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.