Meg O’Neil was a lot of things. She was a skilled ice climber, an experienced outdoorswoman, and a mentor to dozens of aspiring climbers and mountaineers. And, as her final actions proved, she was also a selfless friend.
On April 2, O’Neil was climbing Raven Falls, a frozen cascade in northern Utah, with two climbing partners. She was 41 years old at the time and, as a longtime Salt Lake City resident, knew these mountains well. The group arrived at the base of the climb without incident.
But a few minutes later, O’Neil and one partner, a 21-year-old woman, were standing beneath the route while their other friend swung into the ice above. He was partway up the climb when they heard a loud crack.
O’Neil looked up and saw that a massive column of ice had “fractured upon impact,” reported the Duchesne County Sheriff’s Office. It had broken free from the wall and was falling straight toward them. O’Neil leapt into action, pushing her climbing partner out of the way—and putting herself directly in the pillar’s path in the process.
The quick action saved the life of O’Neil’s climbing parter, but at a huge cost: O’Neil was trapped beneath the falling ice. She did not survive the impact.
The male climber who’d broken the column sustained a 40-foot fall when the ice fractured and was airlifted with serious injuries. His current status is unknown. The group appears to have been using all the appropriate safety systems. There was no evidence of avalanche danger, the ice had appeared to be strong upon first inspection, and the climber was not free-soloing the ice. O’Neil herself had more than 20 years of climbing experience.
The loss of O’Neil has left the Utah climbing community reeling. A longtime mentor at Embark Outdoors, a nonprofit dedicated to empowering refugee women, O’Neil had dedicated her life to uplifting others. By all accounts, she was a dedicated friend and colleague with a pure and joyful love of the mountains. Her absence is sure to leave a void for decades to come.