March 26, 2019
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Climbing instructor in fair condition after falling 60 feet in Acadia

Aislinn Sarnacki | BDN
Aislinn Sarnacki | BDN
The Precipice Trail is a steep climb of about 1,000 feet up the east face of Champlain Mountain in Acadia National Park.

ACADIA NATIONAL PARK, Maine — A local rock-climbing instructor was hospitalized Wednesday after falling about 60 feet while rappelling from a cliff on Champlain Mountain.

The guide, Nicholas “Dane” Sterba with Atlantic Climbing School, was harnessed at Central Slabs, an off-trail area near the Precipice Trail, when he fell around 9:30 a.m. Wednesday. Park rangers and Mount Desert Island Search and Rescue responded to the site and found Sterba at the base of the rock face.

“It wasn’t a straight-vertical drop, there was kind of a slope to it,” said Supervisory Ranger Richard Rechholtz. “But it’s still quite a fall, especially to land on the granite at the bottom.”

Rechholtz couldn’t detail the extent of Sterba’s injuries, but he said it took the rescue team about an hour and a half to “package” the fallen guide before carrying him to an ambulance in the parking lot at Champlain Mountain.

From there, Sterba was brought to an awaiting Lifeflight helicopter at the YMCA in Bar Harbor, which took him to Eastern Maine Medical Center in Bangor. A representative of the hospital on Thursday morning said Sterba was in fair condition.

Sterba is certified by the American Mountain Guide Association as a single-pitch climbing instructor, which means he’s certified to teach rock climbing to novices. He’s also certified by the American Institute for Avalanche Research and Education.

Rechholtz said many rock climbers frequent off-trail locations in the park, including the cliffs near the Precipice trail, Otter Cliffs, the south wall of Bubble Rock and the ledge at the end of Great Head Trail.

Central Slabs are an off-trail area near the Precipice Trail frequented by rock climbers. While the climbing activities generally take place off the beaten path, Rechholtz said the park and the climbing schools have a good relationship, and that experienced climbers often assist the park rangers in rescue missions.

“What took place here was a very unfortunate accident,” he said Thursday.

In July, 22-year-old University of Maine student Shirley Ladd died after a 60-foot fall from the Precipice Trail. Rechholtz said that while the Precipice is one of the most challenging trails in Acadia, rangers are called more often for rescues at other trails, such as Acadia Mountain.

Rechholtz said that the park responded to several other accidents Wednesday, including a 65-year-old New York woman who fell off her bicycle around 10:30 a.m. while navigating a steep carriage road near Jordan Pond House. The woman suffered facial injuries, he said, and was taken by to the MDI Hospital in Bar Harbor.

A 78-year-old man, hometown unknown, also was sent to the Bar Harbor hospital around noon with road rash after crashing a rented moped into a roadside coping stone at the exit of Jordan Pond House.

Earlier in the week, a 14-year-old New Jersey bicyclist suffered what Rechholtz said was “a serious upper-leg injury” after he failed to manage a steep curve on the carriage roads and careened 15 feet into the woods.

Rechholtz said the two bicyclists and the moped driver all were wearing helmets, which proved crucial in preventing worse injuries. He also said that while carriage roads often seem safe, there are many steep stretches and sharp turns on the gravel lanes that are made even more risky by high speed.

“People need to really control their speed on the carriage roads,” Rechholtz said.

Follow Mario Moretto on Twitter at @riocarmine.

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