There are also errors in judgment, but the gear is the center of this story.
The final paragraphs are still hard for me to read, six years on.
edit: adding National Park Service summaries
NPS Morning Report for October 26, 2006
Yosemite National Park (CA)
Noted Climber Falls To His Death
Todd Skinner, 47, of Lander, Wyoming, was climbing a route on the Leaning Tower when he fell approximately 500 feet to his death. Skinner's climbing partner reported the fall at around 4 p.m.
Skinner was pronounced dead at the scene. He is survived by his wife and three children. The exact cause of death is under investigation.
[Submitted by Adrienne Freeman, Public Affairs]
NPS Morning Report for October 30, 2006
Yosemite National Park (CA)
Follow-up On Fatal Climbing Fall
Jim Hewitt reported that he and his partner, well-known climber Todd Skinner, had been working on a first free ascent of the "Jesus Built My Hotrod" route on the overhanging west face of the Leaning Tower. Skinner's fall occurred when he was rappelling.
Hewitt told investigators that he had been above Skinner when he fell. As he was rappelling on the low-stretch ropes that they had fixed on the route, Hewitt came to Skinner's Grigri descent device on the rope at the point where he had fallen.
The Grigri had a still-locked carabiner attached which had been connected to Skinner's harness. When Skinner's body was recovered, the belay loop on his harness was missing.
The next day, rangers recovered a broken harness belay loop in vegetation at the base of the wall. It was very worn at the spot where the break had occurred.
Hewitt later told investigators that Skinner was aware that the belay loop on his harness was in a weakened condition prior to the climb, and that they had talked about its poor condition three days earlier. ... .
[Submitted by Keith Lober, Emergency Services Coordinator]
I think it's the exception that proves the rule though. Word when it happened was he'd been cleaning loose rock on rap, and was not only wearing a blown-out harness (with a replacement on order at the time) but also apparently had a haul bag full of rocks clipped off to himself.
So -- if you are one of the world's most prolific climbers, use gear you have already decided to retire, and have an unusually high working load, you can maybe get your gear to fail. But it's still incredibly rare.
He was a widely known and well-regarded big wall guy who had freed gigantic routes in Pakistan, Greenland and the Yukon. I read his trip reports with awe. I would have felt out of place carrying his rack from the truck to a picnic table, much less talking climbing with him.
I had not heard that he was tidying up. He was also reputed to be very generous with his time and expertise. I find the idea of him carefully cleaning up a new route (while passing an increasing load through a frayed harness) almost intolerably painful to think about.