Friday, January 30, 2015

Lost Marcy Hiker Shares Survival Story

15120 DEC rescueTwo Canadian hikers got lost on the summit of Mount Marcy on Monday, January 19, wandering off the side of the mountain into Panther Gorge.

That night, Marie-Pier Leduc, 21, and Miquel Martin, 20, both of Kirkland, Quebec, kept warm and survived by starting and staying by a campfire. In the morning, the pair continued their trek, eventually meeting up with forest rangers who had initiated a rescue mission to find them. Fourteen forest rangers and a state police helicopter participated in the search.

After the rescue, the hikers received criticism from commenters on the Adirondack Almanack and on Facebook because they didn’t have a map, compass, or snowshoes. Snowshoes are required in the Eastern High Peaks Wilderness when there is more than eight inches of snow on the trails. However, the hikers did have enough winter gear and clothing to make it through the frigid night when temperatures fell below zero.

Below, one of the hikers, Marie-Pier Leduc, shares her story about how the pair survived their ordeal.

Almanack: Have you hiked in the Adirondacks — or Marcy — in the past? Do you have much experience hiking?

Marie-Pier Leduc: It was our second time in the Adirondacks. We love the mountains and have hiking experience. We had hiked many smaller mountains before attempting to hike up Marcy. We had reached the summit of Algonquin just a few days before Marcy.

Almanack: What caused you to get lost?

Marie-Pier Leduc: When we reached the summit, it was very cloudy and the weather conditions made for very poor visibility. We couldn’t see something held right before our eyes so we lost sight of the trail. We had taken note that we needed to follow the cairns, so when we saw one we went in its direction and followed the path of rocks. But we were never able to locate a second cairn, so we ended up going in the wrong direction. When we were lost on the summit, we got to a point where we could no longer progress due to lack of grips or points of anchor, and we were forced to take some sort of natural slide. It took us down for many meters right into deep snow and heavy vegetation.

Almanack: What was it like walking through the deep snow and off trail on Marcy?

Marie-Pier Leduc: It was very hard, like nothing we had ever encountered before in our lives. We didn’t have snowshoes because we saw the trail was in good condition and didn’t have a lot of snow on it. We figured we wouldn’t need our snowshoes because they make it harder to climb up the mountain. (We had no idea there was a regulation concerning the use of snowshoes and skis. We thought it was only a recommendation, and we had seen other people with bare boots as well.) When we got lost, we realized how useful they would have been. Off trail, there was so much snow, it was impossible to walk upright. We had to crawl in the snow and make our way through the trees. The vegetation was very dense and sometimes we had to climb back up a little bit because there wasn’t any way of getting through it. We had just climbed a mountain and were very exhausted. It is impossible to explain how hard it was. Each meter felt like 10. It was difficult to progress at a good rhythm so we crawled in the snow for many hours before the sunset and for a few more hours the next morning before finding the trail. Even once on the trail, it was still difficult to walk through as it had not been used much and the snow was still fresh and soft.

Almanack: How did you survive the night?

Marie-Pier Leduc: After our slide down the wrong side of Marcy, and walking and crawling through the thick vegetation for hours, we realized we would have to stop and stay the night if we were to survive. We found a spot where there wasn’t as much snow. We dug a hole and used pine tree branches to create a barrier that would diminish the impact of the wind. We had survival blankets which we used to sit on instead of sitting directly in the snow. We had a fire stone and fire starting kit, so we made a fire. We also had a good knife, so we were able to cut branches. We spent the whole night making sure our fire was still going strong by always putting more wood in it. The fire saved our lives. We were very cold and we knew that making it last all night was our only chance of keeping warm so we didn’t sleep at all and just kept getting up to get more wood.

Almanack: Would you have survived if you didn’t run into the forest rangers?

