Visitors to the High Peaks Reminded to Fully Prepare for Winter Conditions
On January 20th at 1:33 a.m., State Police advised the State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) Central Dispatch of two overdue hikers in the Eastern High Peaks Wilderness in the Town of Keene, Essex County. The 21-year-old hikers, a male and a female from Quebec, Canada, had signed in at the Adirondack Loj to hike Mt. Marcy for the day but did not return as scheduled.
Fourteen DEC Forest Rangers responded to the incident. One team traveled through more than three feet of snow and reached the tree line of Mt. Marcy just before 7 a.m. Additional teams approached the area from the Panther Gorge, Johns Brook Valley and Newcomb entrances.
At 8:25 a.m., the Forest Rangers on Mt. Marcy located fresh tracks leading from the south side of the Marcy bowl into Panther Gorge, a remote, steep, crag-filled area of the High Peaks where overnight temperatures had dropped below zero degrees Fahrenheit. Based on this information, a helicopter from the State Police Aviation Unit in Lake Clear was called in to assist with the search. Half an hour later, the helicopter crew, which included a Forest Ranger, spotted the hikers walking in the direction of Marcy Swamp. The helicopter inserted the ranger to the location to assess the hikers’ well-being. The Ranger determined both were in good health.
The hikers reported they had become disoriented on the summit of Mt. Marcy. They then bushwhacked into Panther Gorge, where they spent the night with a fire to keep warm. At first light, they followed a drainage and eventually crossed the Elk Lake-Marcy trail.
Forest Rangers escorted the hikers to Elk Lake, where they were reunited with family members at 2 p.m.
The pair of hikers did not have skis or snowshoes, a map, compass or GPS unit with them. DEC strongly urges all hikers and backcountry recreational visitors to the High Peaks and other areas to carry this equipment and follow the safety guidelines below.
Wear proper clothing and equipment for snow, ice and cold to ensure a safe and enjoyable winter experience. Also, be aware that snow depths range from 6 to 20 inches or more. The deepest snows are in the eastern Adirondacks with thinner depths in the western portion. Snow depths are deeper in the higher elevations like the High Peaks and other mountains over 3,000 feet.
Visitors to the Eastern High Peaks should use snowshoes or cross-country skis for their safety when snow is 8 inches or deeper. Visitors to other Adirondack lands are encouraged to do so for their safety and the safety of other backcountry users. Snowshoes or skis ease travel on snow and prevent “post holing,” which can ruin trails and cause sudden falls resulting in injuries. Ice crampons also should be carried to use on icy mountaintops and other exposed areas.
In addition, backcountry visitors should follow these safety guidelines:
- Dress properly with layers of wool and fleece (NOT COTTON!) clothing: a wool or fleece hat, gloves or mittens, wind/rain resistant outer wear, and winter boots.
- Carry a day pack with the following contents: Ice axe, plenty of food and water, extra clothing, map and compass, first-aid kit, flashlight/headlamp, sun glasses, sun-block protection, ensolite pads, stove and extra fuel, and bivy sack or space blankets.
- Carry plenty of food and water. Eat, drink and rest often. Being tired, hungry or dehydrated makes you more susceptible to hypothermia.
- Check weather before entering the woods – if the weather is poor, postpone your trip.
- Be aware of weather conditions at all times – if the weather worsens, head out of the woods.
- Know the terrain and your physical capabilities – it takes more time and energy to travel through snow.
- Never travel alone and always inform someone of your intended route and return time.
- Traveling through snow takes more energy and time than hiking the same distance, especially in freshly fallen snow. Plan trips accordingly.
Call the DEC Forest Ranger Emergency Dispatch at 518-891-0235 to report lost or injured people or other backcountry emergencies.
Prior to heading out, people are encouraged to consult the DEC Adirondack Trail Information web page, which provides current trail condition information and links to current weather, snow cover and other important information to help ensure a safe and enjoyable Adirondack backcountry winter experience.