Climber Dies in 1,000-Foot Fall From Denali Peak

One climber died and a second was seriously injured after falling 1,000 feet while ascending Mt. Johnson in Denali National Park and Preserve this week.

The accident happened in Ruth Gorge, as the team—Robbi Mecus, 52, and her climbing partner—tackled a treacherous route known as “The Escalator,” on the night of April 25.

“The approximately 5,000-foot route involves navigating a mix of steep rock, ice, and snow,” the parks service said.

Another climbing party witnessed the roped pair fall, called for help, and then climbed down to attempt a rescue. They determined Mecus had died and then dug a snow cave to shelter the survivor, a 30-year-old woman from California, through the night.

The “Escalator” route on Mt. Johnson, Denali National Park and Preserve. The X indicates the approximate location of the rescue of the surviving climbing partner.

National Park Service

A park helicopter pilot and two mountaineering Rangers rescued the survivor on Friday morning and tried to recover Mecus’ body but were deterred by bad weather conditions. They returned on Saturday morning and brought her remains off the mountain.

Mecus was a firefighter, forest ranger, search-and-rescue professional—and a “proud trans woman,” according to a YouTube video she made—from a town in New York’s Adirondacks region.

She was a very experienced climber and said in the video that she used to dream of mountaineering while growing up in Brooklyn.

“I’ve had a crush on Alaska for more than 40 years,” she said.

She worked there as a forest service employee after college but decided she could not stay because she was concealing her trans identity. She returned to New York, got married, had a child—and then in her forties came out as trans.

Over the years, she returned to Alaska for expeditions, and her Facebook page shows that last year, she successfully made it up “the Escalator.” Then two weeks ago, she was back for another go at it.

“Officially stuck in Talkeetna, AK, waiting for the weather to clear to get into the Ruth Gorge,” she wrote on April 12. “Luckily, we have the warm and cozy bunkhouse provided by Talkeetna Air Taxi to stay in, and no shortage of food to eat.”

It’s not clear what went wrong on the mountain, but members of the queer climbing community and her friends and colleagues were mourning Mecus.

Sean Mahar, interim Department of Environmental Conservation commissioner, said in a statement that she “demonstrated an unparalleled passion for protecting the environment and New Yorkers.”

“She exemplified the forest rangers’ high standard of professional excellence while successfully leading dangerous rescues and complex searches, educating the public about trail safety, deploying out of state for wildfire response missions, and advancing diversity, inclusion, and LGBTQ belonging throughout the agency.”

This post was originally published on Daily Beast

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