Marie-Pier Leduc: When the rangers found us, we had found a trail going down Marcy. We were on the wrong side of the mountain, but I do believe we would have made it down and would have found a way back to our car. We were in good health but very exhausted. The rangers saved us from walking all the way down. It certainly helped and may have prevented us from incurring injuries or other complications due to exhaustion. We were also super tired, and it would have taken us a very long time. We are very grateful for everything they did for us, and we got out a lot faster thanks to them. I do believe we would have survived on our own at that point, but I’m very happy we did not have to go through any more then we had already gone through.

Almanack: Why didn’t you bring a map and compass? Do you feel like you were prepared for the trip?

Marie-Pier Leduc: It wasn’t our first time hiking in the Adirondacks, and we had successfully made it to the top of Algonquin and easily found our way back down, so we didn’t feel the need to bring a map or compass because we knew the trails were easy to follow. I guess we had to get lost once to understand that we can’t always rely on the trails and signs to find our way. We had never gotten lost before on any of the mountains we hiked. Marcy has a big open summit which caused us to loose sight of the trail. We learned our lesson the hard way, and it’s needless to say, we will always bring a GPS device, or map, with us in the future.

Aside from not having a map or compass, we were prepared for the trip. We had done a lot of research and knew how long the trail was. We left our house very early in the morning and arrived at the mountain right after sunrise. We didn’t waste a minute. We had checked the weather forecast many times, and it was supposed to be partly sunny and not too cold. We always carry a lot of food, water, spare clothes, our fully charged cellphones. and a survival kit. We knew that there is always a risk of having to spend the night in the woods, if something goes wrong, and we were prepared for it. I believe that the tools we did have saved our lives that night. Had we not packed these items and been in very good physical condition we might not be alive to tell this story.

Photo provided by DEC: Marie-Pier Leduc (second from right) of Quebec walks out of the woods on snowshoes after being rescued by forest rangers Tuesday, January 20.

Mike Lynch

Mike Lynch is a staff writer and photographer for the nonprofit Adirondack Explorer, the regional bimonthly news magazine with a focus on outdoor recreation and environmental issues.

Mike’s favorite outdoor activities include paddling, hiking, fishing and backcountry skiing. In 2011, he paddled the 740-mile Northern Forest Canoe Trail from Old Forge to Fort Kent, Maine.

From 2007 until 2014, Mike worked as an outdoors writer and photographer for the Adirondack Daily Enterprise in Saranac Lake.

Mike welcomes story ideas and can be reached at mike@adirondackexplorer.org.




30 Responses

  1. Yasu says:

    Thanks for sharing this valuable information and story Marie and AA. I know most people would prefer to lay low and try to remain anon after a difficult and humbling experience like this. I followed your posts Marie on one of the groups on Facebook too, and saw how difficult several members were to you over your experience. I have no doubt sharing this experience will prove insightful and informative for many novice as well as experienced trekkers including myself. A well done to the SAR & DEC for their speedy response and rescue.

  2. Mike says:

    It’s easy to Monday-morning-quarterback these sort of situations. Nonetheless these two did survive because of the knowledge, skills, and equipment they DID have. Would map, compass, and snowshoes have kept them from getting lost? Perhaps, perhaps not. Their biggest mistake? not keeping one cairn in sight while looking for the next. How many of us have had that uncomfortable sensation???
    Glad they made it.

  3. ADK46er says:

    Marie-Pier,

    Thanks for sharing the details of your unfortunate experience. Your positive actions, as well as beginner’s mistakes, serve as a lesson for others. I’m glad you and your companion survived the incident without injury.

    You stated you had done research for your trip to Marcy. May I suggest you familiarize yourself with the Seven Principles of Leave No Trace. https://lnt.org/learn/7-principles

    The very first principle “Plan Ahead and Prepare” states one should “Know the regulations and special concerns for the area you’ll visit.” Had your initial research included this step you would have learned:

    1. Snowshoes are mandatory and not merely recommended for the area you visited.
    2. Carrying a map and compass, and knowing how to use them, are highly recommended for any hike.

