Famed Yosemite climber, 42, who lived in a cave for 13 years dies after falling in Canadian Rockies

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A celebrated climber who became the first person to ski down the Half Dome in Yosemite National Park two years ago has been found dead in the Canadian Rockies.

Zach Milligan, 42, was discovered on February 11 in Banff, Alberta at the base of a well-known ice climb – the 2,300 feet Polar Circus. His sister Martha confirmed his death.

‘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,’ she wrote on Facebook.

‘He will be missed more deeply than there are words.’ His brother Austin added: ‘He was not only my brother, he was my best friend.’

Famed Yosemite climber, 42, who lived in a cave for 13 years dies after falling in Canadian Rockies

Zach Milligan was ice climbing in Canada earlier this month. His body was found on February 11

Jason Torlano (left) first climbed Half Dome as a youngster, clinging to the same cables tens of thousands of visitors do every year to ascend the final steep pitch up the rounded side of the polished granite feature. In February 2021, he and Milligan skied down the mountain

Jason Torlano (left) first climbed Half Dome as a youngster, clinging to the same cables tens of thousands of visitors do every year to ascend the final steep pitch up the rounded side of the polished granite feature. In February 2021, he and Milligan skied down the mountain

The pair skied down the Half Dome monolith in Yosemite National Park

The pair skied down the Half Dome monolith in Yosemite National Park 

Milligan was born in Tucker, Georgia, and his fascination with climbing began when, aged 18, he saw a picture of Half Dome on the wall of a barber’s shop.

He bought a rope and began climbing, soon getting hooked. He moved to Yosemite, and spent 13 years living in a cave in the mountains.

Milligan made a slender living working for a cleaning company, and then moved to Montana and ran a flooring business.

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He would frequently sleep in his van.

In 2004 he met fellow climber Kristin Anderson: the pair began dating in 2011, and were living in a small house on the west edge of Yosemite at the time of his death.

Milligan – who disliked photos and was adverse to publicity, according to his friend Chris Van Leuven, a journalist and fellow climber – found himself suddenly a big name in the climbing world thanks to his February 2021 descent on skis of Half Dome.

Milligan made his living working for a cleaning company and living in a cave in Yosemite, spending as much time as possible climbing

Milligan made his living working for a cleaning company and living in a cave in Yosemite, spending as much time as possible climbing

Milligan was widely respected as a talented and dedicated climber

Milligan was widely respected as a talented and dedicated climber

Milligan, born in Georgia, discovered climbing at 18 after seeing a poster in a barber's shop

Milligan, born in Georgia, discovered climbing at 18 after seeing a poster in a barber’s shop

Milligan is pictured in February 2021 skiing down Half Dome

Milligan is pictured in February 2021 skiing down Half Dome

Torlano is seen skiing down the Half Dome in February 2021

Torlano is seen skiing down the Half Dome in February 2021

Milligan and Jason Torlano completed the descent in five hours, skiing and rappelling back to the valley floor in an unusually daring feat.

Nail-biting video shows the men carefully carving their way in crusty snow and using ropes to rappel several sections of bare rock known as the ‘death slabs’ beneath the iconic face of Half Dome.

‘If you fall to your left or right, you’re definitely dead,’ said JT Holmes, a professional free skier who is a friend of Torlano’s.

‘If you fall down the middle, you have a small chance of not falling to your death – but it’s a maybe.’

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Milligan said he initially planned to only film Torlano skiing, but decided to make his own descent by carefully side slipping down on skis.

He said things quickly turned dangerous when he skied over part of a cable used by climbers, and lost control.

Milligan used an ice ax to stop his slide, and was able to right himself. ‘I was just trying to stay in control and stay alive,’ Milligan said. ‘You’re on that spine and you don’t have a lot of room for error.’

He added: ‘I had no business being on Half Dome. I’m not a real skier.’ Anderson paid tribute to his spirit.

Milligan is pictured with his girlfriend of 12 years, Kristin Anderson

Milligan is pictured with his girlfriend of 12 years, Kristin Anderson

‘Zach is the most interesting person I have ever met,’ she told Outside magazine.

‘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.’

She added: ‘My favorite days with him were waking up at 3am, running around on high Sierra ridges, and basking in the sun and wind.

‘Outside of climbing, he offered unique perspectives on the world and was always the person I could talk to for hours, even if I called him with nothing to say.’

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