Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Two Hikers Found Alive After Two Days In High Peaks

UPDATE: DEC has released video of the summit helicopter rescue here.

Two hikers who had been missing in the High Peaks since Sunday have been found alive.

Blake Alois, 20, and Madison Popolizio, 19, both of Niskayuna, a suburban town west of Albany, were found less than a quarter mile from the summit of Algonquin Peak at 11 a.m. Tuesday.

The two were located by Forest Ranger Scott Van Laer and Lake Placid climber Don Mellor, who were among dozens of professional searchers looking for the pair. A state police helicopter transported them to Adirondack Medical Center in Saranac Lake, where they were treated for cold-related injuries.

“They were not that far off the summit, so we can maybe surmise that they ran out of daylight, they lost the trail due to snow conditions, (or) often many times hikers are pushed by the wind in a certain direction,” said Forest Ranger Captain John Streiff at a press conference Tuesday afternoon. “It sounds like these two hikers may have been pushed off the summit, and they sought shelter by the sounds of it. I’m really not sure how they did it, whether it was a snow cave or a tent or something like that.”

The pair had set off Sunday morning to climb Algonquin, the state’s second-highest mountain at 5,114 feet. When they didn’t return, a family member contacted the DEC.

Relatives were concerned that they had not heard from the hikers since noon on Sunday. At the time of the last contact, the two sent photos and videos, and they appeared to be in good condition and wearing winter clothing, DEC said in a news release.

Starting early Sunday evening, Rrngers searched the trails to Algonquin and Lake Colden until 3:45 a.m.  Later Monday morning, more than 20 rangers began searching the trails and drainages around Algonquin. Snow, clouds, and winds prevented the use of helicopters to aid the search and posed difficulties for the rangers. The snow was up to three feet deep.

On Tuesday morning, more than two dozen rangers, along with State Police, resumed the search. Also, police helicopters joined the search.

On Monday night, a woman identifying herself as Kate Pop and Madison Popolizio’s sister posted the following message on Facebook:

“EMERGENCY: my little sister madison and her boyfriend Blake have been missing in the Adirondack mountains (Algonquin peak) for 2 days, last heard from yesterday around noon. Plz share this and pray for them!”

The post was shared more than 3,000 times, with many people offering to help in the search. DEC, however, was not seeking volunteer assistance. “At this time, due to the adverse conditions DEC forest rangers are not seeking additional assistance from the friends and family members of the lost hikers as this could only add additional risk to the searchers and divert resources from finding the missing hikers,” the department said in the news release.

On Tuesday, Kate Pop updated the news on her Facebook page: “we were just informed they have been located and are alive! Efforts to get them down the mountain are in progress. I just want to say thank you to everyone for the prayers, it really is a beautiful thing that so many people have shown so much compassion.”

Explorer staff writer Mike Lynch contributed to this report, adding updates at 6 p.m. Tuesday, December 13.

Photo: Screenshot of the missing hikers from Facebook.


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Phil Brown is the former Editor of Adirondack Explorer, the regional bimonthly with a focus on outdoor recreation and environmental issues, the same topics he writes about here at Adirondack Almanack. Phil is also an energetic outdoorsman whose job and personal interests often find him hiking, canoeing, rock climbing, trail running, and backcountry skiing. He is the author of Adirondack Paddling: 60 Great Flatwater Adventures, which he co-published with the Adirondack Mountain Club, and the editor of Bob Marshall in the Adirondacks, an anthology of Marshall’s writings.Visit Lost Pond Press for more information.

119 Responses

  1. Jim S. says:

    How about those Rangers!

  2. Boreas says:

    Great news!! It will be interesting to hear the story.

  3. Keith Gorgas says:

    Thank God for good news!

  4. pjjmunn@gmail.com says:

    Thawing out will be painful… it isn’t over yet, and yes, thank God they were found

  5. James says:

    A tough search during the winter in one of the more difficult areas of the high peaks. Great job to the forest rangers & state police.

  6. Justin Farrell says:

    Very happy to hear this good news!
    I saw this posted on Facebook earlier today, although the facebook quote that I saw was a little different.
    Glad they were found!
    Curious as to what happened, and hopeful that their experience might be able help others in the future.

    • Justin Farrell says:

      ….map & compass?

      • Avon says:

        Too late for that, by the time they’d gotten off the route from the summit to the treeline.
        They fell into such deep snow and gotten so wet and stuck below a steep area that they couldn’t ascend at all. Gotta read their narrative to know what they really needed (mainly, waterproof clothes and some survival know-how).
        You never know what exactly went wrong when so much can go wrong. Reminds us all of how little we can possibly guess whenever a body is ever found (or never found).

  7. Todd Eastman says:

    How about that Don Mellor?

    Don is a star and cares deeply about the hikers and climbers in the area.

    The combination of skilled climbers and Rangers is frequently the key to these operations.

    • scottvanlaer says:

      Don is the best and has been for a very long time! Invaluable asset, I can’t say enough about what he did yesterday.

      • Boreas says:


        Don’t be modest – apparently you played a significant role as well! Well done!

        Kudos to the entire team and to the hikers for keeping their heads in a deadly situation.

      • Bruce says:


        I realize it doesn’t apply in this case, but in the last year or so I have acquired a Personal Locator Beacon and take it when I go fishing here in the mountains of western North Carolina. Many places I go have no cell service, and I’m getting old enough (72) where a slip or fall could prevent coming out on my own. Sometimes there are others nearby to call on for help, sometimes not. I have taken advantage of the self-test function to make sure it works under forest canopy in our mountains.

        I’m curious to know if people are actually using PLB’s in the Adirondacks and what the experience of the DEC has been regarding them.

        • ChrisS says:

          I carry an InReach now during hunting season when I am often alone and bushwhackng deep into wilderness areas. I have had excellent success with sending home twice-daily updates as well as tracking information. There is some cell service in areas that I hunt, but only a small percentage. I can’t bet my life that if I were break a leg 4 miles deep in some creek I would have cell service, but the PLB provides some comfort.

          • Taras says:

            Pardon the semantics but your DeLorme InReach is a SEND device (Satellite Emergency Notification Device) which has capabilities beyond a traditional Personal Locator Beacon (PLB).

