Posted on February 29th, 2012 1 comment - Add a comment >>
Recently, forest rangers have engaged in several high-profile search-and-rescues in the High Peaks Wilderness. Perhaps the one that got the most attention was the rescue of Steve Mastaitis, who spent the night in a snow hole on Mount Marcy. Three others were rescued the following weekend in the High Peaks Wilderness. Today, the state Department of Environmental Conservation’s Region 5, which encompasses most of the Adirondack Park, released a report of this winter’s rescue searches. It does not recount the Mastaitis rescue, but you can read about that by clicking here. The DEC report follows verbatim. (Click here to read my thoughts on whether hikers should have to pay for their rescues.)
Town of North Elba, High Peaks Wilderness Area On Monday, December 26, 2011, at approximately 11:40 pm, DEC Central Dispatch received a call reporting an overdue hiker on or near Mt. Colden. Ronnie Cusmano, 55, of Valhalla, NY, was hiking from the Upper Works Trailhead to Mt. Colden. He routinely used his personal locator device to notify his wife upon completion of his hikes. Mr. Cusmano*s wife had not heard from him and was concerned. A DEC Forest Ranger responded and began searching on the trails south of Mt. Colden. At approximately 3:30am the following morning, the Forest Ranger located Mr. Cusmano in good health at the Herbert Brook Lean-to along the path up Mount Marshall. Always inform someone of your itinerary and stick to it.
Town of Elizabethtown, Hurricane Mountain Wilderness On Wednesday, December 28, 2011, at approximately 8:52 pm, DEC Dispatch in Ray Brook received a call reporting an overdue hiker on Hurricane Mountain. Clifford Reiter, 54, had started up Hurricane Mountain looking for his two adult sons who were overdue from hiking the mountain. Not aware that his sons had already exited the trail and signed out on the trail register, Mr. Reiter proceeded to search for them. Mr. Reiter*s wife became concerned due to the extreme cold temperatures and called for assistance. Meanwhile, the two sons went back up the trail to search for their father. A DEC Forest Ranger responded and located all three men in good conditions at 9:30 pm. Call DEC Forest Rangers at 518-891-0235 when you believe someone may be lost or injured in the backcountry.
Town of Newcomb, Camp Santanoni Historic Area On Saturday, January 14, 2012, at approximately 4:00 pm, while on routine state land patrol, a DEC Forest Ranger came upon an injured skier on the Newcomb Lake Road. Barbara Taylor, 58, of Long Lake, NY, had fallen and injured her shoulder and ankle. She was exhausted and needed assistance getting out. The Forest Ranger splinted her injured ankle and evacuated Ms. Taylor by rescue toboggan. At 5:30 pm Ms. Taylor was returned to the trailhead parking areas where she indicated she would seek further medical treatment on her own. Accidents can happen. Always carry a first aid kit and contact the DEC Forest Rangers at 518-891-0235 in backcountry emergencies.
Town of Keene, Giant Mountain Wilderness Area On Saturday, January 21, 2012, at approximately 1:36 pm, DEC Dispatch in Ray Brook received a call reporting an injured hiker. Ruby Sulley, 58, of Keeseville, NY, was hiking between Hopkins and Giant Mountains, when she fell and suffered a leg injury near the Giant Mountain lean-to at 12:00p.m. Her hiking companions contacted Ray Brook Dispatch and two DEC Forest Rangers responded. Upon reaching Ms. Sulley, they assisted her as she continued to hike out. They reached the trailhead at 5:30 pm where Ms. Sulley indicated she would seek further medical attention on her own. Accidents can happen. Always carry a first aid kit and contact the DEC Forest Rangers at 518-891-0235 in backcountry emergencies.
Town of Keene, Eastern High Peaks Wilderness Area On Saturday, January 21, 2012, at approximately 2:18 pm, DEC Dispatch in Ray Brook received a call reporting an injured hiker. Kevin Cox, 61, of Troy, NY, was snowshoeing with a group of eight when he twisted his knee near the summit of Lower Wolfjaw. State Police Aviation was unavailable due to potential for blowing snow; and snowmobiles were unable to be used due to lack of snow. Temperatures hovered near zero and below during the rescue. Members of the hiking party had been assisting Mr. Cox by “sliding” him down when he was unable to walk.
