Wisconsin-River Falls community remembers student who died while climbing in Colorado

May 23, 2019 10:24 PM

A young man from Winona was in Colorado celebrating the end of his first year in college. The trip ended tragically for 22-year-old Mitchel Halberg.

He died in a climbing accident on Saturday while in Poudre Canyon, north of Denver.


His friend Eric told 5 EYEWITNESS NEWS that Mitch was “a dear friend and climbing partner […] who never turned down a challenge and pushed himself and others to perform their best.”

They completed two climbs together that day. He told us when Mitch got to the top of the second, “he said ‘man that was awesome!’ He said it was one of his favorite climbs ever and he was psyched to have gotten the chance to climb it.”

Eric went on to say, “He was an incredible person and the void he left will never be filled.”

Halberg started at the University of Wisconsin-River Falls in the fall, studying horticulture. He quickly joined the rock climbing club.

“He was respected by his peers and loved by a lot of people,” said Jacob Brunnquelle, the club’s advisor. “People wanted to be around him. He was here quite a bit with the club, climbing and making friends. He put himself out there and people respected him for that.”

Halberg was chosen to be the club’s president next year.

“It’s tough, it hits hard,” said Brunnquelle. “You just got to be there and support each other and remember his life, celebrate his life.”

At the University’s greenhouse, the news is still sinking in.

“Could this be real? I just saw him last week,” said David Zlesak, his professor and advisor. “I was really looking forward to having him in a couple sophomore-level classes.”

Zlesak said he enjoyed getting to know Halberg and his fiancee, who is also a student at the University.

Halberg, he said, loved nature and had an interest in nursery and greenhouse production.

When asked what he wants people to know about his mentee, Zlesak said, “His positivity, his love for adventure and love of others and making the world a better place through nature.”

Sonja Maki taught two of Halberg’s freshman classes and said the young man left a lasting impression.

“I just thought he was so thoughtful and his inquiring mind is what struck me,” she said. “He always asked questions if he didn’t know the answer to something.”

“You could tell he really enjoyed what he was studying.”

Maki said his loss has been difficult to process.

“My thoughts and prayers go out to his family and friends,” she said.

The University is offering grief counseling services to faculty and staff. Students can stop by Counseling Services in 211 Hagestad Hall or call 3884.

Halberg’s life will be remembered on Saturday afternoon during a funeral service at Central Lutheran Church in Winona.

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Callan Gray

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