            A PLB has a 5-year battery (replaceable at significant cost and not rechargeable) and you activate it exclusively in an emergency. Your emergency signal is picked up by the COSPAS-SARSAT satellite system and this international monitoring service is included in the price of the PLB.

            A SEND, like InReach and SPOT, has far shorter battery life but is rechargeable (or inexpensively replaceable). You can use it to send non-emergency messages and, in the case of InReach, also receive them. It can also transmit “breadcrumbs” so others can track your progress on a web-page. If you indicate an emergency, the signal is monitored by a private, paid, monitoring service. If you don’t pay for the monthly/annual monitoring subscription fee, these devices cease to function as emergency beacons.

            I’ve read and heard good things about the InReach. Enjoy using it and I hope you never need to its orange SOS button!

            • Bruce says:


              Interesting, your remarks on the In Reach, especially about after purchase costs. I’m guessing that the monthly subscription fee for monitoring non-emergency information would not take long to equal or surpass the battery replacement cost in my RescuLink after 5 years.

              After extensive evaluation, I’ve determined that I don’t require monitoring/tracking services, just a reliable way to summon help when needed.

              A word about batteries. Replaceable and rechargeable are all fine, but like GPS and cell phones, they can go dead at an inopportune time. The 5 year battery in my unit, while not absolutely infallible, is guaranteed to give me at least 1 emergency call in that 5 year period, even with the recommended periodic non-emergency testing.

              I hope all I have to do with the unit is send it back at 5 years for a new battery and re-certification (roughly half the cost of a new unit)

  8. Josua says:

    That is great news! Be interested to hear their firsthand experiences and means they used for protection up on the mountain. Thanks!

  9. James Marco says:

    I believe that they just ran out of daylight and lost sight of the trail. Wind has a way of covering your tracks even a minute or two after you just made them. I guess that they really did not have a map&compass, or a map lacking sufficient detail. Algonquin is not a hard peak for sure. But, in white out, winds, and lack of reference points on the peak, it is easy enough to get turned around. The Loj should start selling maps with peak details so you can find a trail once you are on the rock face. It ain’t an easy thing in white outs, even if the peak is not that big. She did not have snow shoes. They are of limited value once you start the climb. So, I don’t believe this was a contributing factor. I am much relieved that they had sense to take cover in the lower areas.

    • EB says:

      Have read an interview with the young woman. They were suddenly overwhelmed by fog at the summit and could not see a hand in front of their faces. They linked arms but fell together down a slope about 100 feet, winding up in some trees. They could not climb up even in snowshoes up the slope.

  10. Jay says:

    Glad they are safe.Time for tough love.Make them pay for the rescue.

    • Boreas says:

      Perhaps we should wait for an official report before passing judgement.

    • Marsha says:

      They went for a winter hike. Lots of people do. They slipped and fell. Lots of people do. No need to be so harsh. The people looking for them knew what they were doing and I’m sure they love their job. Take it easy on them. I know this family. They are awesome and always helping others. Great job Blake and Ms Popolizio!

      • Dan says:

        I’m sure they’re fine people and experienced hikers. I have to question their decision to attempt a strenuous hike during one of the shortest days of year when they had to know that a significant snow storm was moving in. Their lives weren’t the only ones endangered.

      • Taras says:


        “They slipped and fell. Lots of people do”.

        Whoa! Back up! Don’t make it sound like what happened to them is par for the course. I’m sure the young couple and their respective families are fine people but that doesn’t figure into what the kids did, namely make a rookie mistake.

        They entered the alpine zone with no means of navigation beyond visual references. That’s a big roll of the dice and this toss came up snake-eyes.

        While standing atop Algonquin in lousy visibility, they had 360 degrees of choice for their exit. In other words, more wrong choices than right.

        They could’ve consulted their compass and headed in the correct direction, namely north. Instead, they headed to the first visible thing, the so-called “clearing”. They crossed it (why?) and then slipped off the wrong side of the peak.

        What they did was a beginner’s boo-boo and entirely *avoidable*. Choosing to walk off any summit with a blindfold is a bad idea.

        Had they headed north they may still have failed to find the trail or become pinned down by the weather. However, they would’ve been in the vicinity of the trail and greatly tilted the odds in favor of the rescuers finding them earlier, like Sunday night during the first search of the trails.

        If you know their families, I implore you to have them enroll their kids in an outdoor navigation course. Heck, have them buy compasses for stocking stuffers! Buy them a book on navigation which they can read while they convalesce. Equip them with the necessary SKILLS to keep them safe.

        Just don’t make this incident seem like something that happens to hikers who know what their doing. They weren’t prepared to be above treeline and we’re all thankful they survived their mistake.

        • Mike says:

          And allow me to add: there was no mention of carrying signal whistles, no headlamps (only a “crank light”), no map and compass, only one pair of snow shoes between the two of them (which is illegal and could be ticketed for), no stove/pot system to make water, and no emergency shelter/bivy – all of which are essential for winter hiking in the Adirondacks. One ranger stated that, had they seen Madison’s clothing choices at the trailhead, they would’ve insisted the couple not hike or hike a lesser peak. Madison herself stated in an interview that she felt like her clothing was dipped into a pool and then she had to brave the snow and the cold in them. That tells me she was probably wearing mostly cotton or other inappropriate materials for the season. Whether or not they had a storm “sneak up” on them (kind of hard for you to miss an approaching storm on Algonquin), they were obviously inexperienced and horribly unprepared, putting their lives and the lives of the rangers/SAR crews needlessly in danger – racking up a hefty bill in the process. Like Madison said “we were geared for the hike, but we weren’t geared for the unexpected”. That statement makes it abundantly clear to those of us who ARE experienced ADK hikers that these kids know little of what they were doing and should have never attempted that hike in the first place. Algonquin isn’t just a “winter hike” – it’s one of the most exposed peaks and can be harsh and extremely challenging in the winter. Chocking this up to a “stuff happens” attitude is foolish and doesn’t serve these kids well at all.

          • Bruce says:


            Right on! It’s one thing to be forced to sit tight for several hours or overnight while you still have some idea of where you are, quite another to wander off into the unknown, whether you can or can’t see.

