“I have a signal,” said Dennis after we reached the parking lot, about 250 yards from the trailhead.
“Great! now we need to figure out where to call,” said JR. He started playing with his phone to see if Google would help.
“How about on the board over there?” asked Dennis. He pointed to the information station at the other end of the parking lot.
Dennis is quite resourceful and has good eyesight. Also, he has a phone with a charged battery, which JR quickly found to be lacking with his own.
Before long, Dennis connected with the listed number and the Rangers were on the way. Dennis and JR were instructed to wait in place.
Never having been any good at waiting, or following instructions, JR took one of their party’s two cars on a short to exploratory mission to see if the access road came out close by. The likely suspect was a road labeled with a Northern Frontier sign. But there was a bright yellow tubular-steel barrier that convinced him that he was not entering. He went back to wait with Dennis.
The hike to OK Slip Falls had been planned a week prior. No one from the 3 couples had been there, but since it is touted as the highest falls in the park, everyone was excited. Though all would be carrying the extra weight of Medicare cards, everyone felt quite capable of making their way to the falls.
The trail guides describe the journey as an easy hike. Though the round trip totaled 6 miles, a couple of miles longer than their usual walks or runs on the neighborhood road, no one anticipated any problems. Rest stops and rejuvenation with lunch at the falls would help, too. It would be a walk in the park.
The ride, complete with a rest stop, from their neighborhood in the southernmost portion of the Adirondacks to the trailhead on Rt. 28 took 2 hours. After leaving their pair of cars in the southside parking lot, a short bit of road walking took them to the northside trail. A series of thick and broad planks forming steps took them across muddy areas to the beginning of the earthen trail. The standard mix of dirt, humus, roots, and rocks took them the rest of the way.
By Adirondack trail standards, the trek to OK Slip Falls was an easy trail. There were no steep inclines, muddy bogs, beaver engineering, or cliff edge walks. Even with the descent of 100 feet or so just before the fall’s viewpoint, the gently rolling landscape is about as flat as a walk in the Adirondacks can be.
However, even this minimal change in elevation and the uneven footing over rocks and roots are significantly different from walking on most roads. It soon became apparent that Lucky was having some issues maintaining his balance. He took a fall when he stepped between a pair of rocks, which threw him off balance. “I’m OK,” said Lucky. “I slipped.”
The fall was nothing serious, but perhaps the incident should have been evaluated more thoroughly. The progress of any party through the woods is defined by the member experiencing the most difficulty. Lucky shook it off and continued like a trooper, so imagining worst-case consequences did not occur.
They made it to the falls without further incident and enjoyed the splendid view. Lunch and water were consumed, and their packs were lightened correspondingly.
JR was mildly disappointed that a descent into the gorge on the “gnarly” trail extension was not the card. It was late enough in the day that the extra time for the descent might rob the return of daylight. It was also apparent that no one else shared any disappointment.
“Get real,” said his realistic spouse, Faith.
“Next time, perhaps,” he thought, “with younger or more foolish comrades.”
Lucky started back first. JR was busy wondering if 50 photos of the falls were enough as he put his camera back into his pack. “Have to justify carrying the weight of the DSLR somehow!”
It was ill-advised for anyone to head back alone, but the rest of the party soon caught up. Lucky’s pace had slowed noticeably. JR traded his walking poles for Lucky’s walking staff, an exchange which should have been made much earlier considering Lucky’s balance issues.
Rest stops were occurring closer and closer together. The group convinced Lucky that the backpack he was carrying would look better on Dennis. Even after that fashion statement was completed, it wasn’t long until JR realized that at this rate, the group would not make it back to the cars by nightfall. And might not make it at all.
Help was needed. But as with most of the Adirondacks, there was no cell signal.
Fortunately, the group had made it a little more than a mile from OK Slip Falls. At that point, a service road crosses the trail. It was clearly a well-traveled road, since there were no weeds growing on it. But it did not show on the trail maps, so they had no idea where it might take them.
Scouting in both directions provided no better idea, so following the road out was out of the question. Clearly, the road was the best rescue location, so that’s where Lucky would stay, along with the women, Faith, Hope, and Charity. It was decided that Dennis and JR would walk out on the trail, find cell coverage, and call the Rangers.
“Don’t move from here. We’ll be back.”
Dennis and JR dropped their packs. JR retrieved his walking sticks from Lucky, and the two disappeared into the woods. For the remaining two miles of trail back out, they moved at a fast but not foolish pace, since no points are awarded for valiant but stupid efforts to achieve speeds that earn sprained ankles.
Hope’s nursing background made her check Lucky’s vital signs, which were happily normal. He was just exhausted, which he proved by lying down with his pack for a pillow and falling fast asleep.
Waiting is difficult to work. It provides much undirected time, ripe for crazy thoughts to run through one’s head.
“What if they don’t come back for us?” asked Charity.
“Don’t worry, they’ll be back,” said Faith. She held up JR’s pack for Charity to see, smiled, and said, “JR will never leave his precious camera.”
Ranger Milano arrived at the parking lot a short time after the phone call. After a few questions, she told Dennis and JR to follow her, and soon they were back at the Northern Frontiers gate.
But there was a truck on the other side, obstructing the way. She jumped out of her parked truck, and in no uncertain terms, stated, “You need to move, now! I need to get up that road!”
At that moment, Hope jumped out of the obstructing truck. “No, no, you don’t need to do that now! Ken and Rosie rescued us!”
Ken, the caretaker at Northern Frontiers camp, had been doing rounds to check on things when he found the group at the road-trail junction. He offered a ride, and the 4 were soon in the truck, happily on their way out of the forest. Lucky had lived up to his name, once again.
Rosie, Ken’s dog, was not sure what to think of the vagabonds. She stayed close to her master, not terribly happy about losing her spacious seat beside him. But she did not interfere with his good deed.
Crisis averted, appropriate thanks were delivered to Ken and Ranger Milano. And Rosie.
Soon the entire group was on its way to a very nice dinner at the Melody Lodge in Speculator. Lucky proved his mental prowess and geniality had not suffered by buying dinner for all. And in addition to no longer being hungry, all were glad to have a new story with a happy ending.
But it’s a poor policy to rely on luck for a happy ending. Here are a few reflections on how better preparedness and judgment might prevent the need.
- In comparison with walking on roads or sidewalks, there are no easy hikes in the Adirondacks. One must always contend with uneven footing and at least a little bit of up and down.
- An honest assessment of everyone’s capabilities is recommended.
- “Let’s try it,” is a much better motto than “We’re going the distance, without fail.” There are times when discretion really is the better part of valor, and turning back is the best course of action.
- A cell phone is useful in an emergency if there is a signal available, and no good at all if the battery is dead.
- Allowing a member of the party to head off alone is discouraged. Particularly when that member is very tired. The chances of making bad decisions increase when one is tired. In this case, Lucky correctly followed the trail, bypassing the fork which takes one to the far side of the gorge and down to the Hudson. But he was Lucky.
- It’s a good idea to budget time for unexpected delays. Early arrival at the trailhead is a start. Also, it’s not a bad idea to bring flashlights, matches, and space blankets on a hike that is “certain” to be complete before dark.
- Lightweight emergency gear is well worth bringing along.
All photos provided by Randy Fredlund