Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Climbing Is Inherently Dangerous: Poke-O-Moonshine Cliff Claims Another Life


CHESTERFIELD, N.Y. (AP) - A man well-known in rock climbing circles was killed yesterday when he fell about 200-feet from a mountain in the eastern Adirondacks.

State police say Dennis Luther of Morrisonville was descending Poke-O-Moonshine Mountain in Essex County when the 54-year-old veteran climber fell while repelling on the mountain's north face. He was pronounced dead at the scene.
Troopers say the fall was accidental.

The Adirondacks haven't had a ton of fatal climbing accidents, but certainly many non fatal accidents go unreported. If it doesn't require a rescue there really isn't any reason to contact anyone.

When I went flying down the Trap Dike in March 2006, I was one of 3-4 climbers who took several hundred foot falls on less than vertical technical climbs in the Adirondacks that winter. I was the only one that didn't require rescue, despite my fall being at least as far, if not further than the others.

I was lucky, and others have been luckier. Falling hundreds of vertical feet into deep snow or brush and walking away. Other people aren't so lucky, a 30ft whipper and they're dead. Someone I climbed with a single time, many years ago, had this happen to him a few years later in the Gunks. He fell 30ft, hitting his head and then hung inverted. Though the rescue was rapid, he died from his injuries.

The odd thing about most climbing fatalities is they aren't some NOOB, a slang term for newbie, or someone new at a sport, profession or activity. Heck, even doctors get the NOOB label, it's just classier: resident.

Ironically when a NOOB gets injured it's acceptable because it's expected. The problem with climbing is no one is allowed basic mistakes; gravity doesn't care if you've been climbing 6 months or 20 years.

In spite of the extreme sport perception of climbing, it's really not a dare devil sport. Most long time climbers are the most cautious people you'll ever meet. Climbing is about calculating risk and solving problems, and it's why many of the great climbers in the world are scientist and engineers.

In 2002, a Canadian from Toronto, decided to ice climb on Poko in known bad conditions during a warm spell, and an entire ice pillar came down as he was climbing it. I'd heard he made long drive and decided to give it a shot.
Even though that might sound like a terrible decision, this happens every day all over the world. People take a vacation somewhere and the conditions are terrible, but they spent their money and their limited time offm so they decide to climb anyway. The only time it looks like a bad decision is when you don't go home alive. We are all guilty of it at least once.

On October 8th, 2007 Dennis Luther fell 200ft on Poke-O-Moonshine. It's a steep cliff, highly visible from I-87, and I've only had the chance to climb there once myself. I climbed Neurosis, which is a moderate NEI 3+ ice climb close to where Dennis died. Dennis was an experienced climber with years spent on vertical rock faces.

Climbing is sort of the ultimate rubber necking, arm chair sport. Never has there been a sport where people on the ground think they have the answer to something going on hundreds of feet above them. Likewise, when an accident happens it's written about, and critiqued, and then hopefully learned from. Most of the time, everyone that wasn't involved shakes their head and says, "bummer, but that would never happen to me."

There is even a book that covers all the noted accidents in North America.
Accidents In North American Mountaineering

Thus far I don't think an official accident report has been released about the circumstances of Dennis Luther's accident, but state police said it was on a rappel.

Descent is always the most dangerous part of climbing. And rappelling is when you have the fewest links left in your protection system and it's when most avoidable fatal accidents occur.

There is no way to undo whats done, but hopefully people remember getting complacent means getting hurt.

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  1. Do you know if you can get holiday compensation insurance for a trip like this? A group of us from the UK are heading on over to the States to do some climbing and have had no luck finding an insurer willing to cover us against injuries etc yet.

  2. You can try these holiday complaints specialists, they seem to have a wide variety of packages.