      • Bruce says:


        Trying to put this in a politically correct light to save someone’s possible embarrassment serves no real purpose.

        Yes, “stuff happens”, even to those who are trained and properly prepared, but being prepared goes a long ways towards making that stuff much less traumatic or life-threatening.

        • Boreas says:

          Yes, experience, skill, and preparation are critical. But we are all at a different place on the learning curve. And no one is immune to the whims of nature.

          Unfortunately, there are currently no “minimum requirements” for backcountry skills in the HPW. Until there are, the S&R teams will get plenty of action.

  11. Western Edge says:

    How grateful we have to be to have these dedicated and expertly trained Forest Rangers, who, in many ways, risk their own lives to come to the rescue of others.
    We should have a yearly ” Celebrate our Forest Rangers Day” in the Adirondack

    • Boreas says:

      Good idea – but they may be too busy to attend… We need many more just like them so that they can spend more time preventing problems than reacting to them.

  12. Bushwhack Jack says:

    It appears that there will be a happy ending to this one. I didn’t think that would be the case.
    Thanks to all those who risk their lives to save others. We have a great DEC staff and volunteers!

  13. MOFYC says:

    First, shout out to the all the rangers and the great work they do. Have to have a lot of respect for them. And also to the volunteers who assist them.

    Second, this is a great reminder to make sure you sign in and out of trail registers.

  14. Charlie S says:

    Very nice story! I was reminded of whistles when I read the part about them screaming. This couple were meant to be with each other and this event will surely create a tighter bond between them. The romantic in me cannot help but think that thirty years from now they will be a happy couple yet…..if man is still alive by then!

  15. Boreas says:

    Sounds like if this had been one person or if they had gotten separated, things would likely have ended worse. The couple did just about everything right and kept each other alive. In hindsight, better planning and preparedness would likely have helped, but other than that, given their dire circumstances they kept their heads and lived to tell the tale. Great job everyone!!

  16. Taras says:

    Congratulation to the hard-working DEC rangers who braved harsh conditions to extract hikers who were, once again, unprepared for travel in the alpine zone.

    This now at least the fourth rescue, in recent years, of winter-hikers who are unable to navigate with instruments yet travel above treeline where this skill is essential. In the alpine zone, losing all visual references to some degree is not a matter of “if” but “when”.

    “Preparedness” for winter travel above treeline includes the ability to, at the very least, navigate by compass bearing. Without this skill, you are a pilot flying blind; disaster is imminent.

    Until winter hikers accept the fact they must learn how to, at the bare minimum, use a compass to descend the correct side of a mountain, this list will continue to grow:

    – A father and son ascend Marcy, are separated in poor visibility, the father descends the wrong side and is rescued the following day.

    – A young couple from Quebec ascend Marcy and, in poor visibility, descend the wrong side and are rescued the following day.

    – A mother and her two children ascend Marcy and, in poor visibility, descend the wrong side and are rescued the following day.

    – A young couple ascend Algonquin and, in poor visibility, descend the wrong side and are rescued two days later.

    • Boreas says:

      You are absolutely right. But in this particular instance, according to what I have read, they fell because they couldn’t see, then they couldn’t extricate themselves. They could have gotten perfect compass coordinates and perfect bearings, but even those can still take you off a cliff or into a spruce hole if you can’t see where to step because of fog or snow. You must be able to navigate the trail as well. In hindsight, trying to wait out the fog would likely have been the best option – but that is easier said than done when you are in freezing soup.

      • Justin Farrell says:

        When you’re unsure on which way to walk, you should….?

        • Boreas says:

          I would usually pull out the GORP and take a nap…

        • Taras says:

          “When you’re unsure on which way to walk, you should….?”

          At the very least, pause and reflect on why you’re ill-prepared for the situation you’re in and vow to fix it … and hope you get that chance!

          • Justin Farrell says:

            I think that some sort of hiker permit system might help alleviate some of these “ill-prepared” issues lol. 😉

            • Taras says:

              I see what you did there! 😉

            • Mike says:

              I’m very much with you on this one. If hunters have to take a safety course and pay a yearly fee to hunt, then is it too much to ask for hikers to have to take a basic course on wilderness preparedness, basic orienteering, and leave no trace principles? Maybe a grading system for public lands, so that the more remote areas would require your “hiking license” to access. Then the yearly fee would help supplement the Rangers, SAR crews and trail maintenance needs. Just a thought….

  17. Neil Luckhurst says:

    Does anybody here know or wish to share knowledge of the average annual salary of a ranger? I would assume it would be quite high considering their importance, required skills, the high risks, difficult working conditions and hours.

    • scottvanlaer says:

      From the DEC website: “Salary: A hiring rate of $58,407 is effective as of March 31, 2011.”

      • Jim S. says:

        Do rangers receive royalties from national news media appearances? I saw one on CBS this morning, very professional and handsome(according to my wife).

    • Boreas says:


      You would think that, but you would be wrong.

      Food for thought: In our capitalist economy, the people who have the power to keep worker’s wages low are considered to be much more important than the people who actually do the work. On the flip side, they are usually the first to be killed during a revolution….

  18. Paul says:

    Note from the editor:

    “Rrngers searched the trails to Algonquin and Lake Colden until 3:45 a.m”


  19. mike Clarke says:

    Rangers will never get rich. Yes, they have a great job, full of romantic outdoor hikes, at 3:45 AM in subzero weather. You can bet those DEC administrators in Albany are making a pretty penny though.

  20. Tony Goodwin says:

    I agree with Taras the that there is a pattern here. Of course it goes back many years before the incidents Taras mentioned. While a compass bearing might lead you into a spruce trap, it would at least be near the trail and not 180-degrees opposite from the correct descent route.

    • Boreas says:


      Respectfully, to clarify my point, I feel this case is different from the pattern in one important aspect. From the sketchy details I have read, this case also involved vision – the ability to avoid obstacles – not simply navigation. They didn’t get far was my point, and it could have been a much harder landing. I am not going to second guess them as I wasn’t there, but I feel the wiser choice – compass or no compass – is to wait in place until you can at least see where you are stepping. Think snowblindness. Once you can see enough to walk without stepping off a cliff or into a creek, only then (assuming you have a map & compass) take a bearing and walk slowly while you can – stopping every time you can’t see the ground – and try to find shelter.

