Climber looks back on almost fatal fall

Shortly before 4 p.m. on Monday, May 23, Kyle Ciarletta was topping out on a rock climbing route on Pitchoff Mountain between Lake Placid and Keene. The next thing he knew, he was in the hospital in Burlington suffering from grave injuries.

Ciarletta is a 22-year-old man from Eagleville, Pennsylvania who just graduated college with a degree in nursing. He has been rock climbing, both at gyms and natural rock up and down the East Coast, for a number of years, although this was his first time climbing in the Adirondacks.

Ciarletta suffered a multitude of injuries from the fall, including breaking his jaw, wrist, pelvis and ankle.

“I should be walking again in August with a lot of physical therapy and help from the family,” he said.

This incident won’t stop him from climbing in the future, he added.

“I do plan on climbing again once I become able, but I will take it slow.”

At the time of the incident, New York State Department of Environmental Conservation spokesman David Winchell said Ciarletta and his partner had been climbing a route on Pitchoff called “Roaches on the Wall” when Ciarletta fell. Winchell said Ciarletta had reached the top of the route and expected to be belayed down by his climbing partner.

“He was out of sight and hard to hear, but she had assumed he was planning to rappel down as they had both done in an early climb,” Winchell said in an email. “The climber stepped off the top expecting to be belayed but instead fell to the bottom of the route.”

Ciarletta said last week in a message that he doesn’t really remember what happened when he fell. He chalked the fall up to a lack of communication and possible gear failure.

“I believe the miscommunication was due to both our environment and exhaustion, as we had been climbing and backpacking the five previous days,” Ciarletta said. “As for what happened, I remember nothing from racking up until I woke up.

“I was inspecting my gear last week and found that the (cara)biner on my personal anchor system was sticky, meaning it stayed open after I opened it. Because I forget the incident, I cannot say for sure, but this could have been why I fell.

“I only lower through chains on steep sport routes if I do at all. It’s not great for the rope and the chains. Maybe for some reason I decided to lower, and that’s why there was confusion,” he continued. “The biner was also sticky, so if I forgot to lock the biner, that also could have been the cause. There seems to be a lot of variables that combined to make this happen.”

Ron Konowitz, an avid climber who lives in Keene Valley, said he had climbed “Roaches on the Wall” before. Konowitz was not involved in the rescue but said that area is difficult to communicate in due to traffic noise from nearby state Route 73.

“Once you’re above the second roof, the climbing is easy, but visual contact is lost,” Konowitz said. “The rappel chains at the top of the climb are on a small ledge. It is possible to either walk down around the left hand side of the cliff, rappel down or be lowered down from the small ledge where the rappel anchors are located at the top of the climb.”

Don Mellor of Lake Placid, a veteran climber who wrote a definitive Adirondack climbing guidebook, said the rappel chains on that route are pretty high up.

“Eighty feet probably, but definitely more than 60,” Mellor said.

When Ciarletta fell, several climbers in the immediate vicinity helped stabilize him when they heard his partner screaming for help.

State forest rangers and the Keene and Keene Valley rescue squads were dispatched to the scene. The first forest ranger to arrive started advanced life support. Once Ciarletta was packaged, he was driven to Marcy Field in Keene Valley, where a LifeNet helicopter flew him to the University of Vermont Medical Center in Burlington.

“I am extremely grateful to those involved with the rescue, especially the climbers at the wall that assisted my partner with my original stabilization,” Ciarletta said. “I could not thank them enough.”