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Extreme-sports writer dies in rock climbing fall in Yosemite

July 5, 2012 | 11:20 am

Michael J. YbarraMichael J. Ybarra, a freelance writer who was an extreme-sports correspondent for the Wall Street Journal and who contributed articles about the arts and books to the Los Angeles Times, died in a mountain climbing fall in Yosemite National Park over the weekend, authorities said Thursday.

An adventurous traveler and veteran mountaineer, Ybarra, 45, was climbing alone in the Sawtooth Ridge area on the border of the park and Mono County and apparently fell 150 to 200 feet to his death, according to park ranger Kari Cobb. He was reported missing by his family Sunday and a rescue crew spotted his body Tuesday but a helicopter was not available to airlift his body out until Wednesday, Cobb said.

“It’s definitely a rugged area and hard to access by foot,” Cobb said.

In a statement, the Wall Street Journal described Ybarra as “an extraordinary journalist. In the best traditions of his profession he enlightened and engaged readers on a wide array of topics in clear, vivid prose.”

His Journal column often described his own exploits and travels, such as a recent white-water kayaking trip: “When I'm on a whitewater run, I often feel like a pinball: shooting downstream, bumping off rocks, wildly paddling through waves to keep from being capsized. The potential for disaster seems to be everywhere.”

Last year, Ybarra described in a Journal column how he fell -- but was not hurt -- during a icy mountain climb.  "Climbing in the mountains is serious business. Mistakes carry consequences -- for yourself and your partner. At night I lay awake wondering if I should just go back to gym climbing or find a more sensible sports, such as table tennis," he wrote.

Ybarra was an intern at the Los Angeles Times in the late 1980s and later wrote freelance articles for The Times about museums, theater, authors and traveling. He also wrote “Washington Gone Crazy,” a 2004 biography of Pat McCarran, a former U.S. senator from Nevada, and his role in Congress' anti-Communist hearings in the 1950s.


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-- Larry Gordon

Photo: Michael J. Ybarra. Credit: Darcy Padilla