Monday, February 22, 2016

Personal Locator Beacon Key To Mount Marcy Rescue

KatieTylerwebRescues involving personal locator beacons are rare in the Adirondacks, but one played a key role in the search-and-rescue of a 47-year-old Long Island woman on Mount Marcy during whiteout conditions in early February.

Maria Nobles had been hiking with a group of six people on February 6 when she lost her way near Schofield Cobble on her way to Marcy’s summit, which is less than a mile away. Realizing she was in trouble, Nobles sent a distress signal on her locator beacon.

A dispatcher at the state Department of Environmental Conservation office in Ray Brook received the distress signal at 12:46 p.m. and initiated a rescue. The coordinates put her northwest of Schofield Cobble. A dispatcher sent a text to Nobles’ phone, who replied she was lost but not injured.

Forest rangers responded to Mount Marcy while the Lake Colden Caretaker Katie Tyler headed to the area where the spot locator coordinates were provided. After about 45 minutes of searching in Schofield Cobble area, Tyler located Nobles at 4:45 p.m. about 1,000 feet off the trail.

“I’ve never been so happy to hear someone yelling in my life,” Tyler said.

Tyler said Nobles was in good condition when she found her. She had proper winter gear and clothing. She simply got lost in difficult whiteout conditions caused by high winds. Once Nobles got off the trail, she had difficulty walking because of spruce traps, despite wearing snowshoes.

Tyler and responding Forest Rangers evaluated Nobles at the Four Corners intersection of the Van Hoevenberg trail and then escorted her to the Lake Colden Outpost where she spent the night.

The following morning, they escorted her back to Lake Arnold where she was reunited with the rest of her party who was camping at that location.

“She totally did the right thing,” said Forest Ranger Joe LaPierre, who was in contact with Nobles via cell phone during the rescue. “She realized that she was lost. We tell everyone stop, sit down, think, observe and plan.”

LaPierre, who has been stationed in Saratoga County the past few years, said that this was his first rescue  involving a locator beacon. There have been a handful others in the High Peaks in recent years.

LaPierre said the only thing that the group didn’t do right was stay together and act in an organized fashion. The group actually didn’t realize Nobles was missing until they arrived back at camp at Lake Arnold and she didn’t show up.

Photo by Mike Lynch: Lake Colden Caretaker Katie Tyler.


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.




28 Responses

  1. Ron Konowitz says:

    Yet Another Great Life Save by the New York State Forest Rangers along with The Lake Colden Interior Outpost Caretaker, Katie Tyler!
    Job Well Done !!

  2. Cranberry Bill says:

    I have been searching through the archives looking for Dan Crane’s article about the blowdown in 1995. He had a beacon too, I believe, but all he got was a helicopter rescue instead of an escort by a beautiful young caretaker. I wish I knew how to get lost.

    • Dan Crane Dan Crane says:

      Bill,

      I didn’t have a locator beacon way back in 1995 (did they even have them available back then?); the helicopter just spotted me on the ground near Little Shallow Pond. I do carry one now though, just in case something happens to me when I’m deep in the trailless backcountry all by my lonesome.

    • Dan Crane Dan Crane says:

      I beautiful young caretaker would have been nice, but three middle-aged men had to suffice, unfortunately.

  3. Amy Hildreth says:

    I am so happy to hear of a good ending I should myself get one of these as I hike alone… it’s always a good idea..Nice Job everyone !

  4. Patti says:

    Great work Rangers! I am shocked that her group did not realize she was not with them until they got back to their camp. In those (and any) conditions it is advisable to make sure everyone is accounted for on a more frequent basis.

    • M.P. Heller says:

      Very true. I too wondered how they ‘misplaced’ her for several hours.

