On Friday, March 6, Nolan Smythe, a climber and BASE jumper based out of Moab, Utah, lost his life in an accident on the nearly 3,000-foot wall of El Gigante, near Basaseachic Falls National Park, Chihuahua, Mexico.
Sasha DiGiulian broke the news on Saturday, March 7, via an Instagram post consisting of simple white text on a plain black background: “On Friday, March 6, one of our team members who was climbing and rigging with Aaron Livingston on El Gigante, Mexico, died in a terrible, unpredictable accident. Nolan Smythe was climbing on pitch 14 or 28 when a ledge that he was resting on broke beneath him. This caused him to fall, and the rock fall cut his rope. He continued to fall from approximately 1500 vertical feet.”
Smythe was the partner of climber and photographer Savannah Cummins, who received the news on Friday evening via a text from Livingston. On Instagram, Cummins wrote in a post partially addressed to her late boyfriend, “I got a text from Aaron at 830pm that rock cut your rope and you fell to the ground, I’m a pretty logical person and immediately said ‘my boyfriends dead’ out loud. It didn’t register, I said it again, and again, and again. And it still didn’t hit me. I thought maybe Aaron was joking, I responded to the inreach text saying ‘are you joking’ but quickly realized that’s not a prank the boys would ever pull on me.”
Livingston was stranded on the wall after Smythe’s fall. The Mexican climbers Tiny Almada & Jose David “Bicho” Martinez rescued him, rappelling in to Livingston’s location from the top of the wall. The trio spent the wee hours of Saturday morning camped out on top of El Gigante, before making the several hour journey, first trekking, then driving, back to town.
A GoFundMe, organized by Heather Lightfoot, has been set up to aid Smythe’s family and Cummins with the costs of recovering the body and the aftermath of the accident. The page reads, “A team will be heading into the mountains to retrieve Nolan and bring him safely home. Nolan’s family, Richard, Daidri & Ryan Smythe and beloved girlfriend Savannah and joined in Mexico with the support of friends: Angela Vanwiermeersch, Kiersa Koepnick, Sasha DiGiulian & Jordanna Weimer. Big thank you to the local military and locals who are helping with retrieval efforts.”
Smythe was an accomplished climber and base jumper. In an interview featured in a 2017 short film about a new exit he opened outside of Moab, Utah, Smythe said that, as of filming, he had pioneered about 15 base jumping exits and done nearly 150 base jumps in total.
Smythe’s death comes just a few months after Brad Gobright died in an accident while descending from El Sendero Luminoso, El Potrero Chico, Mexico.
A separate remembrance of Smythe will be published in the coming weeks.