Remembering the legacy of trailblazing trans forest ranger Robbi Mecus

In addition to being an instrumental figure in a number of daring search-and-rescue missions in the Adirondack Mountains, Mecus worked to establish the first-ever Adirondack Queer Ice Festival.

A photograph of Adirondacks forest ranger and trans trailblazer Robbi Mecus against a mountain background.
Image: Instagram , Following her passing on April 25, we remember the legacy of trans trailblazer and forest ranger Robbi Mecus.

Robbi Mecus, born in Brooklyn in 1971, lived most of her life in a body that didn’t feel like home. It wasn’t until Mecus was 44 years-old that the Adirondack forest ranger began the process of transitioning, less than a decade before her tragic passing when the ranger suffered a 1,000-foot fall while climbing a mountain route known as “The Escalator” in Alaska’s Denali National Park.

In an interview following Mecus’ tragic death, fellow Adirondacks forest ranger Rob Praczkajlo praised the late ranger, not only for the legacy she left behind and the lives she saved, but also for having the courage to live her life as a trans woman in the “pretty conservative” Adirondack region.

Praczkajlo, who knew Mecus before, during, and after her transition, told Vermont Public, “It was torture to watch her be tortured by it…I give her so much credit for having the strength to do what she felt she needed to.”

Another Adirondacks forest ranger, Ron Konowitz, similarly commented on how Mecus’ transition helped to open his eyes to become more accepting and inclusive. 

“I really didn’t understand it, to be honest, like I didn’t understand why someone would want to go and transition like that,” said Konowitz. However, after getting to know Mecus, and seeing the ranger’s dedication to saving lives, Konowitz said upon Mecus’ passing that “the fact that she was able to open up so many people’s minds to the idea of a trans woman being a ranger and being in law enforcement in the Adirondacks, which is pretty conservative, she gained so much respect.”

In a 2020 interview with NCPR, Mecus said that she knew she was trans from a young age, but was unable to find queer role models to guide her on her journey. 

“There are many reasons I didn’t come out until I was 44,” Mecus told NCPR. “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.

“I didn’t see any queer rangers. I didn’t see any trans climbers,” Mecus added.

In the aftermath of her death, Mecus has unwittingly become the very role model she so desperately searched for in her youth – a sentiment shared by Paige Humphrey, a queer climber who considered Mecus to be a mentor. 

“For the queer community, for the trans community – she’s a superhero,” said Humphrey. 

During their various climbs, Humphrey reported that Mecus “made us feel like we can do anything because we can. Queer people can do anything.”

Mecus left behind a legacy as a trans trailblazer and LGBTQ+ advocate, having established a Pride celebration in her hometown of Keene Valley, New York. Moreover, she organised the annual Adirondack Queer Ice Fest, the only solely LGBTQ+ ice climbing festival in the United States. 

Throughout her 25-year career as a forest ranger, Mecus was involved in a number of daring search-and-rescue missions. Among her most memorable missions were rescuing a frostbitten, hypothermic hiker last winter and leading the charge to find a young girl who had been kidnapped in Saratoga County, New York, in 2023. 

Mecus similarly rescued an entire neighbourhood from a wildfire and, in 2015, she saved an injured hiker at the Bouquet Lean-To in the Dix Range of the Adirondacks in 2015. 

Speaking on the 2015 rescue, Praczkajlo reported that several rangers had attempted to reach the hiker, but as time was running out, Mecus was able to secure a harness to the injured hiker in record time, saving their life. 

“Had Robbi not been able to tie that hasty harness on the victim in about 90 seconds we literally wouldn’t have been able to do the house and it would have been an all-night carry-out,” added Praczkajlo, who described Mecus as a “rockstar” and “one of the very best in wilderness search and rescue”. 

Though Robbi Mecus passed away less than a decade after transitioning, fellow forest ranger Allison Rooney spoke highly of her late friend’s legacy, saying that Mecus passed on many skills and lessons to her and other up-and-coming forest rangers. 

“She realized the role models she was looking for in the climbing community and beyond didn’t exist for her and she wanted to be that beacon for other people who were struggling in the same way,” added Rooney. 

In the wake of Mecus’ death, Rooney told Vermont Public that Mecus would not want her friends, family, and queer community to mourn her passing too much. Instead, Rooney insisted, Mecus would have wanted people to honour her memory and legacy by getting out into nature and enjoying a drink around the campfire. 

In an Instagram post announcing Mecus’ passing, the National Outdoor Leadership School (NOLS) wrote: “NOLS mourns the death of Robbi Mecus – a pioneer of inclusion in the climbing community and legendary Forest Ranger in the Adirondack Park. Her work was pivotal to the operations of NOLS Northeast”.



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