Journalist Michael J. Ybarra dies in mountain-climbing accident

The Wall Street Journal

Michael J. Ybarra was killed while climbing near Yosemite last weekend. Ybarra, 45, wrote about extreme sports for The Wall Street Journal, and the headlines of his pieces often reflected the danger in his subject matter: "When Death Is Merely a Paddle Stroke Away" was about whitewater kayaking, for instance:

My classmates later told me I tried to roll several times before being swept over the falls upside down. My only memory is thinking an unprintable word, then feeling like an entire baseball team was battering my helmet with bats. Next thing I knew I was swimming. Or trying to. I had sealed up the wrists and waist on my waterproof paddling jacket—but not the neck, which quickly filled with water. I swallowed several mouthfuls.

"Amid the Perils of Patagonia" was about adventuring in changing weather at the end of the world:

We decided to retreat. Avalanches pounded us the whole way down the chimney. Conditions were better once we escaped into the lee of the mountain. A dozen rappels put us on easier terrain just as the sun set. We slogged back toward camp.

Ybarra also reviewed books for The Journal and wrote a book about former Nevada Sen. Pat McCarran. Reviewing "Washington Gone Crazy" in The New York Times, David Greenberg noted the author's feel for extreme sports that happened indoors:

Ybarra chronicles these Senate showdowns with gusto, with a Robert Caro-like love of Senate maneuvering, and with an eye for detail that enhances his account.

In 2011, Ybarra wrote about "heli-hiking," in which well-heeled climbers fly in to spectacular locations from a resort and climb from there. It was not Ybarra's cup of tea.

After a few days of what most people would call an awesome vacation, I was literally climbing the walls—both the climbing wall in the exercise room and the rock-studded pillars in front of the lodge. Everything was first rate: the food, the mountain views from the hot tub and the glass-walled sauna. The pace was leisurely and there was even Wi-Fi. I was being treated like a king. I was miserable.

He ditched the luxe life and headed for the British Columbia hills with a friend:

Fifteen pitches of flawless yet challenging climbing and some scrambling put us on the summit 10 hours after starting. The sights were incredible. Fingers of sheer granite rose out of the surrounding glaciers, mountain after mountain ranged in the distance. It was like being back in a helicopter.

Only this time, I felt like I had earned the view.

  • Andrew Beaujon

    Andrew Beaujon reported on the media for Poynter from 2012 to 2015. He was previously arts editor at and managing editor of Washington City Paper. He's the author of the 2006 book "Body Piercing Saved My Life," about Christian rock and evangelical Christian culture.


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