      • Taras says:

        From here: https://dailygazette.com/article/2016/12/13/hiker-recounts-harrowing-tale-of-survival

        … the whiteout prevented them from seeing the trail they followed up, she said. Arms linked, they walked toward a clearing they thought might lead to the trail, “and as soon as our feet left the rock that was at the top of the summit rock, we just started plummeting,..”

        On the summit, they saw a “clearing” and walked towards it. That’s a random choice of direction and not the correct one which is *north*. Have a look at the rocky northern “corridor” that the trail follows to the summit:

        Once they chose the fickle finger of fate to be their guide, they walked off the southeast side (the one facing Colden) and gravity did the rest.

        BTW, their account of Algonquin’s topography is flawed. The so-called “summit rock” is many yards away from the southeast side where they fell. It’s more likely they became swiftly disoriented and then walked in whatever direction offered visibility. The southeastern “clearing” is a level area on the leeward side of the “summit rock”.

        A compass bearing would’ve directed them down the *correct* side, namely the side with the trail they had ascended earlier. That’s a HUGE improvement over wandering off into the weeds, 135 degrees in the wrong direction. Even if they couldn’t find their way down the northern ridge, or were pinned down by the weather, it would’ve greatly improved the odds of finding them on Sunday evening. Being in the vicinity of the trail is far better than being down the wrong side in deep, snowy cripplebrush.

        Much of their suffering (and NYS taxpayer dollars) could’ve been eliminated by a $20 compass and the knowledge to use it.

        • Boreas says:


          In order to state this for a certainty, you would need to know exactly where they were standing. Were they in fact on the summit? How would they know if they can’t see? That summit is a big place.

          Until we REQUIRE a certain level of skill of hikers, this is what the DEC needs to expect. As I AGREED earlier, a map and compass and the knowledge to use them are imperative in the HPW. But if you can’t see, you shouldn’t be moving until you can see. Plenty of planes crash into mountains because they they lose visibility and are forced to rely on instruments. But they have no choice but to keep flying. I wouldn’t continue to drive my car via a compass if I had no visibility. Hikers at least have the option to sit tight IF it is possible. I would never hike blind above treeline if I had any other option – whether I had an ironclad bearing or not. You are more than welcome to if you want.

          • Taras says:

            Fortunately for everyone involved, the helicopter pilot was IFR rated and able to fly in *soup* (see video). Otherwise, that helo would’ve been grounded for longer, much to the detriment of the young couple’s well-being.

            Neither of us were there so we can only comment on what was reported. They reported they ascended to the summit in decent visibility and then the soup arrived. They reported seeing a clearing and walked towards it.

            It means there was spotty visibility owing to the reported winds. I agree with your assessment that you should move when you can see. If you can’t see where you’re placing your feet, stop/crouch/lay prostrate/whatever. Wait until you can safely move but, for pity’s sake, move in the direction of the exit (compass bearing) and not just a random one.

            They reached the summit in good visibility and then things went to pot. They knew their location up until the very moment the soup arrived. The moment they took a blinded step in an unknown direction, they were on their way to becoming lost.

            By failing to move in the direction of a bearing (ideally the correct bearing) they just aggravated the situation. Slipping off the edge was just proof of the truly bad consequence of moving blindly in the wrong direction. FWIW, there was also opportunity to slip and fall along the trailed northern ridge. However, there’s nothing precipitous and it wouldn’t transport you into the weeds nearly as deeply or inextricably as where they blundered.

            • Boreas says:

              Agreed. I would, however, like to hear more details on what gear they had and what was lost from the packs. If they were totally unprepared, they probably wouldn’t have made the summit, much less survived. They did several things correctly that many people who are better prepared fail to do in a situation such as that. One can do everything right and still die on a mountain. One mis-placed foot…

              So yes, I agree with you that people need to have the necessary backcountry training, including winter training (because winter can show up at any time at elevation) before venturing into the HPW. But until the DEC requires some sort of basic certification/license/education/enforcement requirement, hikers, rangers, and S&R volunteers will continue to be put in harm’s way. Who knows, maybe one of these kids will be governor one day and fix the problem. I am sure they won’t soon forget the ordeal.

              • Taras says:

                Microspikes and snowshoes.

                Much of their gear, including food, was lost in the snow when they dumped the contents of the pack to use as a foot warmer. That’s not unusual behavior for people who have little experience in winter conditions.

                The more you read about what they reported, the more you learn they made several rookie mistakes. If you recall the Hua Davis tragedy, everyone at first described her as a very experienced hiker and were stunned this could happen to her. Upon closer analysis of the events, one discovered a string of ill-advised decisions that sealed her fate. It wasn’t for a lack of gear but for the inability to recognize retreat was the only prudent choice. It was an avoidable tragedy.

                Where Ms. Davis attempted to set fire to her fleece mitts, the young man tried to set fire to his pack. Pro tip: polyester and nylon *melt* and don’t ignite like BBQ starter. All they accomplished was to damage useful gear.

                One can most certainly do everything right and still die on the mountain. That being said, this was not a case of doing everything right. It was a case of beginner’s error(s).

                These very same mistakes will be repeated because the general public believes these plucky kids did everything right, what happened was unavoidable, and there’s nothing to learn from it other than “mountains are dangerous”.

                • ADKNative says:

                  In hindsight its always easier to go back through an incident like this one and point out what they should have done better…Its especially hard to do this when there isn’t a solid report on the incident.

                  However, clearly we can draw the conclusion they were prepared and experienced enough to make it through two miserable nights on the mountain. From what I have heard on the incident, these two people did two things right that you hear even the most experience and prepared people fail to do when lost: 1) They stayed put, once they realized they were in the soup they didnt try to eat their way out. 2) They stayed together.

                  • Boreas says:

                    I agree. WRT #1, I believe they tried, but I don’t think they could move from their trap (shelter) where they ended up. That may have contributed to their survival, as certainly #2 did.

