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Busy weekend for DEC forest rangers

February 23, 2011
By MIKE LYNCH, News Outdoors Writer
A 26-year-old Pennsylvania man is alive after spending two unplanned nights in the western High Peaks Wilderness.

He was one of three parties who had emergencies in the backcountry over Presidents Day weekend.

Scott Molnar hoped to spend the day snowshoeing in the remote Seward Mountain Range Saturday, Feb. 19, but he became lost on the summit of Mount Emmons along the way. He didn’t make it out of the woods until the morning of Monday, Feb. 21.

“The winds were so bad he had a hard time following his tracks back to (Mount) Donaldson to come back down,” state Department of Environmental Conservation Forest Ranger Kevin Burns said. “He ended up taking a west bearing (on his compass) and dropping off the summit, and he ended up down in a drainage.”

From there, Molnar fell into a brook on the western side of Emmons, getting wet up to his thighs. After that, he attempted to keep moving to generate warmth, trudging through snow at least several feet deep. Eventually, Molnar had to stop and light a fire.

“He got his clothes dried out, but he couldn’t dry out his boots because they were mountaineering boots — hard-shell plastic boots,” Burns said.

Molnar spent Saturday night under a downed balsam fir tree. He didn’t have a sleeping bag with him, only a space blanket, Burns said.

Sunday morning, Molnar awoke and started making his way back to where his car was parked on Coreys Road, between Tupper Lake and Saranac Lake. Using a map and compass, he walked through the night. Finally, at about 8:30 a.m. Monday morning, he was spotted near the trailhead for Raquette Falls on Coreys Road by a ranger, who was part of a search party that was beginning to head into the woods. The DEC had been alerted to his disappearance at about midnight Sunday, Feb. 20.

“He ended up coming out on the Coreys Road just as we were driving in to go look for him,” Burns said. “It was impressive.”

But spending two nights exposed to frigid temperatures in the backcountry took its toll. Molnar suffered exposure from the cold weather and severe frostbite on his hands and feet.

Shortly after leaving the woods, Molnar was taken to Adirondack Medical Center in Saranac Lake. AMC spokesman Joe Riccio said that Molnar was in good condition at 5 p.m. Tuesday, Feb. 22. Molnar declined a request for an interview.

“He did a good job keeping himself alive, but unfortunately being out there, getting wet, that was his downfall,” Burns said.

Trap Dyke rescue

That same Saturday night while Molnar was preparing for his first night in the woods, Burns was on another rescue mission.

Burns and Forest Ranger Joe Giglinto were attempting to rescue a trio of climbers from Ohio who found themselves stuck in the Trap Dyke on Mount Colden in the High Peaks Wilderness.

Kent Stephens, 40, of Broadview Heights; Justin Parks, 27, of Cleveland; and Calin Pop, 28, of Lakewood called DEC dispatch in Ray Brook using a cell phone at about 7 p.m. Their first two calls didn’t go through, but a dispatcher used *69 and called the phone back, Burns said.

“They were tired, and they were looking for assistance,” said Burns, who had the call transferred to him. “I basically gave them two options. You can go up, or you can go down. They didn’t like either option. They were asking for a helicopter. I said, ‘There’s no helicopter, dude; it’s not happening.’”

So Burns said he convinced them to start descending. Burns and Giglinto then met at the Adirondak Loj trailhead and took snowmobiles to Avalanche Lake. They arrived at the base of the Trap Dyke at about 9 p.m., hoping the three men had finished their descent. But the men were still up on the cliff, above the second waterfall.

“It appeared they were hunkering down; waiting for us to get them, so that’s what we did,” Burns said.

The men had all the proper gear but appeared inexperienced in using it, Burns said.

Burns and Giglinto used their ice-climbing gear to ascend the first pitch. From there, the rangers convinced the men to rappel down the waterfall.

“We got them down to the lake, and we shuttled them out on snow machines at 3 o’clock in the morning.”

Conditions on that Saturday were difficult. Burns said the temperatures were in the single digits, and winds made it feel much colder.

“The wind was brutal,” he said.

Burns said the men were treated for exposure, and one of the men had severe frostbite on his toes.

Woman lost on Marcy

On Sunday, Feb. 20, forest rangers were again busy. This time, they spent the afternoon looking for a missing New York City woman.

Katherine Chen, 36, had spent the morning hiking with her friends from the Adirondak Loj up Mount Marcy.

As they reached the final trail junction before heading up to the summit, Chen told her friends she was too exhausted to continue. Her friends left her at the Phelps Trail junction and headed up the last stretch of six-10ths of a mile.

When Chen’s group returned from the summit, the woman was no longer at the junction. Thinking she had gone back to Adirondak Loj, the group continued down the Van Hoevenberg Trail. But when they reached the trailhead at about 3 p.m., they couldn’t locate Chen.

Forest rangers were again contacted. Guessing that Chen had taken the Phelps Trail down Marcy, the DEC sent Forest Ranger Charlie Platt in from the Garden parking lot in Keene Valley.

Platt talked to several people on the trail who had seen Chen. Eventually, Chen had made her way to the Adirondack Mountain Club’s Johns Brook Lodge.

Upon hearing this, Platt hiked in, got Chen and hiked her back to the Garden, Burns said. Chen eventually met up with her friends at The Noonmark Diner in Keene Valley a little after 6 p.m.

Article Photos

Mike Lynch/Lake Placid News File Photo
Rangers rescued three men in the Trap Dyke on Mount Colden in the High Peaks Wilderness on Saturday, Feb. 19.



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