Two days before his 26th birthday, climber David Xiao fell to his death on Mt. Sir Donald in Glacier National Park.
On Aug. 16, at approximately 8 a.m., Parks Canada said it received a report of an injured climber on the mountain’s northwest ridge.
Shelley Bird, Parks Canada spokesperson, said a helicopter search located Xiao’s body, which likely fell 250 metres. It’s the first reported major incident this year in Glacier National Park.
Sir Donald is a classic alpine route. Although exposed, it’s commonly climbed unroped. Friends say it looked like Xiao grabbed a large loose boulder, causing him to lose balance and fall.
Xiao was born and raised in China, having moved to Canada several years ago.
According to a written tribute by his friend Taylor Adolphe, Xiao not only yearned for adventure but lived to share those adventures with others.
“It wasn’t just the climb, but the people he did it with that mattered,” said Adolphe.
It was his smile and welcoming demeanor that drew people in.
“He lit up the room,” she said.
“He had a heart as big as his smile.”
Xiao worked as an actuary and when he wasn’t playing in the mountains, Adolphe said he was diligently reading online resources, asking experts and practicing climbing rescue systems, both in the kitchen and a nearby city park.
While Sir Donald is not an easy mountain and not one to be underestimated, Adolphe said Xiao had all the tools to accomplish it.
“Mountains are so beautiful yet so unforgiving, a battle that unfortunately many alpinists and climbers are all too familiar with,” she said.
|David Xiao in the Bugaboos a week prior to his death. (Submitted)|
Although he lived in Calgary, Xiao had just bought a house in Canmore.
His first trip in the mountains was in Grade 10 on a popular hike called Nihahi Ridge in Alberta.
“Even though I thought I was going to either die of exhaustion or exposure the whole time, I was in love,” wrote Xiao on his blog Trailing Adventures.
Since then, Xiao got into long-distance hiking, backcountry skiing and climbing.
On his blog, Xiao wrote adventure is about discovering the unknown, such as the endless slippery scree slope that journeys to incredible views, the freezing rain that ends in a field of flowers and the shivering cold nights that lead to incredible sunrises.
“Those things keep us adventuring through the nightmares because we have experienced the beauty that comes with tribulation and the unknown,” he wrote.
|David Xiao on the summit of Ha Ling near Canmore earlier this year. (Submitted)|
Adolphe said Xiao wanted his new Canmore home to become a connecting point for people, to host friends and plan adventures.
Xiao had previously hiked the 4,300 km Pacific Crest Trail from Mexico to Canada. There, he earned the trail name Squish, because he accidentally stepped on a toad.
A week prior to his death, Xiao climbed the Kain Route on Bugaboo Spire, one of Canada’s most iconic alpine climbs. Adolphe said it was his proudest alpine achievement.
“David may have chosen a trail less traveled in life, but one he fully embraced and would not have had any other way,” said Adolphe.
She said friends and family find solace knowing he left the world doing what he was most passionate about.