Raja Bhatt of Queens was ticketed for allegedly taking part in a “day-use group” with more than fifteen people — the legal limit for a hike in the High Peaks Wilderness Area.
Bhatt, who is thirty-two, said he didn’t organize the hike or the keg party.
“I was simply on the summit with some friends, and some friend of a friend brought a keg,” he said.
Bhatt posted photos on his Facebook page showing a large group of people on the 4,161-foot summit. In one image, a woman was held upside-down while drinking from the tap. The photos were shared on the Aspiring Forty-Sixers and Adirondack Explorer Facebook pages, eliciting condemnations from many (but not all) viewers.
“The only reason I got slapped with a ticket is I was the one who posted the photos,” he said.
DEC says the charge was based on the photos and on an interview with Bhatt. The regulation states that “no person shall be part of a day use group containing 16 or more people.”
Bhatt said he had finished his Forty-Sixer round the previous day on Whiteface Mountain. The next morning, he hiked Phelps from Adirondak Loj with six or seven friends. He said other friends and acquaintances hiked up the mountain at different times.
Bhatt estimated that his circle of friends on the summit numbered no more than fifteen. “Not everyone in those photos was in our group,” he said.
The photo of the upside-down woman notwithstanding — which he described as one brief moment — Bhatt said the party was not boisterous and no one on the summit objected to it.
Natalya Budnyatsky, an acquaintance of Bhatt, said he has been unfairly targeted by DEC. “He wasn’t the mastermind. He took the fall because he took the pictures,” she said.
She too said the party did not disturb other hikers. She added that the keg held only five gallons and was toted up the mountain in a backpack. “It wasn’t like people were getting drunk on the mountain,” she said. “People had a beer and enjoyed the view, and that was it.”
Brian Hoody, the president of the Adirondack Forty-Sixers, said the mountaintop celebration goes against the spirit of his organization, which promotes wilderness education and stewardship. “We neither need nor want members who behave in this fashion,” he said.
Neil Woodworth, executive director of the Adirondack Mountain Club, also criticized the celebration. “I am appalled at the idea of a keg party on the summit of Phelps,” he said. “… In my opinion, this kind of behavior is certainly inconsistent with the character and respect for the mountains that I expect of a Forty-Sixer.”
Woodworth added that he believes a similar celebration took place recently on Cascade Mountain.
Some Facebook commenters defended the partiers. “If they did damage fine them,” one person wrote. “If they had a good time and didn’t do any damage, then you’re just being a fun slayer.”
Bhatt faces a possible fine of up to $250 and up to 15 days in jail. He was scheduled to appear in North Elba Town Court to answer the charge.
Phil Brown contributed to this report.
Photo: A screenshot of the Facebook post showing a keg party on Phelps Mountain.
NOTE: The story has been corrected to clarify that Raja Bhatt was not charged with organizing the hike. Rather, he was charged being part of day-use group that exceeded the legal size limit.