Copyright © 2019 Albuquerque Journal
Dr. Garon Coriz had built an anchor and was beginning to rappel down the rock face – something he had probably done 1,000 times before, says his climbing partner that day – when the unexpected happened.
Coriz, an experienced rock climber who traveled the globe for the sport, fell to his death in the Sandia Mountains on July 13.
The 33-year-old family medicine doctor and graduate of the University of New Mexico School of Medicine had recently moved back to New Mexico from Utah to work at a clinic on Kewa Pueblo. The tribal member grew up on the pueblo and graduated from Albuquerque Academy.
No one saw the fall, but official incident reports and an interview with one of his climbing partners that day provide some details into how the tragedy unfolded.
Coriz and two other Albuquerque climbers – Kerr Adams, 29, and Kathleen Barney, 28 – arrived at the Clandestine Wall, a roughly 120-foot rock wall on the west side of the Sandias, before 11 a.m., according to Bernalillo County Sheriff’s Office reports.
In an interview, Adams said Coriz had planned to rappel down the cliff before the group decided what routes to climb that day. He built an anchor at the top of the rock wall with cams, spring-loaded devices that are placed into the rock to protect against a fall, and attached his rope to it.
One sheriff’s office deputy wrote in an incident report that Coriz used three cams to build the anchor, another deputy wrote that Coriz used two pieces, according to the incident reports.
The reports indicate that Coriz fell soon after he weighted the anchor to begin the rappel. There was 4 feet of rope between his belay device, which acts as a brake on the rope, and the anchor when they were recovered from the ground.
Mountain Project, a climbing guidebook website, describes Clandestine Wall as “the best difficult crag in the Sandias.” A Salt Lake City-based climber posted a photo of Coriz on the wall during a prior climb.
Coriz had extensive experience climbing. He had made climbing trips to Nepal, Ecuador, Peru, Mexico, South Africa, Italy and Austria, according to prior Journal reports.
Adams, one of the climbers with Coriz, had climbed with him extensively, including an ascent of the Moose’s Tooth, a remote and difficult climb in Alaska.
Both Adams and Barney, the other climber on scene, had run off to look for a dog that had been with the group when the anchor broke from the wall and Coriz fell. Adams said he walked to the top of the route and saw that the anchor had gone over the ledge.
“Part of what makes it so difficult is not being there to figure it out,” Adams said. “Obviously, some freak thing happened. Or a couple freak things happened that don’t usually happen.”
Barney, in a written statement to the sheriff’s office, said she was walking to the base of the climb when she heard a scream.
“Kerr came running back over saying Garon had fell. I ran to the bottom to find Garon and found him laying at the bottom of the climb face down,” she wrote. “I checked his pulse and tried to see if he was breathing. I took rocks off his body but still saw no signs of life.”
Deputies noted in the reports that Coriz was wearing the proper equipment for the climb and his gear appeared to be in order. The cams used to make the anchor appeared to have broken springs, according to the reports.
Search-and-rescue workers removed his body the day after the fall. Storms delayed the recovery.