On March 13th, the world lost an amazing man in Zion National Park in a base jumping accident. Sean “Stanley” Leary was well known in the climbing world. In Yosemite, he had climbed El Capitan more than 50 times and established new rock routes across North America. He explored new lines in the Arctic, Patagonia, Baffin Island and Venezuela.
Beyond his climbing achievements, Stanley was an accomplished BASE (buildings, antennae, spans and earth) jumper. He often flew in a squirrel suit, a specially designed wing suit which increased glide ratios. He established new exits around the world and helped revolutionize BASE jumping.
Born in San Joaquin County on Aug. 23, 1975, Sean Leary grew up in the small Northern California town of Pine Grove. More recently, he lived between his family home in El Portal and with his ophthalmoligist wife, Annamieka, in Sacramento.
Climbers from across the world gathered in Zion National Park to help with the recovery. Because Sean didn’t just rock climb and BASE jump, he touched people’s lives.
While climbing The Zodiac on El Capitan with Bryan “Coiler” Kay, Sean neglected to bring a real wall climbing hammer. Instead, he dug through his draws in El Portal and produced a humble carpenter’s tool, a Stanley hammer. The nickname stuck.
I met Stanley in 2001, when I first arrived in Yosemite. He invited me to boulder with him in Curry. Over the years, we climbed together, we laughed together, we became friends.
Years ago, I pulled brush and tossed it in a pile. Stanley ran around the yard, sawing trees at random. A Yosemite local hired Stanley to clear the brush for fire hazards. I was there because Stanley had been complaining. He loved to complain. His hot wife wanted to have sex with him so he had to drive all the way from Yosemite to Sacramento. The upcoming Arctic expedition meant he’d never get strong enough for his Jailhouse sport project. Stanley could transform gold to iron.
“The owners are paying me a ton of money to not climb,” Stanley said. I knew Stanley could use the money and I needed a climbing partner. If we finished the job, then we could both go climbing. We spent half a day working before Stanley lost motivation. Stanley hated work, preferring to live.
“I’ll give you money when I stop by the ATM,” Stanley said. I shrugged. Stanley agreed to climb the West Face of the Leaning Tower with me. That’s what I wanted. Snow fell while we worked the route. Stanley freed a steep section of granite a thousand feet off the ground. He climbed behind a white curtain. It was one of the coolest things I’ve ever seen. Stanley sent the route the next week. I worked on the route for a while and eventually, I freed it. Stanley sent me an excited congratulation note, my hero telling me I was rad.
A year later, we stood by the Yosemite lodge. I’d recalled his climbing through the storm, having long forgotten about the job. He’d inspired me.
“Oh yeah, I finally made it to the ATM,” Stanley said. He opened his wallet and stuffed money into my hand. I laughed.
“1…2…3…go!” Stanley said, laughing. In the summer of 2013, Stanley hit the stop watch and I started running up steep granite. Sickle. Stove Legs. King Swing. I looked down. Stanley was fifteen feet below me staring at the birds swooping by. Great Roof. Changing Corners. Bolt Ladder. I looked up. Stanley was at the top, shouting for me to run run run. I touched the tree. Panting hard. Stanley laughed. I wasn’t sure what happened in between. I’d been attached to a bullet. We’d just climbed the Nose of El Capitan in 6 hours.
Stanley climbed fast. On El Cap, at Jailhouse, at the climbing gym, his gazelle-esque climbing style helped him establish numerous difficult free ascents and set speed records. When we climbed the Nose, all I wanted to do was go home and eat elk burgers. Stanley wanted climb more at the Cathedral boulders. He had a circuit there on lockdown and could dispatch the classics easily. We would joke about going to “onsight” the Cathedrals. He would quickly tick away the problems. Stanley had an unbridled, manic energy.
Stanley owned two dogs. Nexpa looked like Stanley–thin and fast. He loved her dearly and would coo, “Oh Nexie.” Then he would end her shivering by wrapping her in his down jacket. Stanley found her as a puppy on the side of the road near El Potrero Chico, Mexico. Her throat had been slit. He nursed the dog back to health. Her scar remained. More recently, Stanley showed up at Mortar Rock with an energetic puppy. Bravo darted around with Stanley’s unbridled energy. Stanley and Annamieka rescued a second dog so Nexpa could have someone to lord over.
In 2010, Stanley married Annamieka in El Cap meadow. The wedding was small and intimate. I had met Mieka in the parking lot of Tuolumne years before. Quiet and beautiful in the rain, she’d smiled and been very nice to me. After dropping off his truck at the mechanics in Mariposa, getting medicine for Nexpa, and doing a bit of climbing, I dropped Stanley off at his place that he shared with Mieka in Berkeley. Seeing Stanley with her, I saw their love for each other.
Beyond his many climbing brothers, Stanley was expanding his family. Mieka recently became pregnant. Stanley was nervous about having a child but he was nervous about all the important things in life. He would have made a great father. Mieka is due at the end of May.
Last week in Zion, climbers from across North America rallied to help search for Stanley. It was an intense time. I cursed Stanley for making me bushwhack through the cactus in the desert furnace. It was an adventure that he wasn’t on. I loved him for allowing me to meet his family–his mother, his sister, his brothers, to spend time with Annamieka. Mostly, I missed him. He was a great person to have had in my life.
A memorial account has been set up for Annamieka and the baby.
Mountain America Credit Union
Sean “Stanley” Leary Memorial Fund
P.O. Box 9001
West Jordan, UT 84084
[Originally published March 3, 2014, on touchstoneclimbing.com.–Ed.]