Seven DEC Forest Rangers responded from the Garden Trailhead in Keene Valley with a rescue sled and met the group at 6:50 pm, approximately 1/4 mile above the Wolfjaw lean-to. Mr. Cox was brought to the Garden parking area at approximately 11:10 pm and the group indicated they would transport Mr. Cox and obtain further medical attention. 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.
Town of North Elba, High Peaks Wilderness Area On Saturday, February 25, 2012, at approximately 4:50 pm, DEC Dispatch in Ray Brook received a cell phone call from Mike Jones, 42, of Andover, CT, that was transferred from Essex County 911. Mr. Jones reported that he had attempted to hike to the top of Algonquin Mountain on Friday afternoon when he was forced off the trail by high winds and snow. He had bushwhacked down a drainage area and spent the night in hole in the snow. In the morning he continued downhill until he encountered a trail marker and was able to obtain cell phone service. He had no idea where he was and stated he was wet and very cold. Mr. Jones also indicated that he was visiting the area by himself and had not told anyone of his plans to climb Algonquin Mountain, therefore nobody had, or could have, reported him missing.
DEC Dispatch worked with Essex County 911 to obtain Mr. Jone*s cell phone coordinates. It was determined that hes was on the Indian Pass Trail southwest of Rocky Falls approximately 2.5 miles from the trailhead at Adirondack Loj. Three Forest Rangers responded, snowmobiling part of the way down the trail and then skiing the remainder of the way. Deep fresh snow required the Forest Rangers to break trail while on skis. They reached Mr. Jones at 6:42 pm.
Mr. Jones had lost most of his gear and some of his clothing during the night. He appeared to be suffering from hypothermia and frostbite to his hands and feet. After feeding, clothing and warming him, the Forest Rangers helped walk him back to the snowmobile and then transported him by snowmobile to the South Meadow Road. He was transferred to the Lake Placid Rescue Squad at 8:37 pm and transported to Adirondack Medical Center in Lake Placid for further medical evaluation and treatment.
Never travel alone and always inform someone of your intended route and return time. 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. Be prepared to spend an unexpected night in the woods pack plenty of food and water, extra clothing, flashlight/headlamp, ensolite pads, stove and extra fuel, and bivy sack or space blanket.
Town of North Elba, High Peaks Wilderness Area On Saturday, February 25, 2012, at approximately 7:30 pm, DEC Dispatch in Ray Brook received a call from the wife of Brian Sullivan, 62, of Brooklyn,NY, reporting him overdue. Mr. Sullivan had left from The Garden trailhead at 10:30 am and planned to ski to the Mt. VanHovenburg Ski Center at the Olympic Sports Complex via Johns Brook, the Klondike Notch Trail and the Mr. Van Trail.Staff from the ski center patrolled the nearby portions of the Mr. Van Trail but had not seen Mr. Sullivan.
Seven DEC Forest Rangers responded and began searching from the two ends of Mr. Sullivan’s planned route. A Forest Ranger on a snowmobile on the South Meadow Road heard shouting shortly before 9 pm. He stopped, turned off the snowmobile and took off his helmet allowing him to clearly hear Mr. Sullivan*s shouts from the other side of South Meadow Brook. The Forest Ranger directed Mr. Sullivan across the brook, met up with him and found that he was in good condition. He was transported by snowmobile to the Adirondack Loj and reunited with his family at 9:30 pm. Know your route, the terrain and your physical capabilities * remember it takes more time and energy to travel through snow than it does on bare ground. Check the DEC Adirondack Trail Information webpage at http://www.dec.ny.gov/outdoor/7865.html for information on the latest conditions, weather and trail closures and reroutes.
Town of Keene, High Peaks Wilderness Area On Saturday, February 25, 2012, at approximately 11:38 pm, DEC Central Dispatch received a call from the girlfriend of Matthew Bradley, 36, of Lee, MA, reporting him overdue. He had left from the Garden Trailhead on Saturday, planning to snowshoe to the summit of Mt. Marcy via Johns Brook and either the Phelps Trail or the Hopkins Trail. He then planned to continue to Adirondack Loj Trailhead via the VanHovenberg Trail.
