Rock climbing was what Cody Byers Long lived for.
The 24-year-old Fresno man quit his job last fall so he could climb more, said mother Stacey Byers-Richardson, and he wore the same T-shirt — proudly displaying a logo for his favorite climbing gym — printed in different colors for each day of the week.
Jan. 25 started with a climbing trip, like any other Sunday for the young man, who went by Cody Byers. But that afternoon, the unthinkable happened. Byers fell between 400 and 500 feet while rappelling down the face of Royal Arches, a climb near the Ahwahnee Hotel in Yosemite Valley.
His climbing partner that day, Eric Swanson, called 9-1-1 from the side of the cliff after seeing his friend fall about 50 feet below him.
“Somehow he became detached from the rope,” said the 26-year-old from Fresno. “He was always very safe. … He’d always check his knots (that attach the rope to the climbing harness), compare with his climbing partner, have his climbing partner double check him. … I don’t know how he let this one slip by.”
His mother is doing her best to cope.
“Horrible accidents happen, but at least he was doing what he loved,” Byers-Richardson said. “If there is any comfort in all that, that’s the only thing I can think of.”
Standing by her son’s passion for climbing, she’s told his friends: “Make sure you continue climbing. Whatever you do, don’t give it up because he’d be very pissed at you.”
Swanson agrees with the assessment, recalling his friend’s favorite expression: “Quit being a baby and climb the rock.”
Byers’ rough-around-the-edges encouragement wasn’t gentle, but it was motivational.
“He made you want to be a better climber for sure,” Swanson said. “He was one of those people who pushed you to be better.”
And climbing trips with Byers were memorable and fun, Swanson said. “He’d always crack jokes and make you laugh while climbing.”
But Byers wasn’t always climbing.
He was also a student studying computer-aided drafting and design at Fresno City College. He had a job lined up in his field at a Clovis company upon graduation in May.
Byers previously worked at Bodek and Rhodes, a clothing supply and distribution company in Fresno. He quit in November to climb more and focus on his education, supported by funds he received for serving in the U.S. Army after graduating from Duncan Polytechnical High School in east-central Fresno.
His mother said he was honorably discharged after about a year and half for a technicality: He couldn’t do situps.
But Byers could do pull ups — lots of them.
Byers started avidly climbing about two and a half years ago after returning home from the Army. After seeing an advertisement for free registration for veterans at MetalMark Climbing & Fitness, he became a regular at the indoor climbing gym in east-central Fresno.
“I work 30 to 40 hours a week and he was probably here more than me,” said Danny Suvanto, 23, who works at the gym.
Suvanto said Byers hassled fellow climbers in a loving way. Suvanto admired his “authenticity.” “He would not sugar-coat anything.”
“He would let you know if you made a mistake but he’d always be there for you,” Suvanto said. “He’d give the shirt off his back for you.”
And at the urging of a climbing friend, who told him, “Dude, you need another hobby,” Byers also started road cycling over the past six months. His mom said he bought a new bike that he would regularly ride 50 miles like “no big deal.”
As a boy, he was just as athletic.
“He wanted to do everything,” Byers-Richardson said. “He played T-ball, he did karate, he liked to rollerblade and he had street hockey gear. He was always active.”
And he was responsible, she said, and considerate of her feelings.
On Thursday, she’s going to MetalMark to climb for the first time with Byers’ older brother, Brandon. She wants to know how it feels to “climb in his shoes.”
“He’s looking down from above,” she said, “watching over people when they climb again.”