Adirondack forest ranger dies in Alaska ice climbing accident

Robbi Mecus, a forest ranger with the state Department of Environmental Conservation and one of the lead organizers of the Keene Pride celebration, speaks to a crowd during the celebration in Marcy Field in June 2021. (Enterprise photo — Elizabeth Izzo)

KEENE VALLEY — Robbi Mecus, a forest ranger with the state Department of Environmental Conservation and a beloved member of the Keene Valley and local LGBTQ-plus community, died in an ice climbing accident in Alaska on Thursday.

Mecus, 52, fell approximately 1,000 feet while climbing a steep route known as “the Escalator” to the 8,400-foot peak of Mount Johnson in Denali National Park, according to the National Park Service. She died from injuries as a result of the fall.

Mecus served as a forest ranger for 25 years, joining ranks in 1999 at the age of 27. She was part of the DEC’s Region 5 ranger team with a focus on Essex and Franklin counties.

“I join the Department of Environmental Conservation family in mourning the sudden and tragic passing of Forest Ranger Robbi Mecus,” interim DEC Commissioner Sean Mahar said in a statement Saturday.

Mecus “exemplified the Forest Rangers’ high standard of professional excellence,” Mahar said, pointing to her rescue efforts, her work on complex searches and her deployments to out-of-state wildfire response missions.

Mecus’s older brother, Joe Mecus Jr., said he was “moved and overwhelmed” by the outpouring of support following his sister’s death.

“The attention this has gotten … just reinforces what I know of my sister, how brave, determined and influential she has been in the local, regional and global climbing and outdoor communities; the ranger and law enforcement community; the (LGBTQ-plus) communities and of course her family,” he said Sunday.

Mecus was climbing with Melissa Orzechowski on Thursday. Orzechowski, 30, survived the fall but was seriously injured and is currently hospitalized in critical but stable condition in Anchorage. Her father wrote on Facebook that she was “breathing on her own and breathing well” around noon on Sunday.

A co-organizer of the Queer Ice Festival in Keene and a former teacher at North Country School, Orzechowski relocated to California a year ago. Climbers who witnessed the fall were able to keep her warm throughout the night and tend to her injuries. She was airlifted to a hospital in Anchorage Friday morning.

The Park Service wasn’t able to recover Mecus from the scene until Saturday morning because of the weather conditions.

Mecus is survived by a 10-year-old daughter, her former wife, her brother and sister, and her niece and nephew.


Mahar said that Mecus advanced “diversity, inclusion and LGBTQ belonging throughout the agency.”

Mecus was a proud, out, transgender woman whose visibility in the community inspired many. Keene Valley hosted what was once one of the only town-wide Pride Month celebrations in the Adirondacks in 2020. In 2021, she was one of the lead organizers of Keene’s Pride parade.

Mecus transitioned at the age of 44, after being raised as a boy and after a lifetime of knowing that she was a girl. She started her transition about a year after she moved to Keene Valley.

“I didn’t see anybody like me. I didn’t see anybody being who I wanted to be,” she told the crowd at Keene’s Pride festival on June 19, 2021. “I thought everyone was going to reject me, that I was going to have to quit my job and move out of town.

“But something amazing happened,” she added. “I was accepted by everybody in town. They were welcoming, with open arms. I think somebody asked me, ‘Well, am I still going to get my burning permit?’ And I said, ‘Yeah.’ And they’re like, ‘OK, so, good.'”

But she realized that she wanted more than acceptance.

“I needed to create a space here in town that I wanted to see. I wanted the visibility that was missing for me,” she said. “I want people who want to move here, I want people who want to visit here, who want to recreate here, to spend time here, to know that we’re not just accepting. We’re openly welcoming. That’s what I want to see here and that’s why we created this here.”

She also helped organize a space for queer ice climbers to gather – the Queer Ice Fest, a free climbing event in Keene Valley.

Mecus found acceptance among her DEC colleagues and she continued her life-saving work. She was trained in highly-technical rope rescues and participated in countless rescues in treacherous conditions throughout her career, including a 2021 rescue of a hiker trapped on a ledge in the Mount Colden Trap Dike, a 2021 all-day rescue of an injured hiker on Mount Marcy and a search and rescue on Mount Marcy during a snowstorm just last month.

“Ranger Mecus will be dearly missed, and my thoughts are with her family and friends, fellow Forest Rangers and DEC staff fortunate to have known her and learned from her,” Mahar said.

This is a breaking news story. More details will be added as they become available.


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