Eleven Forest Rangers, including three Forest Rangers who had participated in the previous two searches, responded and searched through the night. DEC Central Dispatch had very limited and sporadic cell phone contact with Mr. Bradley because his cell phone battery was dying. Dispatchers were unable to get location information from him or obtain the coordinates of his cell phone. At 5 am Mr. Bradley was able to place a quick call from his cell phone and provide the coordinates from his GPS. Forest Rangers determined that he was off trail in a drainage area on the southwestern slopes of Table Top Mountain.
Forest Rangers reached Mr. Bradley at approximately 9:20 am. He had moderate hypothermia and possible frostbite. Forest Rangers provided him food and then escorted him to an open area for retrieval. Mr. Bradley was hoisted into a State Police Aviation Unit helicopter with a Forest Ranger operating the hoist and transported to the Adirondack Medical Center in Saranac Lake for further medical evaluation and treatment.
Know your route, the terrain and your physical capabilities * remember it takes more time and energy to travel through snow than it does on bare ground. Be prepared to spend an unexpected night in the woods pack plenty of food and water, extra clothing, flashlight/headlamp, ensolite pads, stove and extra fuel, and bivy sack or space blanket.
Town of Brighton, Private Land
On Friday, January 6, 2012, at approximately 3:40 pm, DEC Dispatch in Ray Brook received a call from Franklin County 911 reporting two skiers lost on the trails at the Paul Smith*s College Visitor Interpretive Center (VIC). James Mort, 61 and Patricia Mort, 57, both of Red Hook, NY, had skied off the main trail system and were at a gazebo on the far side of a secondary trail system. They declined the option of following their tracks back to the main trail or out to the road and back to the VIC, due to exhaustion and lack of lights. One DEC Forest Ranger responded and located the couple. They were escorted out to the road and transported back to the VIC. Know your route, the terrain and your physical capabilities. Always carry a light, a map and a compass.
Town of Lake Pleasant, Jessup River Wild Forest On Saturday, February 11, 2012, at approximately 2:00 pm, a DEC Forest Ranger was notified of an injured snowmobiler on the Perkins Clearing Easement Trail. Dave Gervald, 32, of Wayne, NJ, was traveling too fast for conditions, when he struck a tree and was ejected from his machine.
He suffered severe leg lacerations and also complained of back pain. Two DEC Forest Rangers and two DEC Environmental Conservation Officers responded along with Speculator Rescue, Hamilton County Sheriff, and New York State Police. Mr. Gervald was backboarded, packaged and transported by snowmobile 6 miles to the waiting ambulance. He was then transported to Mason-Latour Hospital in Gloversville for medical treatment. Know your abilities and travel at reasonable speeds when driving snowmobiles.
Always carry a first aid kit and contact the DEC Forest Rangers at 518-891-0235 in emergencies.
Town of Indian Lake, Blue Mountain Wild Forest On Saturday, February 18, 2012, Lars Jackson, 45, of Pelham Manor, NY, had hiked with a group of Boy Scouts to the top of Blue Mountain in the Town of Indian Lake Hamilton County when he went into cardiac arrest.
Hamilton County 911 contacted DEC Dispatch in Ray Brook at 1:40 pm to report the situation. They indicated that cardio-pulmonary resuscitation (CPR) was being administered by members of Mr. Lars group.
DEC Forest Rangers, Blue Mountain Lake Rescue, Indian Lake Rescue, and Indian Lake Fire & Rescue responded to the incident. A DEC Forest Ranger arrived at 2:20 pm to observe that CPR had been continuing for approximately 1 hour. CPR continued while an automated external defibrillator was applied to no avail. CPR was discontinued at 2:27 pm.
The State Police and the Hamilton County Coroner*s Office were notified. Mr. Jackson was pronounced dead by the coroner. Contact the DEC Forest Rangers at 518-891-0235 in backcountry emergencies.
Town of Indian Lake, Blue Ridge Wilderness Area On Sunday, February 26, 2012, at approximately 3:36 pm, DEC Dispatch in Ray Brook received a call from the Hamilton County Sheriff*s office, reporting lost hikers on the Cedar River Loop trail system. Irwin Nathonson, 64, and Julie Nathonson, 62, both of Diamond Point, NY, had not crossed the Cedar River Road and became lost. Three DEC Forest Rangers responded and each began searching on a different section of the trail system. At 4:53 pm the Mr. and Mrs. Nathonson were located in good health. They were transported out on snowmobiles and returned to their vehicle. Carry a map and compass and know how to use them.
