Smith Rock free climber hurt in 150-foot

(Update: Climber is Lewis & Clark College student; father comments)

 A 21-year-old Lewis & Clark College student from Virginia who was free climbing alone and without ropes Sunday afternoon at Smith Rock fell about 150 feet to the ground, then rolled another 100 feet down a steep hill, suffering critical injuries and prompting a three-hour rescue operation, authorities said.

Deschutes County sheriff’s Sgt. Kent Vander Kamp said deputies, Redmond Fire and Rescue medics and Sheriff’s Search and Rescue’s mountain rescue unit and medical teams were dispatched shortly after 4 p.m. to a reported serious fall in the southernmost section of Smith Rock State Park, a popular, scenic climbing spot known around the world.

Deputies and medics hiked into the park and reached the fallen climber, Benjamin Schulman of Alexandria, Virginia, on a steep hill about 100 yards above the river trail, Vander Kamp said.

They provided care until search and rescue personnel arrived to assist in the steep hillside evacuation, a process that took more than two hours due to Schulman’s location and injuries, the sergeant said. Officials said the overall rescue effort took about three hours.

An initial investigation found that Schulman was visiting the park with friends when he decided to free solo climb a rock face not typically used or identified as a climbing route, Vander Kamp said.

“He was not using ropes or other safety equipment and only handholds and footholds to ascend when he fell approximately 150 feet to the ground,” Vander Kamp said in a news release. “After falling, Schulman rolled down a steep hill another 100 feet before coming to rest mid-slope.”

While Schulman’s climbing experience is not known, the sergeant said he was camping nearby with other climbers familiar with the park.

Rescue personnel brought Schulman down the hillside and carried him to a nearby meadow, where an AirLink helicopter was waiting to fly him to St. Charles Bend “for advanced care of his life-threatening injuries,” Vander Kamp said.

Schulman later was flown to Oregon Health and Science University in Portland, where he had improved from critical to serious condition early Tuesday morning. 

The Oregonian/Oregon Live reported Schulman is a sophomore at Lewis & Clark College in Portland and grew up in the Washington, D.C area.

Schulman’s father, Steven Schulman, told the paper his son “suffered no neurological damage, his heart and lungs are healthy, but he has multiple fractures. I did speak with him after the fall, and while of course he was in a lot of pain, he was coherent.”

A college spokesman said Schulman was not taking part in a school-related outdoor activitity. Social media profiles list him as a former indoor climing instructor and an employee of Lewis & Clark’s outdoor program.

Steven Schulman said his son also is a wilderness EMT. He said the family is “very grateful to the first responders and hospital staff who have been attending to him with great care and compassion.”

Redmond Fire Battalion Chief Jeff Puller said Schulman was hiking with a friend when he decided to free climb in the area of the Phoenix Buttress and Southern Tip climbing area.

Rescuers set up a rope-lowering system to bring him about 60 feet to the river trail, then wheeled on a litter to the waiting air ambulance at the footbridge, which left the scene around 7 p.m., according to Vander Kamp.

The sheriff’s office thanked its public safety partners, as well as the state park rangers and volunteers for their assistance. 


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