KEENE — A Canadian man suffered severe head and facial injuries when he fell about 400 feet while ice climbing Chapel Pond Slab just off Route 73 Tuesday.
Luke Monod, 24, of Montreal was listed in stable condition at Fletcher Allen Health Care in Burlington, Vt., late Tuesday.
Monod and his climbing companions, Anthony Berkers and Alex Michell — who attend John Abbot College in Montreal — were at the end of their day-long climb when Monod lost his footing and plunged about 400 feet to the bottom of a gully about 3:30 p.m.
Edward Palen, owner of the Adirondack Rock and River Guide Service in Lake Placid, said he was giving a climbing lesson about 500 yards away and thought he heard Monod call out for help during the fall.
Palen described the Chapel Pond Slab as a 700-foot low-angle ice climb that is a favorite of beginners because of the 45- to 50-degree angle it features.
"It's considered an easy climb, but it isn't," Palen said. "It's a very long climb that usually takes all day. It's a spectacular place and draws beginners."
He said he saw the three approach the climb and start on their way.
"They were doing pretty well. They got to the top and were coming down the gully on the other side."
The climbers were rappelling between 150 to 185 feet at a time.
"They had rappelled the first 150 feet or so and were coming down to the last 400 feet when they decided they'd climb down."
The three were not roped to each other at the time. Climbers are usually tied together on an ascent but commonly disconnect the ropes when reaching the end of a descent.
As they started the descent on foot, Monod slipped and landed 400 feet below.
Palen said the gully is usually filled with snow to cushion a fall, but the lack of snow in the region lately has left the rocks, ice and other debris bare and hazardous.
"When there's not a lot of snow, it is a little more dangerous," he said.
"In snow, when you're climbing down, you can plop your foot in the snow and make a step. But with no snow, one slip in that gully, and there is no way to stop yourself."
He said the trio had used all the right equipment and wore crampons — the strap-on cleats climbers wear on their boots for traction — but they couldn't stop the fall.
Monod fell three rope lengths, or about 400 feet, and his climbing partners had to rappel down after him rather than walk it and risk falling themselves.
One stayed with him while the other continued to the bottom of the slab where he flagged down passersby to get help.
Monod landed about 100 feet from the bottom of the slab, which helped rescuers get medical care to him quickly.
Ron Konowitz, an experienced climber and member of the Keene and Keene Valley Backcountry Rescue Unit that responds mainly to climbing and hiking-related incidents, said Monod "is very lucky to be alive."
He credited the fast response of his teammates and fire-department personnel, including Chief Ron Hall, for saving Monod's life.
Jeremy Quinn, the unit's safety officer, was the first to arrive. Also assisting were about 20 members of the Backcountry unit including Tom Quinn, Greg Pelkey, Corey Fehlner, Mike Carr, Charlie Glass, Randy LeClair, Scott Purdie, Michael Buysse, Howard Glass and Joe Pelotino, among others.
Once rescuers got Monod stabilized and lowered to the ground, at about 4:50 p.m., he was driven to the Ausable Club where a North Country Life Flight helicopter had landed.
He was flown to Fletcher Allen, where he was listed in stable condition.
Monod was wearing a safety helmet, but he suffered extensive facial and head trauma, rescuers said.
Palen said one of the most quoted facts about ice climbing is that the accidents usually happen during the descents at the end of a climb.
"That's when people are tired and may not be paying attention," he said. "That's when they can trip, and you're gone."