Rock climber killed in fall

Washbowl Cliff seen from Chapel Pond Slab. Photo by Phil Brown.
Washbowl Cliff is the large precipice in the center. Photo by Phil Brown.

A rock climber from Lake Placid fell to his death yesterday evening at the Upper Washbowl  Cliff in the Giant Mountain Wilderness.

Dennis Murphy, who was thirty-five, slipped while walking along the top of the cliff after ascending Hesitation, a classic route on the popular climbing cliff.

Murphy and his partner, Dustin Ulrich, planned to rappel from an anchor at the top of another climbing route called Partition, according to State Police Lt. Scott Heggelke. The trooper said Ulrich was setting up the rappel when Murphy lost his footing and fell more than two hundred feet onto the rocks below.

It’s believed that Murphy died instantly.

The state Department of Environmental Conservation was notified about the accident about 6:10 p.m., according to DEC spokesman David Winchell.

Murphy, a passionate climber, had worked at the EMS store in Lake Placid for the past four years.

“He was an awesome, strong, great guy,” said Anita Sayers, a floor supervisor at the store.

Ulrich also worked at the outdoors store.

The base of the cliff is about a half-mile from Route 73. DEC forest rangers and wilderness rescuers from the Keene Valley and Keene fire departments reached the body within an hour of the emergency call, according to Ron Konowitz, a volunteer rescuer from Keene. He said Murphy was already dead. A State Police helicopter flew the body out of the wilderness.

Konowitz, who has climbed Upper Washbowl, said he didn’t think Murphy did anything wrong. “He was just walking along the top and slipped,” he said.

Hesitation is a 325-foot route of moderate difficulty, rated 5.8 on the Yosemite scale. It was established in 1958 by John Turner, a well-known climber, and two partners, according to the guidebook Adirondack Rock.

Jim Lawyer, the co-author of the guidebook, said he believes this is the sixth climbing fatality in the Adirondacks and the second at Upper Washbowl. There have been three deaths at Wallface, the region’s highest cliff, and one at Poke-O-Moonshine.

The last fatality occurred in October 2007 when Dennis Luther, an experienced climber, fell about two hundred feet in a rappelling accident on Poke-O. He was fifty-four.

About Phil Brown

Phil Brown edited the Adirondack Explorer from 1999 until his retirement in 2018. He continues to explore the park and to write for the publication and website.

Reader Interactions


  1. Josh says

    Dennis was a really nice guy and it was always great to run into him out on the rocks. My condolences to his family and friends.

  2. Soc B. says

    We were on the cliff in front of the accident that day. I saw the helicopter without knowing what happened. I just read that he die. My condolences to his family and friends.

  3. John says

    Was out in the Dacks memorial weekend and took a 30 foot ground fall onto a rock…Sustained a few scrapes and bruises only. Thought I was a goner. Been slow getting back into it. Tough on the mind.

  4. Katrina says

    i was with a group of people who saw the fall happen from chapel lake and my friends drove to keene to tell the rescue team what had happened, i really hold this guy in my heart even though i didnt know him, my sincere condolences to everyone in his life!


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