Stanford University student and climbing enthusiast Christina "Chris" Chan died Friday afternoon after falling from the north face of Eichorn Peak in Yosemite during a "free soloing" climb about 400 feet up sheer rock wall.
Chan, a fourth-year graduate student in political science, was 2008 co-president of the Stanford Alpine Club, through which Chan shared her passion for climbing with others, according to the club's website.
Her climbing partner, Jim Castelaz, also of Stanford, saw her falling and quickly descended, hoping against all odds that she was still alive, according to a posting he made on Chan's memorial Facebook page.
He said he saw her falling: "I was in shock and horrified and helpless."
Free soloing means climbing without a rope or safety protection, and is usually practiced only by the most skilled of climbers.
Chan often spent weekends teaching beginning climbing, anchors, lead climbing and self-rescue.
"There is no existence that I love more than the moments spent on steep granite faces. Multipitch trad (traditional) and big walls in Yosemite are my favorite," Chan wrote on her Stanford website.
Chan's climbing accomplishments included soloing the Zodiac route of El Capitan in Yosemite (see images) and soloing the Prow and the Skull Queen routes of Washington Column in Yosemite.
In his Facebook entry, Castelaz wrote: "It was windy and I was a bit cold, so then we decided to climb down. She led the way.
"She was about 10 feet above where she would move onto the ledge that leads off the climb and I was maybe 20 feet above her when I heard something. I turned around and saw that she had come off the rock.
"I don't know what happened or why she came off. I saw her falling. I was in shock and horrified and helpless."
Chan's academic interests included environmental policy and politics in China. As an undergraduate at Harvard University she studied biochemical sciences. She later received a master's degree from Stanford in civil and environmental engineering. She recently was working toward a Ph.D. in political science, according to her Stanford website.
Memorial services are pending.