is a gorgeous canyon lined with steep slopes capped by bands of limestone. The rock quality tends to get better further up the canyon possessing some of the best stone you’ll find anywhere.”

In that same blog post she lists off a few reasons why she climbs, among them: “To see the sunrise before it does; to challenge my mental capacity; to avoid the hum-dum dilly dally life; and most importantly, the people.”

Angela forged powerful friendships within the Black Hills climbing community. One of these friends was Keanu Phumipraphat, who offers an insightful description of Angela: “We use the term ‘larger than life’ so often in today’s day and age, but quite frankly I couldn’t think of a better way to describe her. She was always so energetic and had such a keen eye for the beauty in life. She had a mindset of tranquility that transcended so many of us her age. She was the kind of person that impacted every single person she met, even if it were a one time deal.”

(You can find Phumipraphat’s video tribute for Angela at the bottom of this page.)

When Angela was young, Lorie said, she was Lorie’s little sidekick. But as she grew older, the roles reversed. Angela was always insisting that they go hiking or kayaking together. She even took her mother climbing in the Black Hills to give her a glimpse into that world. 

(Photo: Courtesy Keanu Phumipraphat)

“She taught me a lot of things about life,” Lorie said. “She loved genuinely and never judged anyone. She taught me to treat people decent, always saying things like: ‘You never know what they’re going through.’ She taught me to be adventurous and, regardless of how much work I had, to always make time to get out in nature.”

Angela emanated a profound excitement and gratitude for life that was felt by everyone around her. On family vacations growing up, she used to wake everyone up pre-dawn so that they could watch the sunrise. In her 24 years, she certainly didn’t waste any time. 

“To wrap this all up,” Keanu said, “Angela carried around a light within her that I could only ever aspire to have within me. And she radiated it with so much joy and passion that it impacted many people that knew her. I like to think the world became a better place thanks to her. She’ll be missed, but I know her memory will live on through her catch phrase to Live Immediately.”

—Bennett Slavsky

You can read the full tribute to Climbers We Lost in 2022 here.