    • Moosebeware says:

      I watched a similar event on Iroquois a couple years ago. It was snowing, 40-50 mph winds, and a complete whiteout. I had walked over to Iroquois with a group of 12, but left the summit prior to them as they were celebrating a finish and I didn’t care to linger. Conditions were deteriorating. As I topped out on Boundary, I turned around because I heard yelling. I could see that one member of the group became separated from the rest and while they were only 10 feet apart, they could not see or hear each other. Eventually, the group figured out they were one short. When I spoke to the young man later on, he said he had stopped for only a minute and when he turned around, they were gone and he had no idea of where to go.

      This incident just like the one above, was completely avoidable. The same day as the Marcy rescue above, I was on Algonquin and visibility was limited from cairn to cairn. I took a compass bearing and carefully made our way up from treeline. At one point, we could not locate the next cairn, but carefully left the last one, keeping it in sight, and soon found the next one. We summitted and returned to treeline, deciding not to head over to Iroquois due to deteriorating conditions.

      Spot beacons are no substitute for common sense of keeping a party together at all times, or knowing how to use a compass.

      • Bruce says:

        Moosebeware is correct. PLB’s are not a substitute responsible outdoor planning and behavior.

        I am 71 and enjoy fly fishing alone in the Southern Appalachians. I sometimes go into areas that may not be far from a road or my car, but cellphones often don’t work. I have a PLB in the event something happens where I’m physically unable to get back to the car and there’s no one else around who can help.

  5. Ron Lester says:

    Personal locator beacons along with cell phones are too often a replacement for personal skills and good judgement. Having them along lends a false sense of security that if I get in trouble, help is just a button press or a call away. Thankfully it worked this time, but that is not always the case.Amazing her group didn’t realize she was missing. Many thanks to those who responded and helped make this save.

    • Bruce says:

      Ron,

      Do you know of any incidents involving current model PLB’s which failed to do their job? There are a number of incidents where they were turned on just to see what would happen, by kids and idiot adults, causing responders to search for them.

      On the other hand, I wouldn’t trust a cell phone more than 100′ away from the nearest tower even with a fresh battery. I did have an experience where 3 different cell phones with good batteries didn’t work when the tower was about 1/4 mile away in plain sight on a ridge line. Only one of our group’s phones worked, so we all used it.

      • Bruce says:

        Ron,

        I might add, some failed to work because in a misguided attempt to save the battery the user turned the unit off after activating it, losing the rescue signals. Rescue organizations say once it’s on, leave it on until found. The battery is good for 24 hours of continuous operation, even if the test function is used periodically, and has a 5 year life.

        PLB’s are not for replacing good sense, they are designed for situations where there’s no other way to deal with it available. Last resort, if you will. I carry one not because I’m afraid I’ll get lost, but in case of injury where I can’t get out, and there’s no one to take me out or get help.

  6. Tim-Brunswick says:

    Actually I’d like to know what the Mfr./Model of that woman’s PLB was? I’ve been searching for a more reasonable alternative to my DeLorme Inreach Explorer. I frequently hike/bushwhack, fish, explore in the Moose River Recreation Area with GPS/compass where there is no cell coverage.

    The DeLorme is great, but @ 68 years of age a bit of an electronic challenge. I have yet to learn to text (will soon) & can send pre-et msgs. to Family. I did research some of the PLB’s and the reviews aren’t always too encouraging. The DeLorme is also very $$ to buy/maintain, but preferable to getting permanently lost.

    Have yet to have to activate the SOS Buttonand “should” go on my excursions with a partner, but options there are always limited. I’m a little too adventurous, but damned if I’m ready for the Rocking Chair yet………

    • Taras says:

      There’s information in this article, and in the original DEC press release (http://www.dec.ny.gov/press/105024.html), suggesting it was not a PLB (Personal Locator Beacon), like an ACR ResQLink, but a SEND (Satellite Emergency Notification Device) like a SPOT messenger or a DeLorme InReach.

      A PLB requires no annual service subscription, has a battery that last ~5 years, and does only one thing and that is to transmit a distress beacon.