    In fact, a map and compass are the first two items listed in the classic “Ten Essentials”. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ten_Essentials

    If you plan to return to the High Peaks, I advise you to read the valuable advisories, tips, and regulations found here:

    DEC’s “Trail Information for the High Peaks.” http://www.dec.ny.gov/outdoor/9198.html

    Adirondack Mountain Club’s “Adirondack Hiking Information” http://www.adk.org/page.php?pname=hiking-info

    Adirondack Almanack also publishes a weekly digest of trail conditions http://www.adirondackalmanack.com/category/current-conditions

    There’s a lot more to know about winter-hiking, especially travel above treeline, than what can be found in the above links. May I suggest, at least for the next two or three trips, you hike with experienced winter hikers and learn from them. At the very least, join a hiking forum and ask questions.
    http://forums.adkhighpeaks.com/
    http://fousderando.com/

    Good luck to you both!

  4. Neil Luckhurst Neil Luckhurst says:

    I definitely agree that joining Adkhighpeaks.com is a great idea! More information there than you can shake a stick at and virtually any question gets answered (and oftentimes debated!) very quickly.

  5. Christine Bourjade Christine says:

    Not sure I agree with what stands for “experience” and “knowledge” in the present case!

    • Erin says:

      Clearly on only their second trip to the area they had almost 0% experience in this case. As for knowledge, not bringing a map and compass is about as dumb as you can get.

    • Experience/knowledge: I made various mistakes (food,hydration,layering, navigation) throughout my journey in becoming a winter 46r. It’s human, we’re all subject to it. The learning curve is long and often hard during the winter months and remaining a student of the journey throughout — maintaining a humble mindset is key IMO. Most of my ambitions now take me off-trail during winter trips — I still feel like I’m learning and strive for more experience.

  6. Ben says:

    They felt they would have made it just because they found a trail? A trail to where? They didn’t know. It’s a 9 mile hike to the Elk Lake trailhead from Panther Gorge and without snowshoes, they would have been in trouble. Going via the Upper Ausable Lake would have been less distance if they knew where they were going. They should be charged for the rescue.

    • Adkdave says:

      Your righteous attitude insinuates you’ve never been in a situation that makes you question your own actions & decisions. Is this true? You feel that you are always prepared for everything? My guess is that you are a shrivled old white man who has had the support of the establishment behind yourself all these years, yet consider yourself superior because you’ve navigated the hard times “all by yourself”.

      • Col. Forbin says:

        Hey Adkdave, both you and these unprepared Canadian hikers should be banned from the park for life. Winter conditions up here are a lot different than they are everywhere else, you had better be prepared when you go out there. It was only their second trip to the area, ever. Not only did they not have the required snowshoes/skis (there are signs at EVERY trail head that make this fact known), they didn’t even bring a map. That type of ignorance and stupidity is dangerous, not only for you [redacted] out there , but for the people who are coming to find, rescue and save your ass.

  7. John Grasing says:

    I have backed off Mt Marcy and Mt Jefferson (in the Whites) at treeline in the winter time because of white out conditions like this and now feel even better about those decisions.

    When in doubt, turnabout!

  8. TrailGeek says:

    This is an example not only of hikers not being sufficiently prepared (although had they not been able to make a fire, they likely would have perished), but this is also an example of a lack of sufficient respect for the high peaks and the ADK wilderness. It might not seem it from the road or the trailhead, but these are real mountains, quite remote in places, and not a “walk in the park.” Most every one of the high peaks hikes can present life-threatening consequences to those who aren’t sufficiently prepared for every possibility.

  9. Matt says:

    Thank you for sharing your experience. You have done more to keep people safe through sharing the details of this unfortunate event than any of the predictably judgmental internet comment makers ever could. No one is perfect. Considering the circumstances, you could have had appropriate navigational tools and snowshoes and still spent a night out. The margin for error gets mighty thin once you’ve lost visibility. I’m happy you both are ok.

