Friday, January 23, 2015

Hikers Rescued After Getting Lost On Marcy

15120 DEC rescueTwo Canadian hikers spent an unplanned night in the woods earlier this week after wandering off the summit of Mount Marcy.

Marie-Pier Leduc, 21, and Miquel Martin, 20, both of Kirkland, Quebec, spent Monday night by a campfire in Panther Gorge in the High Peaks Wilderness.

The hikers told state Department of Environmental Conservation forest rangers that they had become disoriented on the summit of Mount 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, where they encountered forest rangers searching for them.

Forest rangers escorted the hikers to Elk Lake, where they were reunited with family members at 2 p.m. Tuesday.

A search for the hikers was initiated at 1:33 a.m. that night after one of the hiker’s family members called state police to report them missing. State police then conducted a search and found their vehicle still in the Adirondack Loj parking lot. State police then called DEC. The pair had planned to make a day trip up Mount Marcy, starting at the Adirondack Loj trailhead.

After being alerted to the missing hikers, fourteen 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 Mount 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 state police helicopter from 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.

DEC said the pair of hikers did not have skis or snowshoes, a map, compass or GPS unit with them. Although snowshoes or crosscountry skis are required in the Eastern High Peaks when there is at least eight inches of snow, neither hiker received a ticket. However, DEC said in a statement that it urges all hikers to have proper gear with them for winter trips.

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.

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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

52 Responses

  1. Wilderness adventure and recreation requires a personal commitment to sustaining one’s own self-based responsibility including personal safety and the complete and safe return from the wilderness.

    These sorts of rescues cheapen the wilderness experience for all of us who are willing to take the risk and prepare for wild land adventure based on a true understanding of the potential challenges one may meet.

    They also cost the state DEC, town-based rescue services and volunteers (like so many others and myself in search and rescue efforts) tremendous time, risk and money. State helicopters and snowmobiles then come in and cost the state even more while diminishing the essential value of wilderness all the more.

    A few years ago, I was aghast when state DEC and local volunteers with a a state helicopter were used to bring a climber out of the woods with a broken ankle from less than a mile in the woods.

    Its long past time for NY State (and towns for that matter) to charge full cost fees to clearly unprepared wild land recreationists who place themselves, forest rangers, local volunteers and others in danger and at high cost due to their recklessness.

    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.

    • NoTrace says:

      This is a long-standing and hotly-debated topic whenever something like this happens. Y’all may remember the guy from Ohio who activated his satellite rescue device in the western Adirondacks about 10-12 years ago, shortly after land-based beacon rescues had been activated by the NOAA (?); HE was the first-ever to push that button for a rescue.

      Turns out, if you recall, that he really wasn’t in need of that much of a rescue, which goes to the heart of Dan’s argument. DEC wasn’t very happy with having to deploy their SAR resources, but let him go. But the story doesn’t end there; a few months later, he went back into the same area to retrieve the canoe he had left behind, and the weather turned on him (it was November), and guess what? He activated the beacon again. Imagine the surprise on the part of DEC to find they were rescuing the same guy, just a few weeks later. This time they were NOT happy and so they slapped with a charge (IIRC) of falsely reporting an incident. I seem to recall he fought the charges in court, but don’t remember the outcome.

      Some states will slap you with a bill for the cost of rescue if they believe you acted recklessly (NH is one). NY has never taken that tact, and perhaps wisely so: One of the arguments against charging for SAR is that if someone who is in trouble (or think they are in trouble, or thinks they may SOON be in trouble) defers calling DEC dispatch knowing that they will be charged for the SAR, they may make matters for themselves and their companions AND their rescuers even worse. Sometimes, it’s best to err on the side of caution, so that even if Monday-morning quarterbacking says, “These people didn’t really need to call DEC Dispatch”, the other question that needs to be asked at the same time is, “What if they didn’t? What would have happened?” One possible answer is that things could have been a lot worse, and a whole lot more expensive than if a potentially bad situation is nipped in the bud, early, rather than disastrously late.

      I’m all for deploying the well-trained SAR function of DEC and the volunteers (thank you!) that so ably rescue those who are hapless, stupid, or truly the victims of circumstances beyond their control. I speak from first-hand knowledge on all this, as I was, myself, the recipient of an SAR mission about eight years ago. Some of you know who I am 🙂

      • Greg says:

        To be fair, these folks didn’t call SAR at all. Someone else called when they didn’t show up as expected.

      • Kevin says:

        NoTrace, sorry for the thumbs down. Intended for the [redacted] you were replying to.

