Two Boston-area rock climbers were plucked from the base of a rocky seaside cliff in Acadia National Park, near Bar Harbor, Maine, during a harrowing rescue Sunday when one of the climbers and a guide fell off the cliffside, landing on the other climber, officials said.
After the fall, the injured climbers waited for more than three hours as rescuers worked feverishly to remove them without causing further injuries. Officials said the injuries appeared to be significant but not life-threatening.
The novice climbers, a male and female, were climbing Otter Cliff, a popular climbing spot in the national park, about 10 a.m. Sunday with the help of a guide from Acadia Mountain Guides Climbing School. The male climber and the guide were on the rockface when the climbing rope to which all three were tethered broke, according to Jon Tierney, owner of the climbing school.
“Basically, they had a rope cut above the point where the three people were secured to the rope,” said Tierney, who said he has climbed Otter Cliff about 100 times a year for the last 20 years.
The park said its preliminary investigation found that the climbing rope, which Tierney said was a 10.4mm synthetic climbing rope, was severed by a sharp rock edge as the guide descended to assist the female climber. The names of the climbers were not released.
“The guide ultimately fell approximately 15 feet onto the climber awaiting instruction below,” the park said in a statement. “Still tied to the instructor, the second climber was pulled from the top and fell the full 25 feet . . . landing beside the other two.”
Will Overton, a park ranger at Acadia, responded to the cliff and rappelled down to the victims with another ranger and a paramedic.
“We . . . monitored their vital signs, basically made sure they stayed in a stable condition as the rescue was being put together,” he said. “It was a pretty traumatic experience for them, but they were very cooperative in terms of helping us help them. I’m sure they were in a fair amount of pain.”
Overton said both climbers were calm and talked to him and the other rescuers throughout the process.
The male climber suffered a broken arm and a concussion, while the female sustained a hip injury, according to the Coast Guard, which assisted in the rescue. The climbers were treated at Maine Coast Memorial Hospital and released Monday, Overton said.
Otter Cliff is a very popular climbing area, but is also very dangerous, given its location along the rocky Maine coastline, Overton said.
“It is so vertical there that when you look out from your car on the road it looks like it’s a straight drop down,” he said. “It’s very unforgiving solid rock. Very rarely do we see anyone other than climbers out there.”
Once a hoist system was put in place, each climber was loaded into a rescue basket and pulled to the top of the cliff by rescuers from the National Park Service, the Bar Harbor Fire Department, and Mount Desert Island Search and Rescue. From the top of the cliff, the climbers were moved to ambulances, though a second hoist system was needed to get the baskets up a steep incline near the road.
“From the road to the rescue area is a fairly strenuous hike,” complicated by a series of stairwells, Overton said.
The guide was not injured beyond “scrapes and bruises,” Tierney said. The climbers and the guide were wearing the appropriate safety gear, including helmets, harnesses, and climbing shoes, Overton said. He said the incident appears to have been accidental and no criminal charges are pending.
Bar Harbor Fire Chief Matt Bartlett said his department typically conducts or assists in 20 to 30 rescues at Acadia National Park each summer.
“This type of situation is nothing that can be rushed into because of the technical aspect of it,” he said. “None of it is ever routine, but I think things went very well.”