In December 2017, while Forté was visiting her family in New Jersey for the holidays, she got a disturbing text message from Bill Ramsey, her friend and next-door neighbor in Las Vegas.
A longtime climber in the area, Ramsey had received a series of text messages from Barrett warning that he was going to “take care of” Forté and then kill himself. According to the police report about this incident, Ramsey had initially tried to support Barrett when he moved to town, but now he was worried about Forté’s safety.
Barrett knew that Ramsey was Forté’s neighbor, and he continued sending cryptic, sometimes ominous messages to Ramsey that later would be filed with the Mono County Superior Court.
“Tell Stephanie she won,” he wrote on December 19, 2017. “I have friends that are going to her house.”
According to court records, Ramsey sought to distance himself from Barrett, who was living out of his truck and traveling between climbing areas in 2018. But the text messages kept coming, even though Ramsey rarely responded. Barrett threatened Forté with violence as well as a defamation suit. Ramsey shared the messages with Forté, who had blocked Barrett on her phone and social media accounts.
“Tell Stephanie she is warned,” Barrett wrote on March 25, 2018. “I’m going to court.”
April 5: “You there? I’m killing myself tonight. Thanks for the good times. Yeah tell Steph she won.”
August 10: “Dude, Stephanie is about to get worked. You can text me if you want. She’s done though.”
Federal investigators would later learn that in 2018 Barrett told a friend, a professional climber, that he planned to kill Forté. The friend said he didn’t take the threat seriously and wrongly assumed that it had something to do with Barrett having a “crush” on Forté “from a long time ago,” according to court documents.
Barrett repeatedly posted on social media that Forté was determined to ruin his life. In September 2018, he removed his Facebook profile photo and replaced it with a picture of Forté climbing. He found other photos of her online and posted them as well. One showed Forté smiling and sitting at the base of a climb. Barrett’s caption read: “I don’t always ruin people’s lives but when I do, I smile.”
Barrett named a new climbing route in Tuolumne Meadows “Fuck You Steph Forté Fuck You.” He promoted the route to his approximately 5,000 Instagram followers, and in October 2019 it was posted on the best_of_8a Instagram account. The Tahoe Quarterly piece came out around that time, and ESPN.com profiled Alex Honnold in September, describing Barrett as Honnold’s friend and climbing partner.
Honnold discussed that period with me at length in the summer of 2023. He mentioned that his friendship with Barrett was sporadic—“I would see Charlie once every few years for like a day or two,” he said—and acknowledged that he had a “blind spot” about him like many people did. Honnold’s knowledge of Barrett’s violent behavior primarily consisted of “rumors heard around the campfire,” he told me, and those rumors were often dismissed: “People cut him more slack because he is incredibly talented, and he wrote those guidebooks and established really hard climbs.”
Honnold said that he’d heard stories about a female professional climber he knew who’d been in a relationship with Barrett and got “punched in the face.”
“I thought: That’s crazy,” Honnold said. “But then I immediately thought: Maybe he was really drunk and they were fighting and that’s how he ended up punching her in the face. And she is a very strong person who holds her own.” (The climber, who Honnold named, did not respond to interview requests.)
Honnold said that he tries to see the best in people and always hoped that Barrett would turn his life around. “[The violence] was a step beyond what I could imagine,” he says. “Which I guess is why I had a blind spot around it. And the depressed-alcoholic thing is an easy way to mask some of the actual violence.”
In late 2019, Forté was twisting in the wind, feeling unsupported by the climbing community and law enforcement. Even though she’d taken no action against Barrett since raising alarms at the climbing gym in 2017, he seemed certain she was out to get him.
When Barrett was climbing in Kentucky in 2019 and 2020—where K.G. had moved—tires on his truck were slashed. He said on Instagram that Forté, who was living in Las Vegas, might have done it. Later, when two different girlfriends broke up with Barrett, he blamed it on Forté. “Harsh reality to wake up to,” read an Instagram post from August 2021. “Steph 2 Charlie 0.”
Barrett occasionally succeeded in sending Forté messages, by using his fake Instagram accounts. These eventually became part of materials retrieved from Barrett’s laptop and phone that prosecutors sought as evidence of how Barrett tried to intimidate people.
On May 14, 2020, using an account called Shuan_5540, he said of Forté: “You are an absolute piece of shit human but I am sure you know that.”
From fro_mtt on September 3, 2021: “You’re going down.”
Barrett told friends that he was trying to get his life back and was working on filing a defamation suit against Forté. He said that women were conspiring against him to capitalize on #MeToo. He often closed his online complaints about Forté and others with the hashtag #MenToo.
By late 2021, Barrett knew that he might be going back to prison soon; federal authorities had opened an investigation into his 2016 assault of K.G. in Yosemite. Kristy McGee, the lead detective, had worked on more than 100 sexual-assault cases for the National Park Service’s Investigative Services Branch and had formally interviewed Barrett in July. For Barrett, this was no scuffle with the county sheriff. Things were getting very serious.