    • NoTrace says:

      I wonder if Dan has ever suffered a broken ankle in the wilderness? 🙂

  2. Solo Pete says:

    They should be a bill from the state and a penalty for lack of common sense.

  3. Solo Pete says:

    Map and Compass……. should be fined for not having them.

  4. Jim S. says:

    That was the worst direction to head off Marcy,those two are awfully lucky to have survived

  5. KerMudgin says:

    DEC spends the Labor Day weekend ticketing folks for no bear canister but does not ticket these dimwits for failure to have the required snowshoes or skis. Makes no sense.

    • common sense says:

      Lack of bear canister harms wildlife and creates danger to other users. I cannot see how “these dimwits” did similar damage to any but themselves. Their penalty was a descent into Panther Gorge.

      • Greg says:

        Search and rescue carries costs and risks for the rescuers.

      • Scott says:

        Not having snowshoes, causes post holing – deep holes in the trail. People get hurt often when this happens. All of the trailheads have signs telling hikers that snowshoes or skis are required with 8″+ of snow on the trails. It’s dangerous for everyone that uses that trail until those holes get packed in again.
        They should have received tickets.

        • ADK46er says:

          The Van Hoevenberg trail was hard-packed that day and impervious to post-holing. That does not excuse them from failing to have snowshoes (it’s the law) but I thought you’d like to know they didn’t make a mess of the trail. However, they did post-hole their way off the summit into Panther Gorge (unlikely anyone will want to follow their route).

          I agree one ought to keep trails neat by wearing snowshoes (should be mandatory throughout the ADK Park and not just the High Peaks Wilderness area) but the data doesn’t support the safety angle: “People get hurt when this happens.” and “It’s dangerous … until the holes get packed in”.

          The snowshoe regulation has been in place for several years so by now we ought to see far fewer post-hole related injuries in the HPWA compared to other comparable parts of the Park (like the Giant and Dix Wilderness areas) or mountainous places like the Whites. If you check the historical accident reports, you’ll be hard-pressed to find any difference in post-hole related injuries. Common-sense says one thing, the data another.

          I dislike struggling with post-holes and encourage people to wear snowshoes as a courtesy to others for their comfort and convenience (and because it’s the law in the HPWA). Don’t be a kitten-killer:

          • Actually the data does support the post holing issue. As a backcountry skier next time and see how many have had leg injuries when a tip or edge caught. Along the same note, I’m not a skier, but caught a snowshoe in a post hole and nearly snapped an ankle 7 miles from a trailhead.

        • NoTrace says:

          So, Scott – why were they not ticketed? You’re in a position to know 🙂

    • ADK46er says:

      Did they deserve being cited for failure to comply with the snowshoe regulation? Yes. However, let’s look at it from another perspective. Locating and evacuating them, safe and sound, is the best end to the story. Why sour it with a petty epilogue “Upon rejoining their loved ones, the victims were cited for not wearing snowshoes.” I think the two learned their lesson the hard way and it appears the DEC thought so too.

      • Paul says:

        I agree with you. But if you are one that thinks a fine was in order it really isn’t to “teach” these guys it would be to “warn” others, and publishing it here would facilitate that. I think reminding folks here how dumb it is to forget things you need when you are hiking and showing them what can happen (and you can easily image how it could have been worse) probably serves that purpose.

        • ADK46er says:

          I thought what befell them was an adequate example of what can happen if you fail to bring a map and compass.

          KerMudgin lamented the fact they were not cited for their lack of snowshoes. Technically, they were in violation and deserved to be fined. As I mentioned earlier, I think the DEC’s choice to omit the fine was a magnanimous gesture. There was no advantage to make an example of them on that issue; a poor vehicle for warning others. You don’t save with one hand and then slap with the other (cheap shot: except in NH). 🙂

  6. ADK46er says:

    There’s no report of what caused them to become disoriented. Was Marcy’s summit in whiteout conditions on January 19th?

    • ADK46er says:

      FWIW, I’ve learned that very poor visibility caused them to lose sight of the cairns and descend the wrong way.

  7. chris says:

    Tax payer dollars well spent.

  8. jay says:

    If taken to a hospital in an ambulance or air lifted by helicopter after an auto accident you would be billed and expected to pay or you insurance company billed.Why should a rescue be any different?

    • vb says:

      Um…actually no you wouldn’t. I’ve never heard of anyone charged by a volunteer squad or a municipal squad.

      • Mark says:

        Actually, you would in many places. It’s fairly standard now, whether the ambulance crew was volunteer or professional. (My son’s insurance just got hit with a $1900 bill for a ride to the hospital in NYC after he was found passed out in a subway station from hypoglycemia.)