                    But I agree, it is one thing to make mistakes and get in a pickle, but realizing you did and keeping your wits together and staying together certainly can improve an outcome. Wandering aimlessly can be lethal.

                • Boreas says:

                  I am hoping for more in-depth reports from both DEC and the couple giving more details on conditions, timelines, gear list, emergency contacts, etc.. I don’t believe I have read anywhere stating that they did not have a compass. Obviously it wasn’t used, at least properly, if they had one or two. I would like to know exactly what was done right and what was done wrong so that it can be turned into a learning experience. Perhaps the FundMe site could use some of that $$ to produce an amateur video to be used for educational purposes.

  21. Charlie S says:

    Boreas says: “if they had gotten separated, things would likely have ended worse.”

    I was thinking about this very thing before I read the above remark. I read that she held on to him as they fell. They landed together in deep snow on the tops of trees. Had they been separated during the fall they probably wouldn’t have fared as well. What are the odds that they clung to each other when they slipped then fell? This is a very miraculous case if you ask me and most certainly one more night in that situation and we most likely would be reading a different story. This time the grinch did not steal Christmas! Very nice story indeed!

    • Taras says:

      Those miracles sure are fickle … or maybe it’s our weakness to attribute “good things” to the divine and everything else is the fault of “rotten luck”.

      They were a young couple romantically involved so close physical contact was a given. Add the fact visibility was next to nil and it’s easy to understand why they had locked arms.

      The report makes no mention that they maintained locked arms throughout the duration of their 100 foot slide down the east side. They simply slid to a stop in the same place. “Slid” not “fall through the air” because they report the abundant snow felt like swimming (and you’d be hard-pressed to find a sheer drop on the SE side so close to the summit).

      What was a stroke of good fortune (miracle if you like) was their ability to survive almost 48 hours without succumbing to hypothermia. One more day and the laws of thermodynamics would’ve taken their cruel toll. A lucky break for them that NYS has helicopter pilots able to fly in soup.

      The Grinch didn’t steal Christmas and we’re all thankful for that. Unfortunately, his sidekick Frostbite did make a mess of the poor young man’s feet.

      I wish them both a swift and scar-free recovery and I hope Santa Claus leaves them compasses under the tree.

  22. Western Edge says:

    What a nice comment! – Merry Christmas in the North Woods!

  23. Bruce says:

    We talk about folks going into the outback carrying compasses, a wise precaution, naturally. I’ve often wondered about how many carry a compass without the rudimentary knowledge for using it effectively, even something as simple as taking a back azimuth when stepping off a base line. Everyone knows a compass points north, don’t they? Of course as has been pointed out, in thick enough fog or a whiteout or a moonless night without a flashlight, sitting it out is better than stumbling around, compass or not.

    • Boreas says:

      I wouldn’t purposely bet my life on what is left of my crummy skills I learned in Boy Scouts 50 years ago. Luckily, I never had to use it under duress – mostly bushwhacking. But I always had it with me in the HPW – I was afraid Pete Fish would insist that I would produce one upon demand…

  24. bccommon says:

    Great job Rangers risking your lives. I’m glad they were found but this seems like another example of people who don’t belong in the high peaks especially at this time of year. If they had any common sense they would have stayed home. I hope the DEC sends them a bill.

  25. Taras says:


    The sister of the female victim is running a GoFundMe drive to raise money to pay for the couple’s hospital bill … and a trip to Paris as a treat (or so the rumor goes).

    I choose not to post a link to it because I feel it’s a shameless exploitation of the public’s good-will. Substitute the two teenagers with a middle-aged man in the same predicament and public interest and sentiment would be far more sanguine.

    If they had driven their car into a ditch during a whiteout on the interstate, and found days later, public sentiment would range from mild curiosity to indifference (BTW, this situation has happened). Nobody would bother to contribute towards their medical bills, car repairs or a medicinal trip to Europe. Yet, substitute the ditch with a mountain summit, and the same “achievement” is worthy of financial compensation.

    PT Barnum summed it up well …

    Doesn’t the ACA allow their parents’ plan to cover them until age 25?

    • Boreas says:

      Perhaps the victims themselves will do the right thing and donate some of the $$ to the rescue teams instead of rewarding themselves for bad decisions.

      WRT ACA, they would likely be covered to some extent if their parents purchased coverage. ACA doesn’t force people to buy insurance, but they pay a penalty if they don’t. However, many people purchase insurance with high deductibles gambling that they won’t need to use it.

    • Taras says:


      The GoFundMe page has been amended and now includes the following:

      “HOWEVER, Madison and Blake are simply happy to be alive. They feel their safety is enough. They would like to use any money raised in their name and donate it to those who braved the mountain to help rescue them.”

      That seems like a more noble cause.

  26. Lakechamplain says:

    If you haven’t seen the short video of the conclusion of the helicopter rescue from the summit take a few moments and you’ll deepen your appreciation of the skill and courage shown by the pilot and crew of the helicopter to complete this mission successfully. It’s a nice testament to the professionalism of this crew and in a larger sense shows what people will do to help others out of desperate situations. When they pull the young man into the chopper and yell you find yourself yelling along with them because to maintain that hover in those conditions atop(literally) Algonquin in those conditions-Wow!


    • Boreas says:

      What WERE the conditions at the time? Plenty of fog I see, but what were the wind & temp? Just curious – I haven’t read anything about the wind & temps throughout the ordeal.

  27. Paul says:

    Funny I have been hiking in places like the HPW (all seasons) for many years now. I always carry a compass and I am not sure that I have ever used it when hiking? This includes lots of hiking in the dark. You don’t need to be out of the woods before dark if you know what you are doing. These are areas where there is so much topography that it is actually pretty hard to get lost even in winter conditions. And there are so many trails. But I do hear these stories all the time.

    Now I use a compass almost on a daily basis when I am hunting in the Adirondacks. When hunting I am usually going into the woods in the dark and coming out of the woods only once it gets dark.

