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Vancouver rock climber killed in fall remembered for devotion to students, sport

The Source employee Bryan Caldwell died while rock climbing near Leavenworth

By , Columbian staff writer
Published:
4 Photos
Bryan Caldwell was a fixture in the Clark County climbing community and a longtime employee at Vancouver's The Source Climbing Center. Caldwell died Monday from a fall while rock climbing near Leavenworth.
Bryan Caldwell was a fixture in the Clark County climbing community and a longtime employee at Vancouver's The Source Climbing Center. Caldwell died Monday from a fall while rock climbing near Leavenworth. (Contributed photo) Photo Gallery

A Vancouver man who was a fixture of the local rock climbing community died Monday from a fall while rock climbing near Leavenworth.

Bryan Caldwell, 44, worked at The Source Climbing Center in downtown Vancouver for more than 11 years — almost since owner and longtime friend of Caldwell’s, Michael Lary, opened the gym. Lary said Caldwell introduced climbing to countless kids and adults.

“The role he had with kids can’t be overstated,” Lary said as he became emotional. “He walked kids through some of their own hard times.”

Lary described Caldwell as someone who was authentic and engaged with everyone who came to climb at the gym.

“Every person who walked through the door was like a friend to Bryan,” Lary said. “Everyone has stories of how he impacted them.”

Caldwell was climbing with a partner Monday at Icicle Buttress, south of Leavenworth, when a storm rolled in, according to the Chelan County Sheriff’s Office. His partner told officers they were climbing down when she heard a noise and watched Caldwell fall an estimated 100 feet. Caldwell’s anchor failed, causing him to fall, according to a Facebook post from The Source.

Lary said Caldwell had climbed that area before and was familiar with the site.

Caldwell’s partner flagged down a U.S. Forest Service officer who was in the area, the sheriff’s office said. Crews from Chelan County Search and Rescue and Chelan County Fire District 3 brought Caldwell to the roadway.

Lary closed the gym Tuesday afternoon for staff and climbing teams to gather and connect over Caldwell’s memory.

“Accidents like this don’t happen often, but when they do, it leaves an impact,” Lary said.

Lary recalled meeting Caldwell 25 years ago in a rock climbing class at the University of Kansas. It’s where they both learned to climb.

Even more than the comfort Lary feels knowing Caldwell was doing something he loved when he died is the fact that he was with people he loved, Lary said. He was among a group of about 20 friends climbing on the holiday weekend.

“I would say the climbing is secondary,” Lary said. “I’m just really grateful that he was with his friends.”

On Wednesday, a board stood outside The Source for people, such as Morgan Murphy of Camas, to write messages in remembrance of Caldwell. Some wrote of his infectious energy, while others wrote about how they wouldn’t be climbing if it weren’t for him.

“Anytime I was in here I’d chat with Bryan, chat about trips and stuff,” Murphy said after writing her message on the board. “He was always so happy and such a light in the gym. He was always in a good mood and kind to everyone, funny. I wish I got to know him more.”

Lary said the board will remain, at least until the memorial service they’re planning that is tentatively scheduled for July 12. Although Caldwell’s family is in Kansas, it’s important to Lary to celebrate him locally, too.

“There are too many people here who would call Bryan a friend to not do something here,” Lary said.

In lieu of flowers, Caldwell’s family has created a fundraiser for a memorial bench in his honor in downtown Vancouver. Any additional money will go toward scholarships for travel costs “to help future young climbers like the countless that Bryan has coached and mentored for more than a decade,” the fundraiser states. The fundraiser can be found at everloved.com/life-of/bryan-caldwell.


Photographer Taylor Balkom contributed to this story.

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