One Climber Killed, One Critically Injured After 300m Fall in Denali National Park

Two climbers fell approximately 300m while ascending Mt. Johnson in Denali National Park on April 25, the National Park Service reported late last week. The fall killed Robbi Mecus, 52, a New York State forest ranger. Mecus’ climbing partner, Melissa Orzechowski, 30, remains in critical condition.

According to multiple reports, the two climbers had roped up while tackling The Escalator, a 1,500m mixed-terrain route on 2,560m Mt. Johnson’s southeast face. Other climbers who saw the fall alerted the Alaska Regional Communication Center at 10:45 pm that evening.

The witnesses descended to the stricken climbers, where they confirmed Mecus’ death. They then dug a snow cave and treated Orzechowski’s injuries until help arrived the next morning.

an annotated photo showing the climbing route and rescue location

‘The Escalator’ route on Mt. Johnson’s southeast face. The X indicates where Orzechowski was rescued. Photo: National Park Service


Orzechowski was airlifted to a hospital in Anchorage. Rangers recovered Mecus’ body on Saturday, April 27.

Deceased climber’s background

According to The Adirondack Explorer, Mecus was a fixture in the Upstate New York climbing scene and was active in rescues and outdoor education. In her 40s, Mecus came out as a trans woman and later told North Country Radio that she felt accepted by her community.

Deceased climber.

Robbi Mecus. Photo: New York Department of Conservation


“Over her 25-year career with DEC, Ranger Mecus demonstrated an unparalleled passion for protecting the environment and New Yorkers,” said interim New York Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) commissioner Sean Mahar.

Orzechowski is a former teacher, an accomplished climber, and co-founder of the Adirondack Queer Ice Fest. A GoFundMe has been created to help offset Orzechowski’s recovery cost and transportation for her family to the Alaska hospital where she’s being treated.

Andrew Marshall

Andrew Marshall is an award-winning painter, photographer, and freelance writer. Andrew’s essays, illustrations, photographs, and poems can be found scattered across the web and in a variety of extremely low-paying literary journals.
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