Friends remembered an Edmond woman who had passion for climbing and her community.
Jackie Skaggs, spokeswoman for Grand Teton National Park, said at about 8:30 a.m. Monday that Mimi Bilyeu, 43, was ascending to the Upper Saddle of the Grand Teton (elevation 13,160 feet) with her climbing partner and a guide from Jackson Hole Mountain Guides when she fell while negotiating a short section above the Exum Gully about 8:30 a.m.
Grand Teton National Park rangers were notified of the accident at 8:40 a.m. and a rescue response was quickly initiated, Skaggs said.
Two park rangers on routine patrol at the Lower Saddle of the Grand Teton (11,600 feet) climbed to the accident site to begin emergency medical care and prepare the injured climber for a helicopter evacuation, Skaggs said.
Bilyeu was unresponsive when park rangers arrived on scene and could not be revived, Skaggs said. She was pronounced dead in consultation with the park’s medical director and park rangers on scene, Skaggs said.
Other Jackson Hole Mountain Guides staff responded to the area and escorted Bilyeu’s climbing partner to the Corbet High Camp near the Lower Saddle and later escorted her to Lupine Meadows trailhead on the valley floor, Skaggs said.
Thunderstorm activity in the area complicated related operations; there were sunny skies at the time of the accident, Skaggs said. The investigation will include interviewing potential witnesses, Skaggs said.
Funeral arrangements are under the direction of Baggerley Funeral Home, 930 S. Broadway. Information on funeral services is pending. Bilyeu and her husband Mark had two children, a daughter and a son.
Earlier this year, Bilyeu went with a Maisha International team to Kenya, said Jennifer Whitener, spokeswoman for Maisha International. Founded in 2006 by Beatrice Williamson, Maisha leads mission trips with churches, college students, families and individuals to the impoverished, war weary east African nation. It has become a center for transformation in the community.
Last year, Bilyeu was recovering from knee injuries. In a Maisha blog post she wrote about recovering.
“I was in a very bad place emotionally and physically not sure I would be able to run, climb or do the things I loved again. The prospect of facing knee surgery, rehabilitation and ‘time off’ left me feeling lost and questioning my ability to do the things we take for granted every day. But hope was just around the corner.”
In March, Bilyeu ran with a group of Kenyan kids from Maisha on a relay team in the Rift Valley Marathon.
“The obstacles I’ve faced don’t compare with the ones my Kenyan running team faces every day,” she continued in the post. “They looked insurmountable before I searched outside myself. I have come to realize there are blessings in everything and opportunities to grow everywhere ... if we just keep the faith and have a little patience. The icing on the cake is, while in Kenya, I’m going to climb Mt. Kilimanjaro ... a dream come true for me!”
Whitener said she was texting Bilyeu until a few days ago. She learned about the tragic news when Carmen Hancuff, of Edmond, a mutual friend through Maisha, called her. Hancuff came up with the idea for the mission trip marathon. Bilyeu wanted to include the kids from Maisha.
“It’s hard to believe when you first hear,” Whitener said. “It was shock at first and then it was she leaves behind two kids.”
Sherri Eakins, owner of Sherri & Company Salon, located in downtown Edmond at 109 S. Broadway, has had multiple members of Bilyeu’s family for clients. She was Bilyeu’s hairdresser for as long as she can remember.
Both Eakins and Whitener said Bilyeu was always happy and always smiling.
“I couldn’t believe it,” Eakins said about hearing the news. “I’ll never believe it. I’ll still see her sitting here on the couch. I have a lot of fond memories of her and her husband. He’s a wonderful man, a wonderful dad.”
Eakins said through the years she got to see the love Mimi and Mark had for each other during the good times and the hard times. They took her out to eat after she’d done their hair staying late at night.
“It is a very loving family,” Eakins said. “Mimi loved life, laughed always. She loved mountain climbing. She just couldn’t give it up because it was so fun for her.”
Whitener said during the recent trip to Kenya, Bilyeu conquered Kilimanjaro. She said Bilyeu died doing what she loved. Whitener said Maisha wants to do what it can to help Bilyeu’s family, and along those lines a fund is being established. Details were not immediately available.
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