      Your InReach (a SEND) requires an annual subscription, the batteries last day(s), it transmits a distress beacon, plus it can transmit and receive custom messages as well as indicate your present location (on the web). This last feature is useful if one is incapacitated and unable to signal for help. Your last known position is available. I believe the InReach can also be polled (your position can be requested).

      The two categories are often lumped together under “PLB” but a SEND is a different animal. Spend time becoming familiar with your InReach; it’s far more capable than a PLB.

      • Bruce says:

        Tara,

        Mine is the ACR ResQLink floating model, because we decided I didn’t need messaging. It stays clipped to my fishing vest, right in front where I can activate it with either hand if need be.

  7. Marco says:

    Often, carrying a PLB will feel like a safety net. Often the simple rule, “stay together,” is broken.

    • Taras says:

      “Stay together” is not a universal law but it might have prevented this incident. The balance of the group was able to navigate in the reported “whiteout” conditions and succeeded in traversing Marcy. Had they remained together, the chances are good we wouldn’t be reading this article.

      In my travels, if everyone is self-sufficient, experienced, and trusts in each another’s skills, the group can dissassemble and recombine without incident. Problems arise because many groups consist of one or two experienced “leaders” shepherding a flock of less-capable “followers”. “Stay together” applies to this arrangement. If one of the followers strays from the group, their limited navigation skills may come to be tested and found to be wanting.

      There’s lots of time, between Schofield Cobble and Lake Arnold, to notice one of your crew has failed to catch up. I’ll politely dismiss “obliviousness” as the group’s failure and assume they believed Ms. Nobles to be self-sufficient and experienced. Perhaps that’s normally true but in the given circumstances, the leader (if there was one) had misjudged Ms. Nobles’ skills.

  8. Yet again, another example of why the interior caretaker position is critical position for public safety. We reward these people and diminish public safety by laying these people off every few months. These are the “80 percent” employees who are continously fired and rehired, if they are dedicated enough to wait. All to keep them from getting benefits. While you could argue that the state is being fiscally responsible I feel it greatly reduces public safety because the state eventually looses these employees to other jobs after the gain experince on incidents like this. The same is being done to the Ray Brook dispatch sytstem and it now has greatly reduced hours. When an emergency call comes in, nearly half the time, in terms of hours of operation, it will be answered by a dispatcher in Albany who is unfamiliar with the Adirondacks.

  9. DeeAnn says:

    While hiking over Algonquin/Iroquois mountains in blowing cloud whiteout conditions, we used a length of rope to stay together. Even with everyone holding onto the rope, at times it was “impossible” to see the person just ahead of you!

  10. Justin says:

    I believe this was an AMC lead trip and it is their MO sometimes to have everyone be self sufficient. This is a good thing in case a member bails and then the trip can go on but as this article illustrates it has it drawbacks. Best to travel as one group (four or more people) in the backcountry, especially in winter. I’ve had some trips that unfortunately ended early but everyone made it home safe and sound because we traveled as a group. Everyone is lucky that this incident saw the outcome it did and kudos to all involved in her safe rescue!

  11. Charlie S says:

    Patti says: “I am shocked that her group did not realize she was not with them until they got back to their camp.”

    Nothing shocking about it Patti.This is a very unfocused society.It is very common for people to get lost in commotion while oblivious to the world and the people around them.Happens quite frequently.

    • Boreas says:

      In reading HER account, I doubt I would have acted differently. I always was ‘tail end Charlie’ any time I hiked with others – and was often separated by 10 minutes or more. Normally not an issue in decent weather, but in a white-out, it can be deadly. What may have been helpful in this instance would be small 2-way CB radios for both ends of the group to stay in contact, but their range isn’t great in rugged terrain.

      But I agree that appropriate DEC staffing needs to be increased and not depend on volunteers when a situation arises. More back-country requires more staffing and patrolling. She was very lucky and did the right thing using the beacon.