Posted on February 29th, 2012 Add a comment >>
The Mountaineer in Keene Valley will host the tenth annual Backcountry Ski Festival this weekend. Most of the ski tours are full, but you can try out gear for free at the rope-tow hill at North Country School from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday. That night, skiing legend Glen Plake will show slides and videos of his backcountry adventures. The presentation starts at 7:30 at Keene Central School. Admission is $10.
Posted on February 22nd, 2012 39 comments Add a comment >>
He had a watch but was afraid to look at it. Instead he tried to gauge time by the slow movement of the stars across the sky. Alas, he forgot that he set his watch alarm for 4 a.m.
“When it went off, I was disappointed,” he said. “I knew I had to wait some more.”
By then, Steve Mastaitis had been curled up inside a snow hole near the summit of Mount Marcy for more than nine hours, shivering uncontrollably, suffering from frostbite, fearing the worst. The temperature fell to near zero during the night, with a wind-chill factor of twenty below.
“I knew there were people out looking for me. I just didn’t think they’d ever find me in time,” Mastaitis, a 58-year-old lawyer from Saratoga Springs, said in an interview at Adirondack Medical Center on Tuesday.
Hard to believe that a day hike in relatively mild conditions could turn into the night from hell.
Mastaitis had climbed fifteen High Peaks, but until Monday, he had never attempted Marcy, the state’s highest mountain. He did the trip at the urging of two of his sons, Evan, 30, and Benjamin, 34. Joining them was Ben’s friend, Matt. The four left Adirondak Loj at 7:30 a.m. and reached Marcy’s summit cone about five hours later.
When they emerged above tree line, they were exposed to fierce winds. When Matt stopped to put on his snowshoes, Steve waited for him while his two sons continued upward. Steve and Matt soon resumed their ascent and met Ben and Evan as those two were coming down.
Because of the wind, Steve and Matt did not linger at the summit. After snapping a few photos, they started down. At some point, Matt stopped for some reason, and Steve continued hiking. He could see his sons two hundred or three hundred yards below.
“All of a sudden I was looking at the trail and there was no trail,” he said. “It was all snow.”
Steve veered to the right into an open gully, thinking it would lead to the trail. He fell into a spruce trap and sunk up to his chest in snow. As he struggled to free himself, one of his snowshoes and one of his boots came off. After fifteen minutes, he extricated himself and put his boot and snowshoe back on.
Afraid of falling into another spruce trap, he started sliding down the gully on his butt. Instead of taking him to the trail, though, it led him to the edge of Panther Gorge, a wild and rugged canyon between Marcy and Mount Haystack.
“Luckily, I stopped myself just before I would have gone over the edge,” he said.
Steve knew he was in trouble. He tried calling 911 and his sons, but he couldn’t get a signal on his cell phone. He then tried his wife, Jane, who was at work in her job as chief financial officer for Saratoga Bridges. She picked up.
“How did he get through to me? That’s the miracle,” Jane said on Tuesday.
Steve told his wife to call 911 and send help. He said this might be his last call, because he didn’t know how long the batteries in his phone would last. Minutes later, she texted Steve and, at the urging of authorities, asked him to call 911 again so they could determine his GPS coordinates. On his second try, Steve got through to 911.
It was not quite 2 p.m. when Steve made that last call. He had reason to hope he would be found that night. Because of the wind, however, forest rangers could not land a helicopter on Marcy. Instead they landed at Lake Colden and hiked up the mountain. They searched until midnight without success, eventually retreating in the face of the severe weather. They evidently came within a hundred yards of Steve’s snow hole, but because of the wind, their shouts went unheard.
Steve had started digging the shelter about 5 p.m. He punched through a layer of crust and scooped out the underlying snow with his hands, creating a hole three or four feet deep in the gully’s slope. He tried to start a fire with pieces of bark and dead branches, but he gave up after the wind kept blowing out his matches.
He entered the hole for the night about 6:30 p.m. Scrunched up in his frigid prison, he had a view of the clear sky. The stars moved imperceptibly. He thought about his family, thought about death, and tried like hell not to fall asleep. “I was afraid if I went to sleep I wouldn’t wake up,” he said.
