- Associated Press - Sunday, April 27, 2014

RAPID CITY, S.D. (AP) - Rock climbing was a passion Bill Goodgion shared with his wife, Michelle, from practically the moment they met until she died earlier this month while scaling the limestone cliffs of Falling Rock near Rapid City.

“We shared adventure, that’s what we did,” he said Tuesday. “Those were many of our first dates where we would just go out rock climbing together.”

The 39-year-old woman and mother of two fell to her death April 19 while climbing with her husband in an area that attracts rock climbing enthusiasts and has claimed lives before.

While mourning her, Bill Goodgion remembered his wife, who attended Stevens High School and whom he wed in 1996. She worked as a licensed practical nurse.

“She lived with passion and flair,” he said. “She was my best friend. We shared everything.”

Exactly what happened that led to Michelle’s fall is under investigation, according to the Pennington County Sheriff’s Office.

“We believe it was an accident,” Capt. Jay Evenson said. “For an unknown reason at the point as she began to rappel down, she began to fall to the bottom.”

Evenson said investigators are consulting with experienced climbers to see what could have gone wrong or if the fall could have been caused by equipment failure or human error.

“We haven’t reached any conclusions yet on it,” he said.

A scenic site six miles west of Rapid City off Highway 44, Falling Rock has been a popular outdoor destination for years.

A climber there Tuesday said the death raises questions that need to be answered.

“When you hear it was someone experienced, you always wonder what happened,” Brad Stapperfenne said.

With tall, steep cliffs and protruding boulders, it can be a dangerous place for experienced and inexperienced climbers alike.

Since 1992, at least six people have died there, including a 5-year-old boy who fell 150 feet off a cliff in 2005, according to Journal archives.

Despite the deaths and injuries over the years, a spokesman from the U.S. Forest Service said there is little they can do to prevent injuries or fatalities there.

“Short of putting people out there, there’s really nothing we can do,” spokesman Scott Jacobson said Tuesday. “The whole national forest is public land and people can come and do what they want.

“We just want them to be safe and aware of their surroundings,” he said.

An assistant team leader with the Pennington County Search and Rescue said they are called to the area about once or twice a year.

“Usually it’s the only spot we go for climber-related stuff,” said Andrew Randazzo of Pennington County Search and Rescue. “I think most of the people that go out there are experienced. It’s just some unforeseen challenges that they don’t think about that get them into trouble.

“Falling Rock is actually pretty open and accessible because of how it’s laid out,” he said. “Any place we go to provide a rescue service has inherent dangers.”

His advice for climbers is to use sound judgment as much as possible.

“Always take somebody with you. (Tell someone) when you’re going and when you are going to be back,” he said. “Take precautions and wear the proper safety gear.”

The family plans to set up a memorial fund in Michelle’s name at Dakotah Bank.

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Information from: Rapid City Journal, http://www.rapidcityjournal.com

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