The two men who fell to their deaths while climbing El Capitan at Yosemite National Park over the weekend were elite climbers who partnered on routes since their college days in San Diego, family and friends said.
Jason Wells, 45, and Tim Klein, 42, were about 300 metres up the so-called Freeblast Route when they fell on Saturday, the National Park Service said.
El Capitan is one of the world’s largest granite monoliths, towering vertically 1,219 metres from the Yosemite Valley floor.
Brady Robinson, a fellow climber and close friend of Wells, said the pair scaled two El Capitan routes in one weekend last month.
Each climb usually takes skilled climbers several days to complete, Mr Robinson told The Washington Post.
The two were “simul-climbing,” a technique in which both climbers are attached by a rope and move at the same time to go climb faster, he said.
Mr Robinson, who is the executive director of the Access Fund, an organisation that works to protect climbing access, said the pair had invited a third climber to join them on the ascent of the 914-metre granite formation and were not going as fast as they could have.
“They were not pushing the envelope,” Mr Robinson said.
Their friend, identified by Mr Robinson as Kevin Prince, made his climb clipped to a separate rope and anchor.
The section of the route where the duo fell was a relatively easy part of the ascent but chunks of rocks can occasionally become loose, Mr Robinson said.
The cause of the fall is under investigation by the Park Service.
‘They weren’t trying to prove anything — they just loved it’
Mountaineers from around the world travel to the park in the Sierra Nevada to scale El Capitan’s sheer face.
A crowd of people had gathered in the valley below following a rumour that rock climbers Alex Honnold and Tommy Caldwell would attempt a new speed record on the Nose route of El Capitan.
The two did not climb on Saturday, but Mr Robinson said there were likely several people “poised with binoculars, just watching” when Mr Wells and Mr Klein fell.
Yosemite National Park rangers received several 911 calls reporting the fall at about 8:15 am on Saturday.
Mr Klein was a teacher from Palmdale, California who twice won his school district’s teacher of the year award.
His widow, Jennifer Tamura Klein, described Klein and Wells like “brothers”.
“When you climb together you really do develop that trust and that love for each other,” Tamura Klein told KTLA in Los Angeles.
Mr Wells was a Boulder, Colorado asset fund manager and is survived by his wife, Becky Wells, and a daughter from a previous marriage, Mr Robinson told The New York Times.
“They were part of a very small, elite group of people who could do what they did,” he said.
“And they weren’t trying to prove anything — they just loved it.”
Climbing El Capitan used to take days to complete with the aid of ropes, safety gear and a partner.
In the past few decades, speed climbers working in tandem and using ropes have set records in reaching the top of the steep cliff.
In January 2015, Mr Caldwell and Kevin Jorgeson became the first to “free climb” the Dawn Wall — a particularly steep route to the top of El Capitan — by grabbing just the rock and using ropes only to catch them if they fell. They did it in 19 days.