  10. As a Cartographer, I am always looking at how people use maps, and perceive the landscape around them. It is interesting that Marie-Pier says they didn’t bring a map because the trail on the ground appeared clearly visible and easy to follow. Maps are there to help people
    perceive what is beyond that trail. Also, there is the purpose of using maps to get to know an area thoroughly before you go. In my house, there are Adirondack maps in the kitchen, maps in the bath, maps in the bed, maps in the car, and maps just about everywhere I look.
    I have large-poster sized maps of the Essex Chain and the St. Regis Canoe Area and Fish Creek Ponds hanging up in the kitchen. These are the maps I study every day.
    You’ve got to know an area, live with an area, love an area- and maps can help you do that. If you study a paper map of where you’re going every evening by the fire, you’ll have greater awareness of the area that you are visiting on foot. And if something goes wrong, you’ll have
    a mental picture of where the bail-out points are. Plus, maps not only help you to prepare for your trip, but to relive and review a trip later in time. So don’t forget the usefulness of bringing a “simple” paper map.

    Teresa the Cartographer

    • ADK46er says:

      “Perceive what is beyond the trail.” Yes!

      It is unclear to me if they studied a map beforehand and memorized the trail network, the terrain, and established their bail-out routes. Based on what happened, I’m led to believe they did not. No study, no map; beginner’s mistakes.

      Armed with a map, it might have swayed them to aim for Four Corners with an eventual descent to the safety of the DEC Interior Station at Lake Colden (manned year-round). Maybe. At the very least, some maps show the color-coded trail system so, upon reaching a colored trail-marker, they could’ve made an educated guess as to their (approximate) location.

      The trail to Elk Lake Lodge doesn’t see a lot of traffic in winter. Without the DEC’s intervention, they would’ve faced an arduous trip without snowshoes. Elk Lake Lodge is closed for the season and I don’t know if it has a winter caretaker. They might have had to walk two additional road-miles to Clear Pond for help. This is a much longer escape-route to safety than the downhill run to the Lake Colden station. But you’d have to have studied a map, a guidebook, and done a bit more research to know the area and your options.

      The fault of all beginner’s, in all activities, is simply being unaware of what you don’t know (“unconscious incompetence”). The next fault is, having tasted a little success, prematurely concluding you have mastered the subject (inaccurate self-assessment). These two individuals are beginners who chose the riskiest season to make beginner’s mistakes. With more education and guidance, they can safely progress to become experienced winter hikers. It’s my sincerest wish that they follow this new path.

  11. Hawthorn says:

    It sounds to me like they were generally well prepared, with a few glaring exceptions: no snowshoes, no map, no compass. However, this brings up another topic for another occasion. I think that many hikers now rely solely on their smartphones with GPS, and even if that system is working (battery dependent is never good in the backcountry) it is very hard to get the “big picture.” By that I mean on a smartphone you can either see a tiny area in good detail or a large area with insufficient detail. With a map you can spread it out and get the “big picture” which is so valuable when you are lost and need to choose a new route back. By the way, if you have never been “lost” you have never been anywhere in the backcountry. Experience doesn’t mean that you always know exactly where you are, but it does mean that you know how to eventually establish your location and get yourself headed in the right direction.

  12. Bob Randhare says:

    As a member of a SAR team I can say this is a typical reason we have missions. We escort folks out of the woods, mostly at night, because they fail to plan. I see people heading in when I’m leaving. Almost all don’t have maps or compass, no lights, no emergency gear, wrong shoes, wrong clothes…the list goes on. When they put their children at risk it greatly raises the ante and our turnout response proportionately. As an EMT, I will also add “we can fix most anything but can’t fix stupid”.

  13. I generally bring about 3 different paper maps of an area to the field, my 2 Handheld GPSs (in case one fails- which
    it has before), a set and forget compass, and a watch. An important point to remember is that all digitally-based
    cartography which might be viewed on a cell phone or other device has been compiled from several data sources,
    and does not have the federal oversight and scrutiny of the old paper USGS topographic maps.

