Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Rock Climber Badly Hurt In Fall From Pitchoff Cliff

Pitchoff Chimney CliffA rock climber was flown to a Vermont hospital after suffering severe injuries in a 60-foot fall from a cliff on Pitchoff Mountain on Monday afternoon. State Police identified the victim as Kyle R. Ciarletta, 22, of Eagleville, PA.

Ciarletta fell after climbing a difficult route known as Roaches on the Wall, said David Winchell, a spokesman for the state Department of Environmental Conservation.

Winchell attributed the accident to miscommunication between Ciarletta and his belayer, a 23-year-old woman from Norristown, PA.

Winchell said Ciarletta expected to be lowered by rope from the top of the cliff, but his belayer, who was at the base of the route, thought he planned to rappel and so presumably let go of the rope.

“The climber and the belayer were not in sight of one another, and the belayer could not hear the climber clearly,” Winchell said in an email to Adirondack Almanack. “The belayer heard the climber say one word and assumed he wanted her to take him off belay.”

He added that the two had both rappelled after climbing a route earlier in the day.

Essex County received the emergency call at 3:42 p.m. State Police, DEC personnel, and rescue squads from Keene and Keene Valley all went to the scene. Ciarletta was taken to Marcy Field in Keene and then flown by Life-Net to the University of Vermont Medical Center in Burlington, where he was listed in critical condition. The hospital said he was in the intensive-care unit today.

On the Facebook page Adirondack Rock Climbing, climbers said the accident underscores the importance of agreeing on a descent plan before undertaking a climb.

Pitchoff Chimney Cliff overlooks Lower Cascade Lake and lies along Route 73. Motorists often can see climbers on the cliff as they drive past. The guidebook Adirondack Rock lists 45 climbing routes, most ranging in difficulty from 5.8 (moderate) to 5.12 (hard) on the Yosemite Decimal System scale. Roaches on the Wall is rated 5.10 and considered to be one of the best routes on the cliff.

Photo by Phil Brown: Pitchoff Chimney Cliff in Cascade Pass.


Phil Brown

Since 1999, Phil Brown has been Editor of the nonprofit Adirondack Explorer, the regional bimonthly with a focus on outdoor recreation and environmental issues, the same topics he writes about here at Adirondack Almanack.

Phil is also an energetic outdoorsman whose job and personal interests often find him hiking, canoeing, rock climbing, trail running, and backcountry skiing.

He is the author of Adirondack Paddling: 60 Great Flatwater Adventures, which he co-published with the Adirondack Mountain Club, and the editor of Bob Marshall in the Adirondacks, an anthology of Marshall’s writings.

Visit Lost Pond Press for more information.




20 Responses

  1. Phil Bobrowski says:

    So, were they “top roping” or was he “lead” climbing? If he was lead, why would she even think about letting go? I’m kinda confused. If they had “topped” the previous route, and then rapped down, THAT I can understand.

  2. Phil Brown says:

    I understand he was at the top of the route after leading it and wanted to be lowered. Perhaps he wanted to set up a top rope so they could do laps on Roaches on the Wall. In any case, she took him off belay because she thought he was going to rappel.

  3. Todd Eastman says:

    My deepest wishes to the climber and the belayer. This is not an uncommon occurrence on shorter routes when the protocols of sport climbing and trad climbing become ambiguous.

    • Don says:

      There isn’t really any ambiguity here. If the belayer does not clearly hear the climber say ‘off belay’ they should not take them off belay. The report says the belayer assumed the climber was going to rapel. You can’t assume. You have to hear them or follow a rope tug system.

      • Todd Eastman says:

        Don, I was only suggesting that on short routes there is frequently some confusion about rappelling vs lowering vs threading the anchors. This frequently occurs at practice crags like Pitchoff where in-grained actions are carried to the crag from other places. Gyms, sport crags, and trad areas all develop different behaviors.

