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Acadia officials to meet with owner of climbing service after multiple accidents

Acadia National Park photo | BDN
Acadia National Park photo | BDN
Acadia National Park rangers and other responders carry a climbing guide in a litter to the bottom of Champlain Mountain on Wednesday, July 17, 2013, after he fell 40 feet on the South Wall section of the mountain. Rangers said he suffered "multi-trauma" injuries in the fall.
By Bill Trotter, BDN Staff

ACADIA NATIONAL PARK, Maine — The chief law enforcement official with Acadia National Park said Thursday that he plans to meet with the owner of a rock climbing guide business that has had two serious accidents in the park in the past month.

Stuart West, chief ranger for Acadia, said Thursday that the park is concerned about the safety of all its visitors, whether they are in the park on their own or if they are customers of one of the many private businesses that have commercial-use permits for operating in the park.

In this case, the permit holder in question is Bar Harbor-based Acadia Mountain Guides. On June 16, the company was guiding two customers on a climb at Otter Cliffs when a rope broke. A male client and a guide fell about 25 feet and struck a female client at the bottom of the cliff, park rangers said at the time. The guide was unhurt but the man suffered a possible fractured elbow and a head injury, while the woman injured her hip, rangers said.

On Wednesday, it was a guide working for Acadia Mountain Guides who was injured, this time at South Wall on Champlain Mountain. The guide had two clients with him when he fell about 30-40 feet and suffered multiple injuries, according to park staff. Neither of the clients in Wednesday’s accident fell or were injured, according to rangers.

Jon Tierney, owner of Alpenglow Adventure Sports in Orono and of the Bar Harbor guide service, said the name of the guide injured on Wednesday is Andrea Campanella, a man in his late 40s who has 25 years of climbing experience. He said he has spoken with Campanella, who is at Eastern Maine Medical Center in Bangor and who may have broken some ribs but is expected to recover.

“He’s doing pretty well,” said Tierney, who himself has extensive training in technical outdoor recreation and rescues.

According to Tierney, Wednesday’s accident happened while Campanella was on a rope being lowered by a client. Campanella’s fall may have been caused when the end of the rope ran out of the belay system, he added, but that has not been determined.

Tierney said such belaying accidents, though unfortunate, are fairly common and that neither he nor Campanella blame the client for what happened. He said Acadia Mountain Guides has been operating in Bar Harbor for 20 years and that, while cuts and scrapes are normal in rock climbing, this is the first summer his company has ever had any serious incidents. In the 17 years that he ran Maine Bound at University of Maine, he added, he never had any such incidents, either.

Rock climbing is a risky activity, Tierney said, just as riding a bicycle is risky. He said he is not sure when he will meet with West but that he doesn’t expect the park to have any lingering issues with his company.

“I’m feeling kind of low,” Tierney said about the recent accidents. “We’re all just bummed out here.”

According to West, why Campanella fell is still under investigation by the park. West did not comment about possible causes for Campanella’s fall, but said that, unlike the June 16 incident at Otter Cliffs, it does not appear to involve any equipment failure.

The park wants to make sure there are no systemic or operational issues with Acadia Mountain Guides that contributed to the injuries, he said.

“We want to look at all the evidence,” he said.

The chief ranger said that he could not recall another company with a commercial-use permit being involved in repeat incidents. He said the reason Acadia requires commercial operators to obtain park permits, which have to be renewed each year, is to make sure they are properly insured and to make sure they are operating in the park where licensed commercial activities are allowed.

West said there is no automatic trigger for reviewing permits if an accident occurs. He declined to comment, however, on whether the status of Acadia Mountain Guide’s permit could be affected by the accidents and resulting rescue efforts.

“Climbing is fundamentally dangerous, which is why the client signs a liability form [with the guide services],” West said. “[Tierney] and I are going to sit down later on and discuss [the situation], once the dust settles.”

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