May 20, 2014

Climber dies in Yosemite; friends recollect a life of adventure

An experienced rock climber died Sunday while approaching a well-known climb on Liberty Cap in Yosemite National Park, park spokeswoman Kari Cobb said.

Richard "Richie" Copeland, 50, who lives in Kings Canyon National Park, was found dead around 4 p.m. at the bottom of a ledge leading up to the climb, Cobb said.

While Copeland was on the ledge, a climbing partner left to fill up their water bottles, Cobb said. When the partner returned and didn't see Copeland, he went in search and found his body about 300 feet below.

The partner called for help, and park rangers hiked to Liberty Cap, next to Nevada Fall, and pronounced Copeland dead Sunday evening. Cobb didn't name the partner.

Cobb said Copeland is well-known in the Yosemite area and visits the park often. Yosemite climber and guide Gabriel Mange said Copeland had accomplished all of the major walls in the park including El Capitan and Half Dome. Mange said Copeland had done several first ascents of new climbing routes in the park.

Copeland's death has affected many in the climbing community along with his co-workers at Montecito Sequoia Lodge in Sequoia National Forest. He worked as a camp counselor, leading outdoor activities including climbing and hiking, said Nancy Wallis, a manager at the lodge. Many there knew him as "The Dude."

"He was a very beloved person and everybody is very sad that he's not with us any longer," Wallis said. "His enthusiasm rubbed off on people."

Mange, the Yosemite guide, said Copeland was a Ford factory worker for many years but traded that life for one of adventure in the mountains.

Copeland was always very happy and had a positive, outgoing personality, she said. While his death is tragic, Wallis said she takes some comfort knowing Copeland died doing what he loved to do -- climb.

Climber Tom Evans, author of the El Cap Reports blog, wrote about Copeland's death on his blog, adding it comes soon after another well-known Yosemite climber, Sean Leary, died in March base jumping in Utah's Zion National Park.

"We here in Yosemite are just crushed by the loss of these men," Evans wrote. "Both were one of a kind and we won't see the likes of them again."

Copeland's friends created a Facebook memorial page, " Fans of The Dude ," to remember and honor him. The page had more than 300 "likes" on Tuesday evening.

Friends described Copeland as an adventurer who was filled with love and respect.

"When all of us were too scared to lead one of the pitches, Richie stepped up and took it," wrote a friend listed as Tom R. on SuperTopo.com/, another site popular with climbers. "When we ran out of water, Richie just said he didn't need it and we should drink the last bit. ... One of the truly dependable and massively giving people that I've met in my years of climbing."

A memorial service will be held at Cathedral Beach in Yosemite Valley from noon to sunset on Saturday, Mange said.

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