Nolan Smythe, Climber and BASE Jumper, Dies in Accident on El Gigante, Mexico

The freak accident happened when a ledge Smythe was standing on gave way, shearing his rope as he fell.

By Rock and Ice | March 9th, 2020

Nolan Smythe. Photo: Courtesy of GoFundMe fundraiser to support the costs of retrieving Smythe’s body in Mexico.


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.

View this post on Instagram

We met at the hurricave 5 years ago. I was projecting my first .13a and you showed up with my friend Kiersa and her boyfriend Aaron. You were full of psyche and your energy was so vibrant. I had been working the route for a bit and made the crux look mellow, you were impressed and we shared beta. • I met Kiersa in Jackson, WY a few years prior. A wandering soul at the time, she had just lost her boyfriend to a basejumping accident. • I found out you were a base jumper and told myself not to get close to you…but I was drawn to you. • However, I couldn’t resist. I’d never met someone so genuine, so kind, with so much passion for everything they do. We exchanged numbers. • Every time I was even considering coming to Moab for a few days to climb, I’d text you to see if you were around. You always made time for me, and we barely knew each other. • You let me shoot photos of you on PBR, and jumping off Wall Street and kept saying how no one has ever wanted to shoot photos of you, you thought it was weird. I loved it. We kept climbing and my thoughts about not getting close to you shifted. • My last spring trip to the desert we were both going through break ups, and wanting to spend all our time climbing. We climbed long days, and spent the evenings drinking tequila with friends. I liked you, you became my favorite climbing partner, and I was quickly falling for you. I told ALL my friends. • I wasn’t sure if you felt the same, but eventually we were spending so much time together it became clear. • Over the past few months you would tell me everyday how you want to spend the rest of your life with me, and nolan, you did just that, I so badly wish I got to do the same. I will never stop loving you, I miss you. • This was an unfortunate accident. Nolan was on El Gigante climbing Logical Progression. At pitch 14 he was standing on a small ledge resting, the ledge broke beneath his feet resulting in him falling, and the rock cutting his rope simultaneously. Please share any photos and stories you have of Nolan, I could really use it right now. #iloveyounolan

A post shared by savannah cummins (@sav.cummins) on


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