    • Boreas says:

      I think the reason I rarely used a compass in the HPW was that I was always paranoid of losing the trail and always hiked slowly. If I ever noticed the trail missing just a few markers, I usually backtracked or proceeded with caution. The compass helped with some “trailless” peaks in the old days, but I can’t say i was actually navigating by compass – mostly trying to just go in a straight line amidst blowdown and krumholtz. I did use it often on peaks with the aid of a map to identify peaks in the distance. It was always on my neck or in my pack on a lanyard with a whistle.

      I usually became disoriented (I think Daniel Boone used the word ‘bewildered’) hunting in swamps & marshes in PA with no visual reference points. Even using the compass often, it seemed like flying with instruments by faith, even in swamps I had hunted for years. I certainly used the compass often in those situations.

  28. Neil Luckhurst says:

    I would give the victims compasses and a navigation book. The worst thing would be to give them a GPS right off the bat. That would be something for after they get good with the M&C. Maybe I would also give them each a 40 liter pack, in case they don’t have one.

    The trouble when you mainly (only?) hike on trails is that you hardly ever need a compass and rarely a map so you never get any good with it. Even if you do you get a handle on it you would rust quickly from lack of practice, practice, practice.

    • Boreas says:


      I had even worse luck with GPS. I thought I was hot sh!t and bought a new hand-held Garmin (Trek?) when they first came out. It worked fine in the yard, but with any trees around, it was less than useless. I never bought another. Now you could hunt Easter eggs with them.

      • Neil Luckhurst says:

        GPS is the killer app and is superior to M&C, when it works. I always use a GPS when I bushwhack in the dark – it’s a very surreal experience! However, when (not if, when) the GPS craps the bed, being able to seamlessly revert to analog is a very practical skill to have in one’s bag o’ tricks.

        • Bruce says:


          I used to do Geocaching. It’s an excellent, fun way to learn how to use a GPS, and it can be done in the city as well as the woods. On long sessions you learn that batteries crap out.

          Orienteering is more or less the map and compass form of geocaching, without the hidden prizes and with a time element added.

          • Boreas says:


            Just curious – when the batteries totally die in the woods, does the device remember all of the route and data points when you install new batteries? I assume it would, so just installing fresh batteries would be fine?

            • Bruce says:


              I’ve never gotten far enough into these to know how long they hold the memory, because I immediately used the spare batteries I always carried.

              I’m guessing that modern GPS units have a non-volatile memory that hold what’s stored like the memory card in a camera. Otherwise it will have a cell or capacitor on the circuit board (older technology) which keeps the memory alive for a period of time after the batteries are removed or dead.

              When I expect to not use a device for more than a few months, I always remove the batteries during storage to prevent the batteries from corroding and ruining the unit (ask me how I know). My hand-held GPS has been without batteries for several years.

              • drdirt says:

                there are now small energy packs that you charge before you leave.,. then on the trail you recharge your GPS, camera, etc. from that tiny pack.
                I have a crank flashlight that will also charge most new devices in emergency.
                We kind of got lost out in Tug Hill last weekend ,.,,. luckily we had some low-tech help to get home .,., tracks in the snow!!!

  29. Paul says:

    It’s interesting you look at the clothes and boots (looked like they were made out of maybe oiled canvas) that guys like Hillary and Norge used to summit Everest and you wonder how they ever survived given what we think we need in the cold these days!

    • Boreas says:

      Yes, and lots of wool. I think the overshoes may have been hemp as it is very tough and if you are going to freeze to death, you can smoke it.

      One should also mention the army of sherpas and yaks to get them to base camp.

    • Taras says:

      Yeah well they didn’t all survive, did they.

      There choice of clothing was limited to natural materials because synthetics hadn’t been invented yet. More importantly, conditions at high altitudes are cold and *dry*. Although any bitterly cold environment is exceedingly dry which is why Antarctica is considered to be dry like a desert. Adirondack winter conditions vary considerably (like this upcoming Sunday) and footwear that can handle dry snow would fail in wet snow.

      In addition, our metabolism is impaired at high altitude. We don’t produce as much heat compared to being a sea level (amongst other things). So you need more insulation to reduce cooling even while ascending (ever notice the full-body down suits). Try the same trick in the Adirondacks and it’ll feel like wearing a Turkish sauna.

      Last but not least, many of the early explorers were tough, weather-beaten athletes and not weekend warriors.

      • Boreas says:

        I’m not sure of your point.

        • Taras says:

          It was to Paul’s point about “…you wonder how they ever survived given what we think we need in the cold these days!”

      • Todd Eastman says:

        Taras, get of your high horse and stop the flipping preaching.

        Wait until you screw up and other folks get to determine your skills and judgement, it ain’t a matter of if, but when…

        • Taras says:

          @Todd Eastman

          Hey thanks for the season’s greetings! Right back at you!

          I *have* screwed up in winter.
          March 2011.
          Winter rookie.
          Bitterly cold.
          Third peak.
          Bit off more than I could chew.
          In retreat via bailout route.
          Deep untracked snow.
          On a narrow shoulder; 4300 feet.
          Flanked by steep sides with deep powder.
          Lost the trail (snow taller than markers).
          Panic diminishes.
          Think again.
          Not truly lost, just off-route.
          But flanked by steep, energy-sapping slopes and spruce traps.
          Must stay out of the weeds!
          If I were a trail, where would I go?
          Painstakingly seek out dips, hollows, swales, trees with lopped-off branches, etc.
          After much anxiety, I finally find an exposed trail-marker.
          Elation; I’m on, not off, the balance beam.
          Eventually find the trail around 3800 feet.
          Exit safely.
          Learned something new about myself.

          I continued to complete two winter rounds of the 46. The second one was done in one winter season. I’ve seen bluebird days and blinding squalls in the alpine zone. I love hiking in the High Peaks; I hike at 2-3 times a month.

          I wish you safe and enjoyable travels in the mountains!

          • Todd Eastman says:

            Taras, that is a normal learning curve, that’s called experience, you are not special…

            • Taras says:

              Never said I was Todd. You introduced the high horse.

              What got me out of that sticky situation was what I had learned from *others*, namely seasoned winter-hikers who freely shared their knowledge online.

              It was their wise counsel that helped guide my decisions. I’m not a backcountry-skills prodigy, just a life-long student of it.

