Free soloist Austin Howell died June 30th after falling more than 80 feet from Shortoff Mountain in Burke County. He was well loved and known as an impressively passionate and quirky climber.

Carolyn Morrisroe happened to be hiking on the eastern rim of the Linville Gorge this past Sunday morning and decided to snap a few shots unaware of the weight they would carry. The photos were taken on Hawksbill, overlooking Table Rock and Shortoff Mountain.

The hiker found out later from news stories that her time looking toward Shortoff coincided with the time when Austin Howell was climbing and fell.

The photos were taken between 11:20 and 11:40 a.m. The first emergency call for Howell came in at 11:46 a.m., reportedly.

Photo by Carolyn Morrisroe

“They [the photos] illustrate nothing so much as what a beautiful morning it was when an apparently beloved climber lost his life,” Morrisroe says about her photos.

Photo by: Carolyn Morrisroe

With a tragedy like this, it is easy for us to want to question the choices the victim made or become scared of some of the things we do outside. For Howell, climbing was a no brainer. It was never a question of “what if” or “should I?” It was a question of “how” and “when.”

In one of our stories written about him a few years back, What’s Keeping Austin Weird, the devoted climber explains,

“When you find something that gives you that deep of a sense of peace, why would you let it go?” he says. “For most people, if they’ve really found something that’s meaningful in their lives, the choice…is going to be really obvious. The trick is admitting it.”

-Austin Howell

Morrisroe told us the Howell’s mother plans to put one of the photos of the beautiful view on her desk. The photos help bring some peace to family and friends of Howell to know that his final moments were spent doing what he loved in a beautiful place, on a gorgeous day.