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Looking back on adventures gone wrong

March 2, 2011
By MIKE LYNCH, News Outdoors Writer
The news of the three backcountry emergencies in the High Peaks stirred a lot of interest.

People were immediately ready to sound off on what the snowshoers and climbers did wrong. It also made me think about what each party could have done differently to avoid putting themselves in situations where a rescue had to be initiated.

It’s hard to make judgments without knowing all the details, but the stories are good starting points for discussion about safety in the backcountry. I’m not saying I’m an expert or that I haven’t made bad judgment calls in the backcountry, but here are some things to think about.

Man missing in the Sewards

In the first case, a man spent two nights in the woods in the Seward Mountain Range on a trip that was supposed to take a day. Perhaps the biggest mistake made by the 26-year-old Pennsylvania man who got lost on Mount Emmons on Saturday, Feb. 19 was going in the first place. The weather that day wasn’t conducive to a long-distance, solo winter trip in a remote area, especially on a mountaintop where conditions were more extreme.

The winds were especially strong that day and temperatures were pretty cold. Combine that with the deep snow in the higher elevations and you’ve got the recipe for an especially grueling trip that could lead to problems.

He was also using a National Geographic map, which I’ve been told by people involved in the rescue may have been a problem for him. Those National Geographic maps are great if you are on trails because they are waterproof and pretty tough. But if you’re in a situation where you have to bushwhack, you’d be better off with a 1:24,000 U.S. Geological Survey map. The National Geographic maps cover large areas and don’t have all the specifics you might want if you’re off the trail. A GPS — if you’ve got the money — would have been good to have on this journey.

Another thing I noticed was that the search started on Monday morning. His trip was on Saturday. He could have benefited from having a search initiated Sunday. I don’t know why this didn’t happen. But it’s recommended that if you are going to take on such a difficult trip in foul weather that you have a point of contact when you return. That way the contact person can alert search and rescue if you don’t return on time.

On the other hand, this man did a lot right just to survive this trip. Many people wouldn’t have come out of this situation alive. Even though he became lost, he was able to navigate out of the woods on his own. Plus, he survived two nights without a sleeping bag or a tent. That’s impressive.

Ultimately, a trip with these conditions and challenges is something you’d be better off doing in a group.

Trap Dike rescue

On Saturday, Feb. 19, three men found themselves stuck in the Trap Dike on Mount Colden and had to be rescued by two forest rangers. From what I’ve heard, this was probably a case of three men overestimating their abilities.

This isn’t uncommon and happens all the time without consequences. It’s just in this case, well ... there were consequences. At least one of the men I understand came away with frostbite. I don’t have much to say about this one. It speaks for itself.

Woman separated on Marcy

In this case, a woman went missing for a few hours in the High Peaks after her friends left her at the Phelps Trail junction. Her friends left her because they wanted to summit Mount Marcy and she was too exhausted to do so, so I was told. She got lost for a few hours after she went down a different trail than she came in on.

This one seems obvious.

If someone is not feeling great because they are exhausted or hungry or injured, the last thing that you should do is abandon them. Someone should have stayed behind with this woman and walked her down the mountain. Leaving her by herself six miles from the Adirondak Loj trailhead is asking for trouble.

The best thing about these three scenarios is that everyone came out alive, although some of those involved may have serious frostbite. Instead of being tragedies, they are stories others can learn from.

If you haven’t read the original article that is referred to here, it’s available on our website Look for the article, “Busy weekend for DEC forest rangers.”


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