A massive rescue involving nearly three dozen rangers in the High Peaks over the weekend seems to hammer home a couple of points about the state of entering the wilderness in the heart of the Adirondacks.
First, you are risking your life, and those of others, by going miles into the backcountry in terrible weather. You may think your experience and know-how will keep you from getting hurt, but it happens in an instant, particularly in icy weather. One moment you are strolling along, the next you are parallel to the ground. If you are 8 to 10 miles into the woods, understand that the weather may keep rescuers from getting to you.
The second is that the state has to take a look at the forest ranger force in the Adirondacks, and finally do something to beef up the staff of rangers who are being called out pretty much every weekend, no matter what the weather, for rescues that routinely stretch to 12 hours of more.
The rescue effort that began Saturday with a call about an injured hiker stretched out over more than 36 hours, and involved 34 rangers and 12 volunteers. I was told that virtually every available ranger from regions 5 and 6 was called out. What happens if there was another rescue call in the region? Rangers from the Catskills would be next up, and that would clearly take hours.
(In this case, there was another call during the rescue, and a forest ranger captain from Ray Brook was among the crew that headed to the second call.)
There has been a growing chorus around the Adirondacks for an increase to the number of rangers, as this NCPR article shows. Hiking, mountain biking and other outdoor sports have never been more popular. More people than ever are taking to trails, and many of them are unprepared, unfortunately. That puts more rangers at risk, and requires more manpower for rescues.
Below is the state's synopsis of recent forest ranger rescues.
-- Don Lehman
Town of Keene
Search and Rescue: On Feb. 3 at 12:08 p.m., DEC Ray Brook Dispatch received a call from Essex County 911. The caller stated his hiking partner sustained a leg injury after falling approximately 10 feet off an icy cliff while hiking Saddleback Mountain. The subject was unable to bear weight on the injured leg. The two hikers were able to move slowly toward Basin Mountain. State Police Aviation was not available due to high winds, snow, and cloud cover. Rangers responded by foot into the wilderness, establishing a communications relay point and a base camp. The subjects were located at about 4:45 a.m. on Feb. 4, and Rangers provided shelter and food and stabilized the injury. Additional crews entered the wilderness and transported technical rope gear to lower the subject and his companion to a safer location and prepared to carry the injured subject out. Thirty-four Forest Rangers and 12 volunteers worked through the winter storm on Sunday in rugged mountainous terrain to complete the rescue. Keene Valley Volunteer Fire and EMS units and volunteer climbing guides assisted in the rescue. The subject was transferred to an ambulance and transported to a local hospital at 1 a.m. on Feb. 5.
Town of Webb
Rescue: On Feb. 3 at 5 p.m., Forest Rangers were notified of a snowmobile accident in Webb. A snowmobile had rolled over into a creek, and the operator had sustained chest and abdominal injuries. Rangers assessed the subject and provided wilderness first aid care. Town of Webb EMS responded and transferred the subject to Mercy Flight. The subject was airlifted to Albany Medical Center for further care.
Town of Booneville
Rescue: On Feb. 3 at 5 p.m., a Boonville Village Police Officer pulled over a subject for speeding. During the traffic stop, the officer requested assistance. Forest Ranger Chad Richardson responded. Ranger Richardson assisted with a vehicle search, locating drugs in the subject’s vehicle, and helping Boonville Police Department with the subject’s arrest processing.
Towns of North Elba/Keene
Rescue: On Feb. 4 at 2:22 p.m., DEC Ray Brook Dispatch received a call from a United States Army Medic regarding a 58-year-old male with an unstable lower leg injury on the Cascade/Porter trail. The subject fell, hit a tree with his leg, and heard something snap. The medic, who was on the trail that day, splinted the man’s lower leg and advised Forest Rangers the subjects would begin making their way to the trailhead. Regional Forest Ranger Capt. John Streiff and Forest Ranger Peter Evans responded from the Saddleback/Basin incident command post and found the subject 0.4 miles from the trailhead. Rangers re-evaluated and re-splinted the injury and assisted the subject to the trailhead. The injured hiker stated he would seek further medical care on his own.
Town of Owego
Search: On Feb. 1, the Tioga County Sheriff's Office requested DEC Forest Rangers to assist in locating a missing 21-year-old developmentally challenged male reported missing the night before. Forest Rangers conducted a wildland search operation while the Tioga County Sheriff's led the investigation. New York State Police Aviation searched from the air. Local volunteer responders and search and rescue teams from neighboring counties provided personnel. The individual was located about 7 p.m. in good health.