              – It was the first time I ever bonked (depleted stores of glycogen) and I realized I had just overextended myself. I cut the trip short and backtracked (know your bailout routes).

              – I knew I was experiencing panic (runaway anxiety; “all is lost!”) and had to let it pass before I did something regrettable (panic clouds rational thinking). I stopped immediately, sat down, ate something, and took stock of the situation (From Apollo 13; “What do we got on the spacecraft that’s good?”)

              – I was very tired but uninjured and had plenty of daylight. I knew my approximate location but could not afford to bushwhack without potentially miring myself in a spruce-trap or exhausting myself to the point of requiring to bivouac. I needed to focus on finding and following the obscured path.

              – Frequently used trails in winter develop a rut of consolidated snow that, even when buried under 2 feet of fresh snow, can forma subtle depression and will feel relatively solid underfoot. Step off this tight-rope and you sink deeper (off-trail travel is more physically demanding). In addition, one should look for signs of trail maintenance like cut branches to discern the path from just another clear area in the woods (look for evidence of man-made activity).

              I thank my online mentors for their advice. It helped this winter rookie recognize pitfalls and steer clear of them.

  30. Geogymn says:

    Would anyone be willing to describe the picture in your head as to what type of terrain they were “stuck” in. It sounds like the only means of extraction was by aid of ropes?

    • Neil Luckhurst says:

      I would guess 25-30 degree slopes with 3 feet of snow and 4-5 foot deep spruce traps. Based on available reports I guesstimate that self-powered extraction (to the summit at least) would taken about 2-3 hours,

      • Geogymn says:

        Can you describe the process/technique of that self-powered extraction, assuming no injuries.

        • Taras says:

          What Boreas said, plus cursing.

          Fact is, nothing has been published describing their precise descent route and bivouac site other than it was 265 feet away from the summit to the southeast. The elevation that distance away puts you about 100 feet below the summit.

          The terrain in that territory is as Neil described. My best guess (and I stress the word “guess”) is they descended the low-angle slab located in the middle of the “southeast zone” I’ve drawn in this photo:

          The bottom quarter of the slab (last 30 feet) is much steeper and might be where they slid to the base of the slab. It makes sense they’d become mired there because this is the mountain’s leeward side and drift snow can accumulate at the base of slabs (amongst many other places).

          Based on all this speculation (hoo-hah!), you’d probably have to flank the steep section to gain access to the slab above. Ascend its perimeter, using the trees as handholds. Again, the activity would be what Boreas described accompanied by colorful language.

          Frankly, it’s a bit difficult to imagine two tired, cold, frightened, and inexperienced teenagers attempting this maneuver. Experienced winter-hikers tend to try to avoid this kind of terrain unless they’re seeking extra challenge or are in a masochistic mood. 😉

        • Boreas says:


          Taras has it about right. Even a very tough, experienced winter climber would have a hell of a time getting out of that – even on level ground. Snowshoes would likely be as much of a hindrance as a help. The problem is the snow isn’t really packed or “consolidated” both because it probably wasn’t old snow and the krumholtz simply doesn’t allow it to pack – there are typically large voids underneath the surface. You can’t get on top of it for any length of time. It would be like trying to swim in bubbles. There is little buoyancy in this type of terrain – then if you add a 30-40 degree slope to the picture, it would be a nightmare that would quickly sap your strength.

        • Taras says:

          Umm, before we completely convince ourselves the conditions would’ve required superhuman skill and strength, don’t forget that the teenagers traveled *265 feet* before they got stuck. Nothing in their narrative suggests they struggled for those 265 feet. They walked until they fell.

          My guess is (as per my previous post) it was only the last few yards, at a steeper section, where they lost their footing and slid down to its base into (probably) deeper snow.

          It’s early in the season and the snow hasn’t consolidated yet (a photo of a ranger high on Algonquin’s northwestern slope shows him thigh to waist deep). As a result, snow that has collected on rock slopes is not likely to be very supportive. It’s possible it fell away very easily when they attempted to re-climb the slope (they did try but failed). In which case their only recourse would’ve been to flank the slope or plow (more like swim up) through the cripplebrush. Given their limited winter skills, staying put may have prevented something worse from happening. Maybe.

        • Neil Luckhurst says:

          Geogym, there’s no technique per se. Just a lot of very hard work. You often get that “sinking feeling” when you discover you stood on air. Your arms get very tired from prying apart the spindly but very resilient 2-inch trunks. It’s a full-body workout.
          With two people the follower basically stands around taking the odd step now and then and gets cold but is getting a rest. So switching leads every 5 minutes would be the way to go. That effectively halves the distance. When I bushwhacked Algonquin from the opposite side (from Scott’s Clearing Lean-to), in addition to the conifers there were plenty of twisted and semi-prostrate birch trunks and these were the worst. (I was obviously thick in the head to go that route because the west slopes get the afternoon sun during the growing season.)

          • Boreas says:


            Was that bushwhack in winter? Just wondering.

            • Neil Luckhurst says:

              That time on Algonquin was early summer. In winter it can be a lot worse or a lot better depending. Best time is when there is spring crust over deep snow pack. Worst time is right about now! That’s why I guesstimated 2-3 hours to go less than 300 feet. Hundred feet an hour switching leads! They could have done it, I’m convinced of that, but I think they had decided it was impossible. Then up on top they could used the GPS to find the trail.

              Took me ages to go a few hundred yards on Tripod one December day, sinking in to my waist. I finally said to hell with it and turned around. When nothing depends on it your motivation is low.

              • Boreas says:

                I remember ages ago a “spring” climb of Street & Nye where we literally pulled our way through spruce/snow traps on our bellies – pulling on the tops of the trees that were exposed over the deep, crusty spruce holes. Snowshoes were impossible. Luckily we had visibility and knew it was a relatively short distance we had to crawl through. We kept moving upward in order to extricate ourselves as retracing our steps was even worse.

          • Geogymn says:

            Yeah, your explanation conjures up some memories from long ago. Albeit never in a dire situation. Thx!

    • Boreas says:

      One step up, two steps back.

  31. Taras says:

    A few more details about this misadventure have been revealed here:

    – Both had microspikes but only one had snowshoes.
    – They had a crank flashlight.
    – Emergency blanket and fire-starter.
    – They did have a GPS.