        • Peter says:

          This seems to be the direction things will be going in the North Country in general as costs rise for maintaining ambulance services. The training that volunteers have to go through is extensive. The time away from work for hourly workers as they provide EMT services is huge. They should get paid, and the pay should come from the insurance programs that cover other areas of medical care.

  9. Paul says:

    “It’s long past time to require wild land recreationists to be prepared for self-rescue.” I understand the idea of making them pay but what does this mean?

    • william Deuel,Jr says:

      I am with you Paul. Self rescue ? I f people are in need we help them out regardless of the situation, we can fine them later. One of a DEC officers job description is search and rescue.

      • Paul says:

        No that was a straight-up question. I don’t understand what “self-rescue” is? There are some instances where a person is so ill prepared that it might make sense to have them pay for their rescue. I am on the fence on that issue.

        In this particular case it sound like these guys were making their way out of the woods and perhaps were not in much danger. No doubt they were missing some essential gear that would have made the trip out of the woods much easier.

  10. NoTrace says:

    Good God…

  11. Hawthorn says:

    First, this is a double-edged sword. If you fine people for doing stupid things in the woods it will mean some people will postpone calling for help until the situation is really dire or possibly too late. That will mean increased costs, greater danger to rescuers, and probably further loss of lives. Second, who determines when someone is unprepared or self-rescue was even possible? Let’s say you or I fall through the ice while crossing a backwoods brook during a winter bushwhack. We have all the gear, are completely prepared, but break a leg and get hypothermic. Should we not be fined because we were prepared but still required rescue, while the person who does the same thing but maybe doesn’t have snowshoes with them gets a big fine? Third, the cost of these rescues is tiny compared to the overall budgets of these agencies, and you have to remember that they might instead have been training and spending the same amounts of money doing so. The equipment and people have to be ready to go and trained whether or not there are people to rescue or not.

    • Hawthorn says:

      It goes without saying that our forest rangers need a big shout out for the work they do. Though I hope to never have the need to call for help it is good to know they are there and know what to do and how to do it when the chips are down. Thanks folks!

    • common sense says:

      I agree that the state should have issued a violation for the snowshoes, and let the judge decide a fine or dismissal…..however as far as budget…It would alarm you to see what the Ranger budget actually is. A single campaign search can wipe out the years budget for these guys/girls. Mr. Lynch should foil it and expose its sad condition. I understand it is still at Mario Coumo level.

      • Hawthorn says:

        I agree that the DEC and forest ranger budgets are too low, but what were the extraordinary costs involved? All personnel were on staff and already being paid, so maybe they get overtime for this. All equipment was already owned and purchased, so maybe they bought gas, maintenance, and some extra food and batteries. When the cost of a rescue is listed they include everything and the kitchen sink, assuming all costs of everything go toward the rescue when in reality it is marginal increases. Then subtract how much would instead be spent that same day on normal work using the same equipment, or on a night time training exercise that they do anyway.

  12. NoTrace says:

    I’ll betcha dinner at the Mirror Lake Inn that they had their SMARTphones with them, but, God forbid, nothing embarrassingly low-tech like a map, compass, guidebook, or common sense.

    Dumbin’ Down… that’s what a SMARTphone will do to your brain.

    • ADK46er says:

      It stands to reason that if they had a phone, they would’ve called for help (there’s cell reception on Marcy’s summit). To my knowledge, they did not place a call (their family did) so they probably had no phone. Looking through the DEC’s reports, many incidents mention victims using their phone to request assistance (a stroke of luck given the spotty cell coverage in Wilderness zones).

      Having said that, I agree that having (and knowing how to use) low-tech, no-batteries-required, map & compass is a valuable advantage. Many hikers nowadays use (remarkably good) navigation apps running on their smartphones instead of a dedicated GPS device, or map, compass, and terrain awareness. It works well … until it doesn’t (dead battery, dropped phone, etc) and then you’re up the proverbial creek.

  13. Teresa DeSantis says:

    Dear Fellows,

    I’ve been thinking about this. The age of these two young men is 20 and 21. They are young men, at their physical prime. I do not condone what happened, or their lack of essential gear, but want to state that it takes time to develop essential backcountry skill and judgement to the point that you consistently make the right decisions out there. Especially in the winter, establishing a “turn-around time” when only a day trip is planned is important. This is the time when, based on the time it has taken you to hike into that point, when you cannot safely reach your target destination and back in daylight hours. (Hopefully adding an extra hour or so of daylight for safety.) Knowing when to turn around and save your goal for another day is a skill that takes some time to develop. There is always that desire to push on further, and then you can get caught out late. When you are in your twenties, the goal seems everything. Backcountry judgement takes time to develop. Sometimes it takes an experience like this to make people be more prudent in the backcountry.

