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.
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.