  14. John Warren John Warren says:

    It appears as though some of the most strident critics of these folks are also those who are incapable of reasonable and polite discussion of the issues.

    Please keep it reasonable folks. No name calling. Be polite.

    John Warren
    Editor

  15. Wren Hawk says:

    I’m glad these guys made it out safe. I’m glad the rangers found them because it sounds like it wasn’t a done deal they’d get out on their own. A big thanks to SAR.

    But I heartily agree with the comments above that go to the fact that some visitors to the Park do not have the proper respect for the mountains and the wilderness nature of this place. They perhaps think it is impossible that this park in New York can pose real challenges if not taken seriously. In part that’s a potential failure on their part. If you search for them, there are ample, clear warnings. But again, our determination to make the Adirondacks a “destination” may not give ample awareness to the average visitor that you are coming to a wilder place…a place that will provide you with thrilling challenges but a place you need to respect and prepare for.

    • ADK46er says:

      “If you search for them, there are ample, clear warnings.”

      Right you are! The perplexing part is that one doesn’t even need to do much in the way of searching. The trail-register at Adirondak Loj, and at other trail-heads, is plastered with signs spelling out the major regulations, general advisories and warnings, and even listing the recommended gear. As per the old adage “You can lead a horse to water but you can’t make him drink.”

  16. adkDreamer says:

    Good point John. Although situations like this one can be debated from both sides ad nauseam, it stands to reason that there will never be complete agreement.

    My 2 cents worth:

    It is probably unreasonable to harbor the expectation that all folks entering a wilderness area have the same skill set or level of preparation. In addition, how the conversation would change had the weather conditions change to freezing rain? Would the conversation discuss the merits of handling those conditions as well? What if they awoke a predator? How would that be addressed? If, if, if.

    Bottom line: It is impossible to prepare for every peril, even the most experienced of back woods adventures can run into unexpected situations (e.g. Wright Peak avalanche years ago)

    Additionally, not everyone starts their wilderness experience as an expert, most do not. They start with the skill set they have and go from there, nature and other forms of training educates them the rest of the way.

    In conclusion, one cannot legislate: common sense, experience, skill set, equipment, strength level, etc. The wilderness is just that – wild and often unpredictable and by definition – not safe. As Dan Plumley stated very clearly s the first commenter in the original article

    “It’s long past time to require wild land recreationists to be prepared for self-rescue. It’s part of what experiencing the wilderness should be about.”

    I do not believe Dan’s intent is legislation. My take away is that Dan is saying many things other than legislation – mostly that the wilderness should be experienced they way nature has created it – complete with hazards, dangers, challenges – without which one may not find the beauty, fulfillment and appreciation for wilderness. However, if one does find themselves in an unsafe situation they should be prepared to deal with it – if not and they require DEC SAR assistance then let the DEC SAR folks determine reimbursement/fine/tax on a case by case basis.

    Finally I would bet that Marie-Pier Leduc and friend have or will find a way to thank the DEC SAR in their own way.

    • ADK46er says:

      Bear with me; I’m not being sarcastic with this example.

      If one looks through the DEC’s accident reports, many involve assisting an injured hiker (usually a lower-leg injury but often heart-related). Incapacitated hikers are, by definition, unable to self-rescue. I assume in a “self-rescue or pay” system, these folks wouldn’t be obligated to pay for humanitarian reasons? Or would it bill the victim (or their next-of-kin) for services rendered?

      BTW, I’m no expert but I do believe “DEC SAR” is “DEC Rangers”. DEC Rangers provide SAR services in NYS and can request assistance from not-for-profit volunteer SAR groups (see nysfedsar.org)

      • adkDreamer says:

        to ADK46er –

        Please bear with me as well-

        I see you have described other ‘what if’ scenarios. My comment was specifically not to address the ‘what if’s – there are simply too many.