  12. rc says:

    “The group actually didn’t realize Nobles was missing until they arrived back at camp at Lake Arnold and she didn’t show up.”

    These are the only disheartening words in the story. In a large group, pairing-off is THE ONLY WAY to keep track of all hikers. Without the locator beacon these ‘friends’ may have lost a friend.

    • Boreas says:

      rc,

      That statement is somewhat misleading. In her detailed account, the group went on toward the summit, knowing she stayed behind to help someone with their crampons, who also went on toward the summit. Then she decided not to summit, thinking her companions would likely catch up to her on their return.. This is when she got off the trail in the whiteout, while the group went by without hearing her rescue whistle because of the wind. They assumed she was ahead of them all the way back to camp. They knew she wasn’t with them, but didn’t know she was ‘missing’ – as in a missing person.

      As I see it, her only real mistake was moving at all until her companions caught up with her. If she could have waited along the trail in a sheltered spot she would have been fine. But in trying to return by herself in the whiteout, she wandered off-trail – setting herself up to be passed by her group when they didn’t hear her whistle.. She did a good job of keeping her head once she realized what had happened.

  13. Charlie S says:

    “I always was ‘tail end Charlie’ any time I hiked with others…”

    That’s me Boreas,always lagging behind. I hiked a trail in the Taconics near Petersburg,NY with a small group a few springs ago (with traces of snow in the woods) and they wouldn’t keep behind with me. They were in a rush which I never am and besides…it was my first walk in a while and as I huffed and puffed and hesitated to catch my breath now and again (and again), they were like the Roadrunner full speed ahead. I walked with someone else and as we walked we talked and before you know it we realized the trail wasn’t under our feet and those other guys were nowhere around. We stayed composed and the trail wasn’t far away and it turned out fine but i’m here to say…. It don’t take much to lose your bearings in the woods.

  14. Bruce says:

    I was once disoriented in the dark while fishing with a friend who had a brand new GPS, one of the first units from Magellan. We did well until we realized he had forgotten to program in the last trail turnoff and his vehicle location as the first two waypoints. Fortunately, I knew if we followed the river to where a natural rock wall stopped us, turned away from the river and went uphill, we would come to the road, a little downhill from the small parking area.

    We found the vehicle parked about 50 yards away from where we came out. I can tell you, it gets really dark in the Great Smoky Mountain National Park when there’s no moon. We both had small flashlights, which helped avoid the worst of the bush, as well as the potential rattlesnakes and copperheads.

  15. Ron Konowitz says:

    Separating from the group is a common theme in lost hikers all year round , however even in a group or pair, going above Treeline during a snow event or even just a cloud covered summit above Treeline in Winter with High Winds can be a problem as snow and/or High Winds cause your tracks to be almost immediately filled back in with blowing snow. White outs are most common on Marcy, Algonquin , and Haystack where you’re above Treeline for an extended amount of time. Over the years of Skiing Mount Marcy I found 2 different snowshoers on 2 different occasions that I went back up above Treeline to search for when their tracks that had been above me all the way up on the trail didn’t appear up high or on the Trail heading back down. I went back up blew my whistle systematically as I climbed back up and switch backed across the trail.Both of them were in the early stages of hypothermia and were really happy to see me.
    Folks getting lost in Whiteout Conditions on both Marcy and Algonquin has been a common occurrence for many years .
    And yes, there have been 3 Rescues of groups/pairs by the NYS Forest Rangers on Algonquin this Winter due to hikers going up into Whiteout Conditions including the well publicized Helicopter Rescue . And the Winter of 2105 saw the Rescue of A Snowboarder on Marcy with 2 young people who were lost in a whiteout and were rescued the next day in -25* F Temperatures .
    The Incredibly trained NYS Forest Rangers, Interior Out Post Caretakers, and NYS Police ,along with Volunteer Search and Rescue Personnel once again save lives. Job Well Done!

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