A climbing crag in Utah
The crags in Big Cottonwood Canyon are legendary. (Photo: Calvin Jennings/Getty IMages)

A Climber Was Killed by Rockfall in Utah’s Big Cottonwood Canyon

Kaitlyn Brann, 34, died after being struck on a popular route on May 12

Delaney Miller

from Climbing

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On Friday, May 12, Salt Lake County search and rescue crews were called to Utah’s Big Cottonwood Canyon to rescue two injured climbers. The duo had been on Goodro’s Wall on Storm Mountain when a large chunk of rock gave way. Kaitlyn Brann, 34, of Park City, was killed on the scene. Her climbing partner and boyfriend Scotty Hogg, 30, was critically injured. 

Rockfall at ‘Goodro’s Wall.’ (Photo: Salt Lake County Sheriff’s Search and Rescue)

According to SAR member Shawn Kenney, locals had reported a loose block last year near the base of the route. Snow and water had likely worked its way behind the rock and further loosened it over the spring. 

“We don’t know for sure what happened,” Kenney told Climbing over the phone, “but from what some witnesses who were around the area said, Scotty had just started to climb and Kaitlyn was belaying. He was getting off the ledge where the route begins, and probably not more than about five or ten feet up, so probably at the top of the block. And we think that entire block came off.” Kenney estimates the block was close to two feet thick, six feet tall, and three to four feet wide.

The large triangle feature at the bottom of the photo is the block that brook off. (Photo: Nicholas Le)

The call for the rescue came in around 7 P.M. from a witness of the accident. Alongside the Unified Fire, Unified Police, AirMed, and Utah’s Department of Public Safety, the SAR team located the climbers and then set up a technical lowering system to get Hogg off the ledge. He was flown by AirMed to a local hospital and is expected to survive, but he is facing extensive care. A GoFundMe has been set up to assist with medical costs.

Goodro’s Wall is a classic line and, according to Mountain Project, possibly America’s first 5.10. Despite being well-trafficked, Kenney warned that climbers should be extremely vigilant as conditions continue to shift. “We’re seeing a lot of erosion happening, a lot of mudslides, and a lot of flooding.” On the same day there was a massive rockslide in another popular Utah climbing area, Kolob Canyon. “All of the avalanches that occurred during the winter in Little and Big Cottonwood Canyon moved a lot of rock and debris to the top of the cliff edges. There’s a lot of stuff teetering on the edge right now.”

(Photo: Courtesy of the Salt Lake County Sheriff’s Search and Rescue)

Kenney recommends climbers seek out single-pitch routes where they can closely examine the rock, adding that it would be a good idea to walk around on the top and, if necessary, clear debris before climbing. 

“Over the last few years, we’ve seen huge amounts of rock move, especially in Little Cottonwood Canyon,” adds Kenney. “We’ve had patients get crushed by rock, and we’ve had to go up and move rock off of them because they were pinned. I think there’s going to be probably more of that this year than any year we’ve seen. It’s scary. I’ve been climbing for 35 years, and I’m a little terrified to go out and climb right now not knowing what’s loose.”

Brann is remembered as being an energetic and joyful spirit. She was an experienced climber and loved getting outside. “You will make us all better through your legacy,” wrote one friend, Elisabeth Drost, on Brann’s obituary page. 

“I’m so glad we had a once in a lifetime experience. I love you so much Kate. I miss you so much,” wrote Hogg on Brann’s Instagram.

Condolences to the friends and family of Brann and to Hogg.

Lead Photo: Calvin Jennings/Getty IMages