Death on the mountain
falls when ice breaks off
By M,CHELLE PETERSON Staff Writer
CHESTERFIELD â€” Ice on the first pitch of the popular 160-foot climb "Positive Thinking" broke off Poke-O-Moonshine Friday and crashed to the ground, taking an Ontario climber with it.
Police did not release the name of the 34-year-old Canadian man, pronounced dead a little more than an hour after the 12:30 p.m. accident, but said he was about 135 feet up and anchoring himself to the east side of the mountain when the ice split and detached.
His climbing partner, Jason Kuruc, also of Ontario, stood below with the belay device, waiting to begin his assent. After the crash, Kuruc left the mountain to get help, and returned to assist emergency workers, who attempted cardiopulmonary resuscitation, but could not revive the man.
Eventually, Kuruc was taken to CVPH Medical Center in Plattsburgh where he was treated for minor injuries and released.
The climber,s body was removed from the base of the mountain by nine emergency workers, who carried the it on a yellow sled. Essex County Coroner Robert Huestis took the man,s body to Adirondack Medical Center in Saranac Lake, and ordered an autopsy be done this morning.
When he was released from the hospital, Kuruc gave statements to investigators from the State Police Bureau of Criminal Investigation, who are continuing to look into the case with the New York State Forest Service.
For a majority of the winter, the 85-degree pitch on Poke-O-Moonshine has been stellar for climbing.
Ed Palen, a guide for Adirondack Rock and River Guide Service, said more climbers than ever attempted the nearly vertical climb this year, which sits on a giant face of rock about a mile long.
"It looks like in two or three days it went from a lot of good ice climbing to not much at all," he said, after hearing about the accident Friday evening.
Palen said that, with the number of climbers and the good conditions, he wasn,t surprised an accident occurred but didn,t expect anything tragic.
"The climb was very safe and good for the past three weeks," said Palen, who,s guided it a handful of times in the past two weeks, to some clients who,ve been waiting years to get a piece of it. "I,ve never seen more people climbing than this year."
Climbers clamored to get up Positive Thinking, with parties on the mountain daily, and sometimes a group on each of the three pitches.
"We were seeing some scary things this year," he said. "They heard Positive Thinking was in and everyone was rushing to it."
He said warm, rainy days took a toll on the ice, which streaks down the mountainside, creating four or five different climbs for the year.
"It was back out in January, but it came back in with the real thaw we had about three weeks ago," he said. "It was as fat as we,d seen it in many years. It was very safe for Positive Thinking three weeks ago; it was fat enough to put ice screws in right off the ground."
Usually, climbers have to navigate the mountain without help from ice screws until they,re at least 60 feet up.
Ten years ago, only the best climbers in the east attempted Positive Thinking.
"It,s still the most sought after ice-climb in New York state," Palen said. "People will drive six, eight, 10 hours if they hear that it,s in," he said.
When the ice on a climb is sturdy and thick enough to climb, it,s considered "in." Positive Thinking was in only one day last year, and only two groups got a chance to climb it. In the past decade, Positive Thinking was never in for two or three years in a row.
"It,s not the hardest climb anymore, but it,s still considered the best climb, something you aim your climbing career for," Palen said. "It,s still considered one of the best climbs and certainly the best-known climb in the Adirondacks."
Palen hadn,t seen the mountain in three days before the accident and didn,t speculate on whether it should have been climbed.
Speaking generally, he said, climbers â€” especially if they,ve driven a long way or think it might be the only chance to climb it â€” might take a greater risk and climb something questionable.
He said color, sound and ambient air temperature all give clues as to whether a climb is safe or not. But Palen, active in the sport for more than 20 years, said the only way to know is through experience.
"There are young climbers with braver attitudes, forgetting the old adage ... they,re doing harder things earlier with not quite the experience in judgments," he said.
M,chelle Peterson can be reached by