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Sunday, October 2, 2011

Climber dies in Trap Dike

A student at Binghamton University died Friday morning in a fall in the Trap Dike, a classic mountaineering route on Mount Colden.

Matthew Potel, 22, of Croton-on-Hudson was climbing the Trap Dike with seven other members of the school’s outdoors club. Although details are sketchy, sources say he fell on the dike’s second waterfall, the crux section of the climb.

The Trap Dike after Tropical Storm Irene. The slide at the top of the dike is new. Photo by Carl Heilmann II.

The Trap Dike after Tropical Storm Irene. The slide at the top of the dike is new. Photo by Carl Heilman II.

Forest rangers, with the help of local rock climbers, recovered the body.

State Police Investigator Steve Ansari said the coroner ruled that Potel died of a cerebral hemorrhage.

Potel’s was the third climbing death in the Adirondacks in four years. Last year, Dennis Murphy died in a fall at Upper Washbowl Cliff. In 2007, Dennis Luther died in a rappeling accident at Poke-o-Moonshine Mountain.

The Trap Dike, a long gash in the northwest flank of Mount Colden, was first climbed in 1850.  It is ranked as a fourth-class climb in the Yosemite Decimal System. Although falls on fourth-class terrain can be fatal, the climbs are easy enough that ropes are regarded as optional.

Don Mellor, a veteran climber from Lake Placid, believes this was the first rock-climbing fatality in the Trap Dike, but he said he has taken part in several rescues in the dike over the years.

“It’s in that space between hiking and technical climbing,” Mellor said of the Trap Dike. “People get in trouble on those kinds of routes.”

Potel was not using a rope or wearing a helmet, according to Ansari.

In August, Tropical Storm Irene swept away most of the trees in the Trap Dike. Ron Konowitz, a climber from Keene, said the storm did not alter the holds on the crux of route.

“The waterfall section is basically the same,” Konowitz said, “but higher up there is a lot of loose stuff, and people need to be careful.”

The victim’s father, Mark Potel, said his son slipped while trying to help a fellow student up the dike, according to a Gannett website. “This was his love, his passion–what he wanted to do with his life,” he said. The victim’s mother called him a hero for risking his life to help another.

Potel, a former counselor at Camp Pok-o-Moonshine in Willsboro, was the co-president of the university’s outdoors club. He planned to graduate in December with a degree in environmental studies and a minor in comparative literature. He frequently made the dean’s list.

University President C. Peter Magrath called Potel’s death “a shocking tragedy.”

“He will be missed by our entire campus community,” Magrath said. “Our thoughts and prayers go out to his friends and family.”

Click here for more information about the Trap Dike.

Phil Brown

Phil Brown has been editing the Adirondack Explorer since 1999. When he isn't at his desk, he's usually out hiking, paddling, skiing, or doing something else important. You can follow his adventures and his musings on the Adirondacks in the Explorer and on this blog.

9 Responses

  1. Kevin Normile says:

    Very sad, we climbed the trap dike in the summer of 2010 and it was scary in parts, but it was dry at that time. I wonder if all the rain made it more slippery…

  2. Greg Bradley says:

    I am deeply saddened by Matthew’s death. I taught him in high school and he was an outstanding young man with impeccable manners who cared about others and showed a great zest for life. He will be missed dearly.

  3. Phil says:

    I spoke again with Don Mellor, who says he does not regard this as a rock-climbing accident per se. He has a point in that the students were not equipped for rock climbing and the route is rated only third or fourth class.

  4. Brandon Williams says:

    Was hiking through Avalanche Lake Friday that morning around 9am and thought I was getting waves/friendly yells by a group of climbers near the Trap Dike. While we were there, the area got hit by a cold rain lasting around 30minutes to an hour.

    You can just tell instantly this was a good kid who would help anyone out on the mountain. Sad to hear about this, and my sincere condolences to his family.

  5. Shawn d says:

    My condolences go out to this young mans family. No life should be ended at 22. This should serve as a tragic story we all think about when we head out to do what we love..hike! Be safe, conservative and be prepared.

  6. Remembering Matthew Potel @ says:

    […] death of Matthew Potel, who fell in the Trap Dike on Mount Colden last week, has led to an outpouring of sympathy for a personable young man who loved […]

  7. Climbing the ‘new’ Trap Dike @ says:

    […] wrong time can result in death or serious injury. Sadly, this was proven earlier this month when Matthew Potel, an experienced hiker, was killed in a fall. Ron Konowitz ascends the the first waterfall in the […]

  8. […] my list would be the Trap Dike and the adjacent slides on Mount Colden. A hiker was killed in the dike last year, and several others have been injured on this route over the years. Another candidate […]

  9. Harrison Chalnick says:

    Matt was my camp Counselor, and one of the best guys i every met, he is forever in my heart

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