Ypsilon Mountain in Rocky Mountain National Park. Bailee Mulholland died in the area after falling 500 feet. Courtesy of Colorado Mountain School

A young climber from Boulder died Sunday morning after falling 500 feet while free soloing in Rocky Mountain National Park. 

Bailee Mulholland, 26, and her partner were on the Four Aces section of Blitzen Ridge, a 5.4 graded route on Ypsilon Mountain, when the fall occurred. Since the climbers weren’t tied into a rope, Mulholland’s partner was physically unaffected by the fall and called park rangers via cell phone. 

After Rocky Mountain National Park Search and Rescue located him Sunday evening, a Colorado Air National Guard helicopter was requested to bring him to safety. On Monday morning, the rescue team hiked back into an area above Ypsilon Lake for a helicopter long-line recovery of Mulholland.

The Four Aces are smaller peaks about six miles into the route on Blitzen Ridge, the last of which some refer to as the crux, the route’s most difficult section. The route skirts to the left, right or over each of the Aces and then ascends a super exposed ridge to the summit. Given its lower grade, the route is popular for soloists.

Bailee Mulholland, age 26 from Boulder, died on July 9 after falling 500 feet while free soloing in Rocky Mountain National Park. She is seen here rock climbing.
Bailee Mulholland had the fastest-known female time getting up the First Flatiron. Credit: @baileemulholl

Mulhollland was a strong athlete who climbed up to 5.13 and has the fastest-known female time getting up the First Flatiron as well as the second-fastest round trip of Mount Sanitas. She was a friend to many in the running and climbing communities, with ties to Rocky Mountain Runners, Trail Sisters and the scrambling club Satan’s Minions.

A tribute by a friend posted to the climbing community tells of her passion. 

“This one hits home for us here in Boulder,” wrote Tim Watts. “Growing up at the base of the Rockies, Bailee excelled at Mountain Running. She was an elite Mountain Runner, clocking more miles and vertical feet than I could ever possibly comprehend – a Satan’s Minion to the core. I think it was a natural progression that led her to more technical terrain. She free soloed often in the Flatirons, combining technical routes without a rope, and substantial distance running.”

Other touching memories are beginning to emerge on social media as word spreads of her passing. 

“Bailee had the optimism, confidence, and energy of youth; a stripe of red paintbrush flaming across a meadow after a summer rain. She had more than enough talent to pursue, regularly humbling others at the crag, speeding past on the trails, or even baking sweets to share at the trailhead.” 

She was born in China and adopted at 10 months old by her parents in Boulder. A Boulder High School graduate, she ran cross country and track and field. Sticking to the Front Range, she went on to study computer science and Chinese language at the University of Colorado Boulder, and then became a yoga instructor on top of that. 

She was a recipient of the 2021 Trail Sisters Adventure Grant and a yoga instructor for the Trail Sisters.

Free soloing is a ropeless sport, with loss and serious injury woven into its core. Those who partake accept those risks to experience freedom of the rock unencumbered. 

The Blitzen Ridge route is detailed on the climbing site Mountain Project with comments explaining what to expect. One commenter wrote, “This is an absolute must do! Think of it as a really exposed and beautiful hike. Just go do it.” Another said, “Just a heads up, if you’re onsighting and moving fast, expect to encounter some 5.7. We tried our best to keep it lower, but it just ended up higher.” 

Getting off-route can mean encountering more difficult terrain than expected. It’s not clear yet where exactly Mulholland was on the route when she fell. 

Another serious incident happened Monday on the First Flatiron where a 22 year-old Boulder resident who was free soloing slid 100 feet and landed on a ledge, unable to move. Other climbers witnessed the fall and went to provide aid until a team from Rocky Mountain Rescue arrived. 

This is also the second fatality of the year at Rocky Mountain National Park. The first happened just a week ago when a young man from Rhode Island fell into West Creek Falls and drowned. 

See also: Boulder’s all-volunteer mountain rescue group expands operations as calls for help increase

Jenna Sampson is a freelance journalist in Boulder, Colorado. When not dabbling in boat building or rock climbing you can find her nursing an iced coffee in front of a good book. Email: jsampson@fastmail.com.

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