Despite his best efforts, he occasionally nodded off, only to wake with a start, yelling for help. No one answered.
Throughout the night he flexed his fingers, kicked his feet, and thrashed his body to keep the blood flowing. Eventually, he had to pry his fingers open to keep the joints from freezing. At some point he lost all feeling in his feet.
When dawn finally came, he realized that one of his boots had come off during the night. It was still tied. Since he couldn’t unlace the boot with his frozen fingers, he used a broken ski pole as a shoehorn to wedge his foot inside. He managed to get his snowshoes on, too. He clambered out of the snow hole and started trudging away from the gorge, sometimes crawling.
He estimates that it took him an hour to travel a few hundred yards. “As I got to a rock ledge, I heard voices and yelled for help,” he said.
They were forest rangers who had resumed the search earlier in the morning. It was 8:30 a.m. An hour later, Steve was lifted into a helicopter and whisked away to Adirondack Medical Center in Saranac Lake. When he first arrived, his toes were purple and his fingers were ashen gray. His digits also were swollen. By Tuesday afternoon, some of the natural color had returned and the swelling had started to subside.
Jane had been waiting all night for a phone call. Upon hearing her husband had been found alive, she said, “I broke down, because I didn’t know what I was going to hear.”
Things might have turned out differently if Steve had not been wearing several layers of clothing: long underwear (tops and bottoms), knee-high socks, fleece pants, fleece sleeveless vest, windbreaker, shell jacket (with hood), mittens, two hats, and a face mask. On his feet he wore low-cut boots, which he now concedes wasn’t a good choice for winter.
He believes his training as a triathlon competitor (both he and his wife have done the Lake Placid Ironman) helped him get through the ordeal. “I’ve been through pain before,” he remarked. “It gives you a mental toughness.”
Yet he said the biggest credit goes to the forest rangers. He came to tears at the thought that they risked their lives searching for him in the night on Marcy’s summit. “I owe my life to them,” he said.
And what is the lesson from all this?
“If you’re with a group, stay with the group,” he said. “None of this would have happened if we stayed together. And just be prepared.”
Posted on February 22nd, 2012 Add a comment >>
When I skied to Avalanche Lake a week ago, the bottom of the Trap Dike in Mount Colden didn’t have much snow. Evidently, there is enough snow higher up to ski the dike and the upper slide. The video below is from Drew Haas’s website Adirondack Backcountry Skiing. The site has a number of other videos worth checking out.
Posted on February 20th, 2012 1 comment - Add a comment >>
We’re pleased to announce that the Adirondack Explorer has formed a partnership with the Adirondack Almanack. The first sign of the changes to come is a link to the Almanack on the Explorer home page. More substantial changes lie ahead. Following is a news release issued this afternoon.
Adirondack Explorer and Adirondack Almanack form partnership
Tom Woodman, the publisher of the Explorer, and John Warren, the founder of the Almanack, signed an agreement today to integrate their online operations. Warren will continue to run the Almanack, which will now fall under the Explorer rubric.
Both organizations will continue to be hosted on their own domains: www.adirondackalmanack.com and www.adirondackexplorer.org.
Founded in 1998, the Explorer is a nonprofit newsmagazine (with offices in Saranac Lake) that focuses on environmental issues, outdoor recreation, natural history, and general news about the Adirondack Park. Warren, who lives in Chestertown, started the Almanack in 2005 and built it into one of the Adirondack Park’s premier websites. The site features the work of more than 20 contributors who write on a wide range of topics, including the arts, history, outdoor recreation, and the environment. The Almanack also posts a daily list of links to regional news.
The partnership will combine the Almanack’s community journalism with the Explorer’s news coverage. The coming months will see the rollout of new mobile applications, redesigns for the websites of both organizations, and an expanded social media presence.
“This is an outstanding opportunity for two organizations with similar missions to collaborate in a unique way at a time when local media is changing dramatically,” Warren said. “Almanack contributors have engaged regular readers and helped expand the dialogue about Adirondack issues. Now we’ll have the administrative support to broaden their reach.”
