Beloved Routesetter Lee Hansche Dies in Tragic Climbing Gym Accident

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Routesetting equipment in the gym

[Editor’s Note: This article was written with Holly Yu Tung Chen]

Lee Hansche, 46, of Allenstown, New Hampshire, died on May 21, 2024, following an accident at Vertical Dreams in Manchester, New Hampshire. A post on Hansche’s Instagram profile indicated the accident took place while Hansche was routesetting.

According to information in a news report on Patch.com, Hansche fell from a height of 40 to 60 feet. Manchester Fire and AMR responded to Vertical Dreams and transported Hansche to Elliot Hospital, where he succumbed to his injuries. Per the news report, Manchester Police have confirmed the fall, and Vertical Dreams confirmed Hansche’s passing in a Facebook post.

While details of the accident are still unknown, according to the news report the U.S. Department of Labor has confirmed that the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has opened an inspection of Vertical Dreams to determine if any violations of workplace safety standards contributed to the incident. The investigation is ongoing and could take up to six months to complete. Vertical Dreams has not yet responded to requests for comment.

If the OSHA investigation indeed confirms the accident happened while routesetting, to our knowledge at CBJ it would mark the first death of a routesetter on the job that’s been confirmed in the U.S., highlighting the inherent risks of climbing even in a relatively safe environment of an indoor gym. (Routesetting work at height requires special training. The Climbing Wall Association has a Work at Height Certification, and proper gear is always essential.)

A Steward of the Climbing Community

Hansche was a cherished member of the New Hampshire and Rumney climbing community, known for his unwavering commitment to bettering the community. Not only was he a professional routesetter, Hansche was also a Manager at Vertical Dreams where, according to the gym’s Facebook post, he had dedicated 20 years of his life.

At Vertical Dreams, Hansche mentored countless young climbers and made everyone feel at home. A friend of Hansche’s commented on Instagram, remembering when he taught Summer Camp campers how to set routes, and many others chimed in to remember moments when Hansche extended a helping hand.

His impact also extended beyond the walls of the gym, with his influence felt in the wider climbing world. Hansche’s work on the Gunks Apps, First Ascent Podcast, and route development and maintenance in Rumney are among his many contributions to the community. Hansche’s first contribution to Mountain Project dates back to 2007, and he was also a contributor to Common Climber.

A true steward of the climbing community, Hansche’s legacy is not limited to his climbing achievements. Friends say Hansche was also a passionate conservationist, particularly dedicated to bird conservation. Hansche worked with the New Hampshire Audubon, assisting in banding peregrine falcons and educating others about these magnificent birds. His efforts helped raise awareness and foster a deeper appreciation for avian wildlife among those he mentored.

Tributes to Hansche have flooded social media platforms and forums, including on Mountain Project, Instagram, Facebook, Reddit and Google Groups, where gym members and fellow climbers have shared heartfelt messages remembering his generosity, friendship and mentorship.

“Climbing was Lee and Lee was climbing,” wrote Jay Knower, a friend and co-host of First Ascent Podcast. “But as good as he was on the rock, and he was excellent on the rock, he was an even better person. He had kindness. Not the surface facade of kindness, but kindness all the way down to his core. And he had a sense of service. He gave to the community in so many ways.”

“His passion for climbing was contagious and he openly shared his sport with anyone who happened to walk through the door,” read Vertical Dream’s Facebook post. “He embodied a spirit of inclusivity and fostered a place where people felt at home—no matter your age, ability, or experience.”

Hansche’s contributions to both the climbing and conservation communities were vast and varied. His dedication to bolting and maintaining routes ensured that climbers could enjoy safe and challenging experiences. Simultaneously, his work with the NH Audubon brought attention to the importance of bird conservation, showcasing his diverse interests and commitment to making a difference.

A memorial fund at GoFundMe has been set up in honor of Hansche, with donations going to the Central NH Climbers’ Association and Rumney Climbers’ Association, and a memorial page for Hansche at Roan Family Funeral Home can be found here.

Other coverage of this story has been published at Gripped and GearJunkie.

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