    There’s no explanation why the GPS was brought but not used. It could’ve spared them a lot of suffering (and much more).

    • Boreas says:

      Will a GPS work in pea soup or heavy weather? I have no idea. I know the old ones didn’t with trees and heavy snow/fog.

      • Neil Luckhurst says:

        Every GPS I’ve had has worked fine in heavy cloud cover/fog. The older models however performed poorly under wet canopy.

    • Boreas says:

      Interesting article from a different viewpoint. Something thing I wonder about is did the couple see Scott’s or any other headlamps during the search? It is likely they weren’t expecting anybody looking for them in the middle of the night. Or does pea soup swallow light quickly within a few hundred feet? I wonder if their crank flashlight (although lost) had a flashing beacon.

      Rambling speculations:
      I wonder if the search could have been helped with gunshots or some sort of portable siren – used at intervals to allow a ranger to listen in between for shouts. The couple certainly could have heard that, whether their response could be heard. Also, I never carried any, but boaters have small packs of emergency flares that theoretically could have been used by the couple or rangers in this situation. In winter, the fire risk would be low.

      Carrying fire-starter always seems like a good idea, but I can’t recall many people ever being able to start one under duress. Not a lot of dry, seasoned firewood in these mountains…

      Another personal note – In winter I always tried to carry as many emergency do-dads on my body or in my clothing that I could reach if immobilized. If you have ever been stuck in a spruce hole, the majority of your emergency gear/food/water is useless unless you can reach it! In winter I always had my compass and whistle around my neck.

      Lots of stuff to ruminate on with this S&R. It seems more comfortable to troubleshoot an incident when the outcome is relatively positive rather than tragic. A learning opportunity per se.. I would rather concentrate on what could be done better rather than what was done wrong. Mistakes are always roughly the same but I feel both survival and search techniques can always be fine-tuned and improved.

      Again, kudos to all of the teams involved!

      • Taras says:

        265 feet away and 100 feet below the summit … and just below some sort of slope they could not re-climb. It suggests they may not have had a clear view of the summit from their bivouac location. Sunday night’s search was of the trail which runs over the summit.

        A whistle. There’s no report of them having or using one. Far easier to use a whistle to produce a piercing tone than shouting yourself hoarse. It’s one of the golden oldies on the Ten Essential list. FWIW, some pack manufacturers incorporate a whistle into the sternum strap’s buckle.

        I agree that instructing people to have the means and knowledge to build a fire is good advice. However, in the alpine zone it’s just false hope. One look around at winter conditions in the alpine zone should be enough to convince anyone that building a fire there is a non-starter (forgive the pun).

        Everything combustible is encrusted in ice and snow and then buried under more ice and snow. You’d need trees mature enough to have developed dead spindly branches that are protected by their live mature boughs. Some (tiring) excavation work would be required to find these twiggy branches and then you’d need enough to make the whole endeavor worthwhile.

        “It seems more comfortable to troubleshoot an incident when the outcome is relatively positive rather than tragic … concentrate on what could be done better rather than what was done wrong”

        Accident investigations are typically dispassionate by design so that all evidence may be scrutinized to identify the chain of events and the leading cause(s) of the disaster (i.e. identify both “rights” *and* “wrongs”). For some inexplicable reason, the general public prefers to romanticize hiking accidents (man vs nature) and look away from the “wrongs” (don’t be judgmental) over-estimate the “rights” (they didn’t split up) and treat the outcome as unavoidable (it can happen to anyone).

        Meanwhile, seasoned winter-hikers are doing this:

        If the NTSB operated this way, every aircraft crash would be due to “Man was never meant to fly and here’s more evidence.” Social media would shout “negativity” and “judgmental” and “hurt feelings” in response to “Maybe it was pilot error?”

  32. Mike says:

    Very smart (or lucky) of them to stick together and wait it out. If one had gone off to try and find help I think their chances would have dropped significantly.

    • Taras says:

      Per their report: They tried to re-climb the slope but failed.

      Even if they wanted to split up, they couldn’t. In other words, the terrain made the decision for them.

      If they *had* split up … well now we’re in the land of speculation. If we choose to go there, then I’d rather think about what would’ve happened if they had used the GPS they brought with them.

  33. NoTrace says:

    Ranger Scott Van Laer, in the NCPR story, says, “You don’t give up; it does play a factor that it’s someone so young; definitely pulls at you emotionally more that it’s young people….”

    Does that mean that the level of rescue effort would be less if it’s known that I’m an old fart who got caught in the same unfortunate circumstances? I’m not quite – well, as worthy of rescue?

  34. Geogymn says:

    “I’m an old fart who got caught in the same unfortunate circumstances”
    Most old farts wouldn’t put themselves in that situation.

  35. Gimme an N,O,D says:

    There are far more DEC administrators whose value to the core mission of the agency is clearly open to debate, than you can possibly imagine, unless you work at, or have worked at the agency. Among those whose value to the core mission is questionable, at best, is the small, but very well-compensated (six-figure salaries) Office of Employee Relations and its side-kick of “internal controls”, whose main mission and purpose appears to be harassing, intimidating and otherwise destroying the morale of DEC employees with its Big Brother-is-Watching-You tactics, ready to trip you up for picking your nose the wrong way. Great work if you can get it – and no 3:45 am hours in subzero cold threading your treacherous way through spruce traps.

  36. Bruce says:

    The mention of the unfortunate Ms. Davis rang a bell. She was considered experienced, but I have to question what that experience consisted of.

    If her experience consisted of hikes which luckily went well, no matter how prepared she might or might not have been, then she may have developed a level of complacency about her skill as a hiker.

    Another side is someone who faces some level of adversity and comes through it OK, but fails to evaluate what might have gone wrong and doesn’t take steps to do it better the next time. Much like someone who made a bad decision which resulted in an auto accident, but went on driving the same way afterwards.

    • Boreas says:

      According to what I have read, she was quite experienced at minimalist hiking. That being said, she was helped out of a serious hypothermic pickle just a few months prior. Not making changes to her preparation for her last hike seemed to be the critical error.

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