Matt Horner is one of the best ice climbers in the Adirondacks. He has done most of the hard routes in the Park—sometimes soloing them—and is a popular guide for Adirondack Rock and River in Keene.
So why did Horner take a horrific fall on a route above Chapel Pond that he had done many times before?
No one knows, not even Horner. But the accident was noteworthy enough that the American Alpine Club asked him to write it up. His account appears in the 2018 edition of Accidents in North American Climbing, which came out last month. Here’s his blunt first sentence:
“I took a 40-foot fall on ice at Chapel Pond, smashed my face, and suffered a traumatic brain injury, but lived to tell about it.”
He isn’t kidding about smashing his face: he broke his nose in 10 places and every plate in his face. “Luckily my face has healed, and I didn’t need reconstructive surgery,” he writes. “My brain continues to heal.”
The accident occurred on Feb. 8, 2017, while Horner was leading a client up a 200-foot route called Rhiannon. He had paused to twist in an ice screw, with the intention of clipping his climbing rope to the screw to protect against a fall. He never got the chance.
“My brain shut down—I short-circuited and blacked out. … I literally just let go of my [ice] tools for a split second. I came to immediately and was very confused. I knew I was falling, but I didn’t know why.”
After plummeting 40 feet and striking the ice face first, he slid another 10 to 20 feet. He was knocked out but soon regained consciousness. His client lowered him to the base of the climb. He then was able to walk out to the road.
Horner felt out of sorts before beginning the climb. He had been pushing himself hard that season and had not been eating well. He speculates that he may have been suffering from dehydration or a vitamin D deficiency. Since the accident, he has changed his diet and started taking a vitamin supplement. He also pays more attention to how he’s feeling.
“It’s sort of like, ‘Wow, I got another shot, let’s try to be a little smarter about this,” he concludes in his account.
Horner resumed ice climbing and guiding last winter. He told the Explorer he enjoyed one of his best seasons and is looking forward to this winter. “I feel great and confident climbing but tend to place more protection,” he remarked.
Coincidentally, Horner’s accident occurred shortly after the Explorer published an article about his quest to repeat a notoriously difficult route on Poke-O-Moonshine. Read the article if you want to get a sense of Horner’s ice-climbing talents.