        Good or bad, this is how climbers behave and garbled communications happen. Even the experts fail sometimes…

        • Don says:

          Then I agree with you. There is ambiguity in the actual practice. And, at the end of a long day or rushing in the face of nightfall or storm, we all make mistakes. 100% true

  4. Pablo Jones says:

    The use of ther LifeNet helicopter to take him to UVMMC means he gets a $50,000 or so bill that his insurance company won’t pay.

    • Todd Eastman says:

      Not a good time to go shopping for deals…

      • Pablo Jones says:

        It takes about two hours for LifeNet to crew up in Watertown, go to AMC, get the patient and deliver him/her to UVMMC. The LifeFlight helicopter is based in Lake Clear and can do it much faster, but AMC is now calling LifeNet. Guess why? Think commission on flight.

        • Nicks says:

          LifeNet was there in 15 minutes. They were returning from a flight from Burlington. They did a rapid sequence intubation on a very complex airway with state of the art equipment. Lifeflight is not trained to do this nore do they have the equipment. Why put a price tag on this life saving event…

          • Kyle Ciarletta says:

            Nicks, the only way I figure you got that information is if you were involved with the rescue. If so I thank you for keeping me alive, but from one healthcare professional to another this is a blatant HIPPA violation.

    • Kyle Ciarletta says:

      This is a completely false statement. Do some research before you make comments like this. Better yet don’t post them.

  5. James Cowan says:

    Good Afternoon Phil,

    Was David Winchell on the scene? Was the information he is providing based on a first-hand statement made by the belayer? Or is his account based on speculation and small pieces of information he heard second or third hand?

    My climbing group of 4 were the first ones on the scene, we arrived only seconds after Kyle fell after hearing his girlfriend screaming for help, and some of the information you’ve published here doesn’t seem accurate.

    For starters, he was NOT off belay: he was tied off, all his protection was in place on the wall and the rope was THROUGH her belay device when we arrived on the scene. She DID NOT take him off belay and “let go” of the rope.

    Quite frankly it is disrespectful to the climber, to the belayer and to their friends and family to publish this information unless you have a first hand account of what happened FROM THEM. There were no witnesses to the fall as they were the only ones in the Roaches Area when it happened (my group was at our cars packing up our gear).

    We remained on the scene until almost all the emergency services had left. I was the one who gave a sworn testimony (deposition) to the State Troopers regarding what happened.

    Unless Mr. Winchell spoke with the belayer after the incident and has a first hand account of what happened, I would suggest that you don’t publish speculation as if it were fact. If he did speak with her, then disregard this comment.

    • Bob Houston says:

      James, to you and your crew, I thank you from the bottom of my heart for your immediate, professional and unselfish response to this accident. You helped save the life of a climber that day who was a complete stranger to you. At the end of a long day when you and your partners were packing it up to head home, you not only helped by providing first aid and technical evac assistance but you then stayed and helped retrieve gear. As I, Kyle’s uncle, sit here at his bedside in the hospital, I can’t thank you, your climbing partners and all EMT and LifeNet staff enough for all that you did for Kyle. Your efforts are heroic. And James, thank you for your kind and supportive words in this column.

  6. Phil Brown Phil Brown says:

    James, Dave Winchell himself was not at the scene, but forest rangers and state police were. They likely talked to the belayer. As a DEC spokesman, Winchell gets his info from investigators at the scene. I got much of my information from Dave for this story. With one exception, I don’t think anything you said contradicts anything in the story. For instance, I don’t think “off belay” means that he was no longer tied in. He would have stayed tied in if he wanted to be lowered. Likewise, if the rope is still in the belay device, that doesn’t necessarily mean the climber is still on belay. You say the belayer did not take her hand off the rope. Is that based on a statement to you? In any case, if the climber was still being belayed and if his pro was still in place, why did he fall to the base of the route? In theory, there could be another explanation, such as equipment failure, but that’s not what DEC says happened.

  7. Phil Brown Phil Brown says:

    I double-checked with Dave Winchell. He confirmed that the information came from forest rangers who interviewed the belayer.

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