The view from Mount Higby on the Meriden-Middlefield line would have been gorgeous by the time Chris Koenig and two friends reached the top of the ridge on the winding blue-blazed trail late Monday afternoon.

On a sunny, clear day, a hiker standing on the ridgeline that thrusts toward I-91 can gaze on Long Island Sound. But the route along the Mattabesett Trail can be unforgiving. On the edge of the sheer rock face, there's nothing to grab, nothing to stop a fall. Last August, a 17-year-old girl from Madison died in a 250-foot fall off the cliff.

A preacher's son, popular and easygoing, Koenig, 22, loved the outdoors, and loved to challenge himself, said his father, the Rev. Richard Koenig, pastor of the Plantsville Congregational Church.

The 2003 Southington High School graduate was taking time off from the University of Rochester, selling replacement windows for New England Sash and "enjoying being 22," his father said.

Shortly before 5:30 p.m. Monday, at the edge of the cliff, "he tripped or stumbled - and he fell," Richard Koenig said Tuesday. "From everything everyone has told us, it was a tragic accident."

An autopsy Tuesday at the chief state's medical examiner's office determined that Koenig died of blunt force trauma and that the death was accidental.

Koenig plunged more than 200 feet, triggering a complex rescue attempt involving four fire departments and two police agencies. Two other hikers - one of Koenig's companions and a third hiker who had been walking alone on the trail - had started down the sheer cliff to try to help, but they got hung up on the rock face and had to be rescued by Middletown firefighters. Koenig's other companion summoned help with his cellphone, and then scaled down the mountain to guide Meriden fire crews to Koenig.

With no trees on which to tie their lines, Middletown Fire Capt. Jay Woron's crew had to drive iron pickets into the rocky trail to anchor their ropes. Firefighters rappelled 40 feet down the rock face, harnessed the stranded men, clipped them to their belts, and were hauled back up to the ridge.

On Tuesday, one of Koenig's companions, James Helbling, 20, of Southington, declined through his mother to comment on the ordeal. An incident report that described the actions of each person involved and the identity of Koenig's other companion was not available Tuesday.

"We're pretty lucky we didn't have four people falling," said Meriden Assistant Fire Chief Joseph Kaminski. "On the cliffs, one step can be one step too far."

The well-worn trail snakes into the woods at some points and winds back to within a few steps from the edge of the rock face, Woron said.

Koenig's death, like the other woodland accidents over the years, shook the hiking community.

"Our hearts go out to the family," said Adam Moore, executive director of the Connecticut Forest and Park Association. "We ask hikers, please, stay on the trail; please use caution."

At Richard and Susan Koenig's house on Church Street in Southington's Plantsville section, next door to the church that Richard Koenig has led for 16 years, friends arrived Tuesday with covered dishes.

The pastor remembered a son who was a skilled piano and viola player, a young man "who lived in the moment, who embraced life."

"He had two years at Rochester. He was home, trying to build up some funds, figuring out his direction in life. But he was happy," Koenig said.

"There's an unreality to it," he said. "One minute, you expect Chris to walk in the door. The next minute, you know he's not."