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Wednesday, October 2, 2002 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Adventurer is killed in fall: Gran Kropp was elite climber, skier, cyclist

Seattle Times staff reporter

Well-known Swedish adventurer Göran Kropp, who has been living in Issaquah the past six months, was killed Monday in a rock-climbing accident in Grant County.

A companion with Mr. Kropp, Erden Sukru Eruc, 41, was injured. He was released after being treated at Yakima Valley Memorial Hospital, a spokeswoman said yesterday.

An elite climber, skier and cyclist, Mr. Kropp, 35, is most famous for an unusual adventure in 1996, when he rode a bicycle 7,440 miles from his home in Jönköping, Sweden, to Kathmandu in Nepal, where he climbed Mount Everest.

Monday, he was only 5 feet from the top of Air Guitar, a crack climb on Sunshine Wall, a popular rock-climbing area near Vantage, Kittitas County.

He slipped and fell some 60 feet to a rock ledge before hitting the ground, according to Grant County Sheriff Michael Shay. Mr. Kropp died at the scene.

Eruc, who was holding the rope as Mr. Kropp's belayer, had minor injuries, Shay said.

Eruc, in an e-mail exchange, said Mr. Kropp was leading the moderate-to-difficult pitch about 2:40 p.m. and placing his own protection — hardware meant to protect the climber in a fall — in the crack during his ascent. Devices include chocks, nuts and cams. Eruc heard commotion from above and looked up.

"He was falling and I saw his first piece pull," Eruc wrote. "His rope went slack. My instinct was to duck, and I crouched low into the corner to take up the slack. I think I pulled some rope through the belay device, but I'm not sure."

Eruc threw his arm into the rope, which wrapped around his bicep and clinched it, giving him a burn he would only notice later.

"I heard him impact just behind me on the two to three meter wide shelf, and then there was silence," Eruc wrote. "It all happened very quickly."

Eruc noticed all but the lowest piece of Mr. Kropp's protection had ripped free one by one. A carabiner was sheared in two on the ground. The fall shattered Mr. Kropp's bicycling helmet, which was no longer on his head.

Eruc attempted CPR, but Mr. Kropp never regained consciousness.

"I lost a friend," said Eruc, who had met Mr. Kropp during one of his many slide shows. "I lost my hero."

Mr. Kropp was well-known for his wild humor and his tireless touring to give slide shows, including in Seattle.

He was also a disciplined and careful climber who turned back on his first Everest attempt in 1996 a few dozen meters from the summit. He went down, ate an entire stick of butter for dinner and returned and reached the summit days later.

Mr. Kropp made that Everest climb unaided by oxygen or sherpas, then rode his bike back home. His experiences were detailed in a book he wrote: "Ultimate High: My Mount Everest Odyssey — From Sea Level to Summit."

In the book, he described how he towed 240 pounds of equipment, most everything he would need for the climb.

The bicycle trip took five months, and according to the book, Mr. Kropp narrowly missed being shot in Turkey, was stoned in Iran and nearly lynched in Pakistan. He repaired 132 flat tires.

According to his Web site, Mr. Kropp began his climbing adventures in 1988, after serving a stint as a paratrooper in the Swedish special forces. He was the second person to reach the summit of K-2, the second-highest mountain in the world, without oxygen.

In the spring of 2000, Mr. Kropp failed to reach the North Pole on skis with a countryman, Ola Skinnarmo.

Mr. Kropp suffered frostbite on his thumb and was stalked for much of the trip by a polar bear, which he later killed. He was rescued by helicopter while Skinnarmo continued to the North Pole on skis, the first Swedish person to do so.

Mr. Kropp was planning yet another adventure, friends said. He wanted to sail by himself to Antarctica and ski across the ice fields to the South Pole. Afterward he planned to retrace his route on skis, then sail back home.

In a subsequent TV interview, Mr. Kropp said he might forgo sailing to Antarctica. Instead he was considering rowing from Sweden to Antarctica.

"He was always joking around; you couldn't take a regular picture without him crinkling his face up and looking goofy," said friend Ryan Hayter, who had dinner with Mr. Kropp last weekend.

"On Saturday he was at my house singing karaoke in his Swedish accent, and playing Balderdash even though he didn't know the words or their definitions. He even carved his name into my coffee table."

Hayter said Mr. Kropp's girlfriend, Renata Chlumska, also an adventurer, received the news of Mr. Kropp's death while in Nepal via a climbing phone tree and the help of mountaineer Ed Viesturs, and was returning to the Seattle area.

Mr. Kropp did a promotional book tour organized by the Banff Mountain Film Festival several years ago.

As part of the tour, he gave a two-hour presentation to about 900 students at the University of California, Santa Barbara, in November 1999.

"It was packed," said Roman Baratiak, manager of films and lectures for the university. "We turned away a couple hundred people."

Baratiak said that in 23 years in his job, he rated Mr. Kropp the best storyteller of outdoor feats to have ever presented at the school. "He was so gregarious," he said. "We've done many, many presentations, and he was an entertainer. He was funny, he kind of roamed the stage and people loved him. People still talk about him.

"There's just some people who make an impact. That's the kind of person that he was."

Seattle Times staff reporter Gina Kim contributed to this report.

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