Vermont Public is independent, community-supported media, serving Vermont with trusted, relevant and essential information. We share stories that bring people together, from every corner of our region. New to Vermont Public? Start here.

© 2024 Vermont Public | 365 Troy Ave. Colchester, VT 05446

Public Files:

For assistance accessing our public files, please contact or call 802-655-9451.
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Adirondack Forest Ranger Robbi Mecus died while ice climbing in Alaska

A woman wearing a blue jacket and a green beanie stands with a mountain landscape behind her
Emily Russell
Robbi Mecus was a New York State Forest Ranger working in the Adirondacks.

This story was originally published by North Country Public Radio on April 27.

A well-known and beloved Adirondack forest ranger died while ice climbing in Alaska on Thursday. Robbi Mecus, who was 52 years old, died while climbing with a partner, Melissa Orzechowski, in Denali National Park.

The accident occurred on Mt. Johnson, an 8,400-foot peak in Denali National Park’s Ruth Gorge.

Mecus and Orzechowski were ascending a route on Mt. Johnson known as “the Escalator,” a steep and technical 5,000 ft. climb.

According to the National Park Service, the pair fell about 1,000 feet, which was witnessed by another climbing party on the route. The climbers reached Mecus and Orzechowski and confirmed that Mecus had died in the fall.

Orzechowski, 30, was airlifted out on Friday morning and was in critical condition, receiving medical care at a hospital in Anchorage. Orzechowski lives in California, though previously lived and worked in the Adirondacks, including at the North Country School.

Mecus was a leader among forest rangers in the Adirondacks, serving as a ranger since 1999.

She was part of hundreds of searches and rescues over her career, most recently playing a critical role in findinga hypothermic and frostbitten hiker during a snowstorm in the High Peaks last month.

"I join the Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) family in mourning the sudden and tragic passing of Forest Ranger Robbi Mecus," DEC Interim Commissioner Sean Mahar wrote in a statement. "Over her 25-year career with DEC, Ranger Mecus demonstrated an unparalleled passion for protecting the environment and New Yorkers."

Mahar commended Mecus's work "advancing diversity, inclusion, and LGBTQ belonging throughout the agency. Ranger Mecus will be dearly missed, and my thoughts are with her family and friends, fellow Forest Rangers, and DEC staff fortunate to have known her and learned from her."

Former DEC Commissioner Basil Seggos, who oversaw Mecus for more than a decade, wrote on social media that he was "devastated by this news."

"Robbi was such an incredible person. A pillar of strength," Seggos wrote. "Always there for the most difficult NYSDEC rescues and crises, and a tremendous leader for LGBTQIA+ rights. I feel fortunate to have known her."

Mecus was also a leader among the queer community in the Adirondacks. She was born in Brooklyn in the early 1970s in a boy’s body, but told NCPR in 2021 that “from the moment I had an idea of what gender was, I knew that I was a girl.”

She struggled as a teenager and a young adult, unsure of how her life would change if she came out as a trans woman. "I was scared and afraid and I didn’t know how I was going to live my life,” said Mecus.

During those years, she discovered her love of rock and ice climbing. Mecus found a home in that community, though she said she didn’t see queer people reflected in the outdoor world.

“There are many reasons I didn’t come out until I was 44, but one of them was because I didn’t see anybody else doing the things that I still wanted to do and I didn’t think I could do them,” said Mecus in 2021. “I didn’t see any queer rangers. I didn’t see any trans climbers.”

Since she transitioned, Mecus became a role model in the outdoor community in the Adirondacks. She took part in public events as a forest ranger and as a climber, helping host the Adirondack Queer Ice Festwith Melissa Orzechowski in recent years.

Mecus is survived by her daughter and former wife, who live in the Keene Valley community.

Latest Stories