Famed Climber, First Person To Ski Down Half Dome, Found Dead At Base Of Ice Climb

A famed climber who lived in a cave for 13 years and was one of the first two people to ski the 5,000-foot peak of Half Dome in Yosemite National Park to the valley floor below was found dead at the base of the 2,300 feet Polar Circus ice climb in Banff, Alberta.

Rangers found Zach Milligan’s vehicle on Friday, February 10, and drone searches discovered his body the next day.

Milligan, 42, joined Jason Torlano in 2021 to descend the precipitous angles of Half Dome in 2021. Video showed the two men rappelling down the “death slabs” sections of bare rock.

“If you fall to your left or right, you’re definitely dead,” JT Holmes, a professional free skier, pointed out of the descent. “If you fall down the middle, you have a small chance of not falling to your death — but it’s a maybe.”

Milligan’s sister Martha memorialized her brother on Facebook, writing, “He was a world-class climber, incredible alpine skier, gifted musician, wicked smart; he could tell a wildly entertaining story and make almost anything funny.”

During his descent on Half Dome, Milligan skied over part of a cable used by climbers and started slipping out of control, saved by using an ice ax. “I did one jump turn and then sideslipped most everything,” Milligan said later. “I thought I would be able to ski across the cables, but when my ski edges hit the first one, I fell.”

He recalled using his ice picks to save himself: “Luckily, the tools were holding – barely. I wasn’t in a survivable situation. Then I found the cable and lunged for it. Using my Whippet as a stick and a pole, I leveraged the cable out and grabbed it.”

“I had no business being on Half Dome. I’m not a real skier,” he concluded.

Milligan’s girlfriend of 12 years, Kristin Anderson, told Outside magazine, “Zach is the most interesting person I have ever met. I fell in love with him the moment I met him in 2004 during my first summer in Yosemite. I credit Zach for showing me what I was capable of; he challenged me and pushed me past my perceived limits, and he made me a better climber.”

Milligan spoke of free-soloing climbing, declaring, “You feel like you’re in contact with God. It makes me feel like I’m in a magical place.”

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