  14. Sheila says:

    Strictly enforce the regulations. The revenue generated from the tickets will pay for more rangers, training for hikers, and enhance the use of certified guides.

  15. Werner says:

    Probably had no gloves with them and Nike sneakers on their feet, and, in a showing off to their friends mood ! Been there , seen that !!

    • Paul says:

      I doubt it. They came out unharmed after a long cold night in the woods. If the did it in sneakers with bare hands I would be pretty impressed!

    • ADK46er says:

      Unless the DEC rangers supplied them with additional clothing, the photo above (click it to magnify) shows a young woman who appears to be adequately dressed for winter.

      BTW, the young man who set the speed record for hiking the ADK46 in winter, wore sneakers. In fairness, the sneakers (Hoka One One) were covered by neoprene overshoes but sneakers nevertheless. And snowshoes, of course! 🙂

  16. Paul says:

    Does it really constitute a “rescue” when you just walk out of the woods? I guess if they are looking for you and you find them it counts.

    • ADK46er says:

      Had they indicated to their family that they would be gone for 1-3 days then I’m inclined to agree with you. However, they had indicated “day-hike” so when the clock struck “Pumpkin Hour” their “day-hike” transformed into “unplanned overnight”.

      Unplanned overnights in sub-zero weather carry a high-risk of serious injury, even death; speed of recovery is key. I think it’s fair to call the attempt to quickly locate, assist, and transport the victims a “rescue” even if there are no injuries or fatalities. I’d wager the DEC Rangers wish all their rescues ended so well.

  17. Barkeater says:

    It’s a s simple as this for me, when people are in harm’s way in the Adirondacks, it is the responsibility and duty of first responders to do what they are trained and paid to do and for taxpayers to support it. To go on FB and pontificate about who should or should not have to pay based on arbitrary judgments from people trying to demonstrate their backcountry cred is ridiculous. Spare us the arrogance, please. We get it folks. You are more experienced, environmentally conscious, strong, brave, and way above average. The last thing I want a person in danger in the Adirondacks to be concerned about is whether or not they will have to pay to be returned safely to their loved ones. Get over yourselves.

    • ADK46er says:

      True. They need not be concerned for SAR costs in the Adirondacks. However, had this happened in New Hampshire, it’s likely they would have been billed.

      Why? Because if your predicament was deemed to be due to “reckless or negligent” behavior, you get charged for SAR. There’s much teeth-gnashing over what constitutes “reckless and negligent” but this incident seems like an easy fit (no navigational tools whatsoever). The call won’t be made by an Internet kangaroo-court but by NH Fish & Games.

      If one wishes to hedge their bets, a Hike Safe card or a NH fishing or hunting license will absorb the cost of SAR in the event you are judged to be “negligent or reckless”. Seems fair to me.

      • Paul says:

        Hike Safe card?

        Tell us more?

        • ADK46er says:

          Hike Safe card. Effective January 1, 2015.

          If you read the Hike Safe card’s FAQ, you’re covered for rescues due to “negligent” behavior but NH Fish & Games still reserve the right to bill you if they judge your actions to be “reckless”.

          • Paul says:

            Thanks. Interesting. Perhaps they should have some mandatory education for hikers like they do for those getting a hunting license.

            Take your “hikers safety course” before you can get your “hike safe card”.

  18. For context, the most expeditious route to where they were located is about 9 miles. It’s rugged and riddled with slides (East Face, Margin & Old Slide where they were), cliffs, drainages, bus-sized talus, blowdown and krummholz. They were through the worst if they found the trail though getting back to their car would have meant knowing the area well enough to take the trail from the gorge back up to the Marcy/Skylight col (probably not broken out) and either back over Marcy or back via Lake Arnold or Lake Colden rather than following downhill to Elk Lake.

    The following could be an article in and of itself, but rescue from Panther Gorge is something that plays itself out over and again sometimes with a good ending and sometimes not. I’m glad they were ok!

    Narrow Escape from Panther Gorge (1883) :

    George Atkinson found in Panther Gorge (1976):

    2 Boys Rescued from Panther Gorge (1976):

    Recalling Fruitless Search on Cold Mountain (1976 Steve Thomas):

    3 Rescued From Panther Gorge (1987):

    Marcy Potential Trap for Hikers (1989):

    Latest Hiker to Completely Disappear (1990):

    Australian Man Dies in Panther Gorge (1991):

    Rangers in the business of saving lives (1998):

    A Cold Night on Marcy (2012):

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