Santa Fe rock climber dies in fall at Diablo Canyon

Diablo Canyon. File photo. 

On Monday afternoon, Scott Hicks and volunteers with the Santa Fe County Fire Department technical rescue team were dispatched to Diablo Canyon to recover the body of a 59-year-old female climber who had fallen 175 feet to her death earlier in the afternoon.

After arriving at the site, he heard one of the other climbers in her group give the address of their deceased friend.

“Of course I recognized it,” Hicks said. “So I looked at the paper [report] and saw her name, and that’s when I realized it was my ex-wife.”

The fallen climber was Susan Sarossy, to whom Hicks was married for 19 years. They separated in 1999.

Sarossy, along with about a half-dozen other rock climbers, had gone to Diablo Canyon, a popular year-round spot for rock climbing northwest of Santa Fe. According to the website Mountain Project, there are over 200 climbing routes in the area. The site warns against extreme temperature fluctuations in the rock during the winter which is associated with “tremendous thermal expansion and contraction.”

Steven Reneau, a friend who was with Sarossy, told Santa Fe County Sheriff’s Office deputies later that she fell around 3 p.m. According to Reneau, Sarossy was the last in the group and was responsible for “cleaning the anchors” on her way down, the report said.

Cleaning the anchors is one of the most complicated parts of the sport. It involves threading the climbing rope through the rings or chains at the top so you can lower down, grab the draws which link the climbing rope to the rock wall and not leave any gear behind.

Reneau, who said he was below Sarossy assisting her when she fell, said he wasn’t sure what happened. He thought that Sarossy may have become confused, which is not uncommon during this procedure.

Reneau told deputies that perhaps she did “not anchor herself down correctly prior to pushing off the wall,” the report says.

He described Sarossy as an experienced rock climber and said he was shocked by the accident.

Hicks, 58, who is also the volunteer captain of the Tesuque Fire Department and president of Shidoni Foundry, said that while he and Sarossy were still married, he learned high-angle rescue techniques about the same time as she was learning to rock climb. He said that Sarossy got into climbing as a way to cope with her fear of heights.

“She always told me, ‘I don’t know what I’m doing rock climbing because I’m afraid of heights, but I think this is way for me to face that fear,’ ” Hicks said.

Hicks said they had a daughter together, who is now 25 years old and lives in Phoenix, and Sarossy had a 41-year-old son from a previous marriage.

He said Sarossy worked as a social worker.

Three University of New Mexico Hospital physicians who were climbing nearby saw Sarossy fall and two of them climbed down in an effort to help the woman, the report says. One of them, identified in the report as Dr. Keith Azevedo, tried to revive Sarossy through CPR and at one point after that he said that she had a pulse. But Sarossy died of her injuries.

Diablo Canyon’s vertical cliffs about 18 miles northwest of Santa Fe near the Rio Grande is not only favored by hikers and rock climbers, but also with film production companies. The area has been featured in movies such as the 2003 The Missing and the 2007 remake of 3:10 to Yuma, according to the U.S. Bureau of Land Management’s website.

Contact Uriel Garcia at 986-3062 or ugarcia@sfnewmexican.com. Follow him on Twitter @ujohnnyg.

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