“The journalists of the Adirondack Explorer and the community voices of the Adirondack Almanack blog site will join to create an expansive electronic meeting place for news and conversations about the Adirondack Park,” said Explorer Publisher Tom Woodman. “We hope this partnership will help bring people together in a kind of digital town square to learn about and discuss issues that shape the future of the Adirondacks—and to share all the ways to enjoy this unique Park.”
In 2009, Warren received Eleanor Brown Communication Award from the Adirondack Mountain Club. Explorer Editor Phil Brown received the same award the previous year.
Posted on February 16th, 2012 13 comments Add a comment >>
Sometime this year hikers will have a brand-new bridge for crossing Marcy Brook on their way to Mount Marcy and other destinations in the High Peaks Wilderness.
The state Department of Environmental Conservation plans to build the bridge about a quarter-mile downstream from Marcy Dam. The old bridge at the dam was washed away during Tropical Storm Irene in August.
After Irene, hikers had to rock hop across Marcy Brook at a place known as the Squirrel Crossing. The new bridge will be upstream of the Squirrel Crossing, according to DEC spokesman David Winchell.
Winchell said the log-stringer bridge will be constructed this spring or summer. The $20,000 cost (most of it for labor) will be borne by the state’s Environmental Protection Fund.
Winchell said no decision will be made on whether to rebuild Marcy Dam and/or its bridge until engineers assess the dam’s structural soundness. If DEC decides to build a bridge at Marcy Dam, Winchell added, the new downstream bridge will be dismantled and the materials used elsewhere.
Easily reachable from Adirondak Loj, Marcy Dam is one of the most popular destinations in the High Peaks Wilderness and a stopover on the way to many of the High Peaks. Winchell said DEC needed to install a bridge across the brook as soon as possible.
“It’s a busy crossing, and we need something better than a rock hop,” he said.
The floods of Irene not only washed away the bridge, but they also damaged the dam, causing most of the dam’s impoundment to drain. The March/April issue of the Explorer contains a debate on whether the dam should be repaired. Carl Heilman, who took the photo to the right, argues for fixing it and restoring the cherished view of a pond nestled among mountains. Tony Goodwin, editor of the Adirondack Mountain Club’s High Peaks guidebook, takes the opposite view, contending that the shallow pond had been filling with silt anyway and would continue to fill in if the dam were fixed.
Posted on February 15th, 2012 6 comments Add a comment >>
We sent files for the March/April Explorer to the print shop Monday, so I took the next day off to ski to Avalanche Pass and, given the dearth of snow this winter, was surprised at the quality of the skiing.
I also tried out our new Go Pro video camera during the descent of Avalanche Pass. It worked much better than my old system of strapping a point-and-shoot to my chest during my downhill schusses. You can check it out here:
We may get rain this week, so the conditions could change, but for what it’s worth, here’s my report on snow conditions on various parts of the trip.
South Meadow Road. The ski from Adirondak Loj Road to the start of the Marcy Dam Truck Trail is sometimes icy, but on Tuesday, South Meadow Road was ideal for skiing: well-packed snow with a veneer of powder.
Marcy Dam Truck Trail. Thin cover near the start and bare sections near the trail register and Klondike Brook. But most of the trail had good cover.
Marcy Dam to Avalanche Camps. Still lots of rocks poking through the snow, but they are easily avoided.
Avalanche Pass Ski Trail. Not as much snow as we should have, but plenty enough for an enjoyable run. In three places, surveyor’s tape flags rocks or roots that might trip up a skier.
Avalanche Pass to Avalanche Lake. Good cover. But on one of the descents, a signpost points left to a section of trail rerouted after Tropical Storm Irene. There is a big rock just as you make the turn. If you’re skiing, go straight on the old trail to avoid the rock.
Avalanche Lake was frozen solid. Most of the snow had been blown off, exposing bluish ice. I skied to the base of the Trap Dike and was startled by its lack of snow. When I climbed the dike last winter, its waterfalls were largely buried in snow. Yesterday they were exposed, revealing long columns of ice. Too difficult for me to climb, I thought.
Coincidentally, on my ski out I encountered Don Mellor, the author of Blue Lines: An Adirondack Ice Climber’s Guide. He had just climbed the Trap Dike with a client, and he remarked that in its current condition the dike is “a real ice climb.”