        As far as ‘self rescue’: I make no attempt to define the term. Perhaps ask Dan Plumley.

        As far as ‘pay’ for DEC services. I make no attempt to define these parameters. I did state that it should be decided by the DEC.

        As far as ‘DEC SAR’: You are correct – I did not define that acronym. In context you are correct as my intention was specifically DEC Rangers performing Search and Rescue. Volunteer SARs by definition perform for free. Thanks!

        -adkDreamer

  17. Maddy says:

    Very happy they shared their story and hope it will help educate others.
    What I find difficult is when one tries to instruct folks who are engaged in dangerous behaviors and they refuse to heed advice, even if it is offered with the utmost care. Sometimes it is just out on our hands and there is nothing one can say to convince them they are walking unprepared into danger. If someone truly believes they are invincible, and if they live or die is a matter of luck, there is precious little you can do to help them see the light. It’s especially difficult if it’s a friend but you reach a point where you need to let it go and as they say, ” You choose the behavior, you choose the consequences.” I learned so much from hiker peers who took the time to help set me straight and this story will hopefully have the same impact and help save lives.

  18. Hawthorn says:

    I find the logic and ethics behind claiming that people should pay a fine based on whatever the DEC defines a rather dangerous idea. Let’s say one of the very experienced bushwhackers here finds themselves with a broken leg somewhere off trail deep in the High Peaks in the middle of winter. They have every possible piece of gear on them, but the battery is dead on their cell phone, they can’t call for help, a massive storm overtakes them and buries their tracks, nobody is quite certain where they are. A huge multi-day search ensues because the Rangers know they are well prepared, will probably survive, and they have a general idea where they are–somewhere on Santanoni lets say. So because someone in the DEC says they are prepared, no fine. While the person wearing tennis shoes slips walking into Marcy Dam, twists their ankle, and manages to limp out to the Loj only to be met with a huge fine? Where is the logic in that? Once you start fining people this will end up in the courts, and you might find the DEC is spending even more money on lawyers and wrongful arrest lawsuits.

    • ADK46er says:

      Maintain free SAR for all or switch to a case-dependent fee-based SAR?

      I believe New Yorkers can observe New Hampshire’s experiment to answer that question. As of this year, NH Fish & Games can bill the victim(s) if found to be “negligent or reckless”. From their web-site:
      http://wildnh.com/safe/hike_safe_card_FAQs.html

      A person acts negligently when he or she acts in such a way that deviates from the way a reasonable person would act under similar circumstances.

      A person acts recklessly when he or she engages in highly unreasonable conduct, involving an extreme departure from ordinary care, in a situation where a high degree of danger is apparent.

      NH Fish & Games will decide if one’s predicament was a result of “negligent and/ reckless” behavior.

    • adkDreamer says:

      @ Hawthorn –

      Those are fantastic what if scenarios. I don’t believe either has much merit.

      Indirectly every NYS taxpayer is currently taxed for DEC Ranger SAR operations. So NYS taxpayers ARE paying the ‘fine’, although I wouldn’t use that term necessarily. And since this tax only benefits those who venture into the wilderness it could be interpreted as an unfair tax (benefiting a subset of society). But isn’t that silly? – like believing that supporting a local Fire Company doesn’t make any sense unless ones own house burns down.

      Every action has some form of an opportunity cost involved. I tend to support the idea that the NYS DEC Rangers are best equipped to make the rational monetary support decisions necessary if a situation arises where they feel compelled to do so, with consideration of cause and merit of course.

  19. Jill A says:

    Oh dear! Next time they’ll bring “a GPS device or a map”. The “or” is just what I don’t want to hear. GPS devices are fallible (dead battery, no signal). Cell-phones ditto. Always bring a map and compass. They are reliable (provided you’ve practiced using them). And they normally weigh less!

    However I commend the pairs’ ability to get a fire started under difficult conditions. It probably was a lifesaver.