By Paul Czajkowski
It was a warm clear morning when I met Ben at 4 a.m. to go hiking in the High Peaks of New York’s Adirondack Mountains. The weather was forecasted to be sunny, dry and very hot (100+°F).
We had a great drive up to the trailhead and arrived around 6:30 a.m., it was already around 80°F.
Our plan for the day was to hike up over Blueberry Mountain and summit Porter, one of the Adirondacks’ designated 46 high peaks. We made good time getting to the shoulder of Blueberry where we stopped to take a break. Ben said he wanted to make a video to send to his old college friends back in Ohio. He said to go on ahead and he would catch up to me. I went ahead about 100 yards and found a nice rock outcropping facing towards Whiteface where I stopped to have a snack and take a couple pictures.
From where I was resting I thought the trail was visible, apparently not. Unbeknownst to me, Ben had resumed hiking and walked right past where I was resting. Ben continued hiking and got to the summit of Blueberry. He looked around for me and after waiting continued on towards Porter.
Ben was hiking at a good pace and hadn’t seen me, he thought I was really moving along and was way ahead of him, so he pushed himself to pick up his pace.
Meanwhile, I was finishing up my snack and resumed hiking. I was hiking rather slowly since I figured Ben would be catching up (not realizing Ben was about 1-2 miles ahead of me cruising to the summit of Porter). Once I got to the summit of Blueberry I waited for Ben to catch up. I waited and waited and waited (about 30-45 minutes). After calling for Ben and getting no luck, I decided to head back down Blueberry to where he had stopped to make his video, no Ben.
As I tried to think of what to do, all I could do was think he fell off the cliff where he was. I called 9-1-1 and spoke to a NYSDEC Forest Ranger. The ranger instructed me to hike back down to the trailhead and see if Ben was in the parking lot. I said to the ranger, “I think he would have continued hiking to the summit, since that was our goal.” As such, I told the ranger I would hike to the summit of Porter and then call again to notify them of the situation.
I began the hike back up to the summit of Blueberry and down into the col between Blueberry and Porter being extra careful since I was hiking alone. The trail up to Porter from the col is relatively steep in spots so I took my time. As I got about half way up the steep section I almost fell backward climbing up and over a downed tree. It didn’t help that the temperature was now about 90°F. I finally made it to the top of the steep section and started traversing the shoulder of Porter.
Ben had arrived at the summit of Porter and I was nowhere to be found. He thought to himself, “I wonder if Paul went on to summit Cascade”. Ben waited at the summit of Porter for about 1 hour before deciding to head back down towards Blueberry.
As I was hiking toward the summit of Porter, and Ben was hiking back down towards the summit of Blueberry we met. Oh what a relief that was to see each other. We shared our story with each other about what happened. We vowed to never split up again on a trail. We summited Porter together and enjoyed a nice lunch (Ben had a snack since he already had lunch waiting for me). We got a picture of us together at the summit and enjoyed a nice hike back down the mountain. As we were hiking down, we passed over a small stream we had seen in the early hours of the morning and there was not enough water flowing to even get a drink from it. We were happy to reach the trailhead where we kicked off our boots, rolled the windows down, turned the AC on and let the wind fly over us as we headed home in 100-degree air.
Ben and Paul are avid hikers in the High Peaks. Ben is from Utica, NY and Paul is from Rome, NY. We both have been hiking for about 6 years now and regularly do at least 1 high peak a year.