Climber falls 80 feet in Devil’s Kitchen, prompting dangerous seven-hour rescue

Above: Platte Clove valley from above. Photo by Daniel Case via Wikipedia.

A climber rappelling in the deadly Devil’s Kitchen section of Platte Clove in the Greene County Catskills fell 80 feet into a rocky gorge and miraculously survived on Thursday, July 2, according to a forest ranger involved in the rescue.

The man, who is in his mid-30s and is otherwise not being identified, was recreating off a slackline that he and two companions had set up across the narrow Devil’s Kitchen valley over Plattekill Creek when he made a “climber’s error” and fell, New York State Department of Conservation Forest Ranger Rob Dawson said today.

Although the man was not wearing a helmet when he fell, he sustained no head injuries and was conscious throughout his rescue, said Dawson, who was one of the first responders to arrived at the scene.

A tree partially broke his fall when the climber landed on the rocky gorge bottom, Dawson said.

“He’s amazingly lucky,” said Dawson. “He had two unstable lower leg injuries, but no back injury, no head injury. He had a broken scapula and some broken ribs.”

After a dangerous four-hour rescue operation that involved five people rappelling in to the ravine where the climber fell, he was lifted out on a litter and taken to an ambulance. The ambulance took the climber to a helicopter in Tannersville, which transported him to Albany Medical Center.

“The report for this morning is that he’s stable,” Dawson said.

Dangerous activity, dangerous rescue

A call made by one of the climber’s two companions came in to Greene County 911 around 2:50 p.m., Dawson said.

The climbers were in one of the most deadly areas in the Catskills, bushwhacking off the trail in a steep, rugged section of the Devil’s Kitchen below the Platte Clove Reserve in the Indian Head Wilderness area, Dawson said. Multiple people have died in that area

Dawson called the climbers “thrill seekers,” and said that their activities — rappelling and slacklining off the marked trails in the steep parts of the clove — were “high risk.”

Because the area is so deadly, rescues there are dangerous for first responders as well as tourists, Dawson said.

It took four hours to get the injured climber to safety, he said, and another three hours to safely get all the rescuers themselves out of the gorge.

“This is the consequence of recreating in an activity that has high risk,” Dawson said. “If you do get hurt, and the rescue is going to take a while due to the rough terrain.”

The Hunter Police Department, the Tannersville Rescue Squad and Dawson were the first rescuers to arrive on the scene on Thursday. Additional help came from the Haines Falls Fire Department, the Tannersville Fire Department and the Cedar Grove Fire Department, Dawson said.

The rescue involved five first responders carefully descending into the gorge where the climber had landed.

Two responders from the Tannersville Rescue Squad formed a “patient packaging team,” carrying pieces of a collapsable titanium litter on their backs as they climbed down the gorge. Then a rigging team led by Dawson set up ropes attached to trees at the top of the gorge, which allowed three more rescuers to rappel in.

Once at the bottom of the gorge, they joined the injured climber and one of his companions. Together, they strapped the injured man into the litter and raised him out using ropes.

“Once we got him out, we hauled up the five rescuers and the other civilian down there,” Dawson said. "That was the safest way to get them out of there.”

“We got out of the woods around 9:30 p.m.,” he said. “That was a very long afternoon. It does put a toll on the local resources.”

Update Tuesday, July 7: Various other media outlets have identified the climber as Christopher Lamme, a rigger for Madison Square Garden and an experienced climber.