What follows is the July and August Forest Ranger Activity Report for DEC Region 5, which includes most of the Adirondack region. These reports are issued periodically by the DEC and printed here at the Almanack in their entirety. They are organized by county, and date. You can read previous Forest Ranger Reports here.
These incident reports are a stern reminder that wilderness conditions can change suddenly and accidents happen. Hikers and campers should check up-to-date forecasts before entering the backcountry and always carry a flashlight, first aid kit, map and compass, extra food, plenty of water and clothing. Be prepared to spend an unplanned night in the woods and always inform others of your itinerary.
In my last post, I wrote about the risks and rewards of solo climbing. I didn’t expect to write about rock climbing again this week, but I can’t help it.
The death of Dennis Murphy at Upper Washbowl Cliff in Keene Valley deeply affected his friends and colleagues and gives pause to all climbers to reflect on the nature of their chosen sport.
I didn’t know Dennis well, but I often chatted with him at Eastern Mountain Sports in Lake Placid, where he had worked for the past four years. Last Friday, we talked at length about climbing gear and about soloing Chapel Pond Slab, something we both loved doing.
As always, I came away from the conversation thinking this guy is passionate—and knowledgeable—about climbing. The details of Monday’s accident remain a bit fuzzy as I write this. State Police say Dennis and a friend had climbed Hesitation, a classic 5.8 route on Upper Washbowl, and were preparing to rappel when Dennis slipped. When descending, climbers rappel to a ledge halfway down the cliff and then rappel again to the base. What’s not clear is whether Dennis fell from the top of the cliff (more than two hundred feet) or from the ledge (more than one hundred feet).
Perhaps we’ll learn more today. In any case, the fall was great enough that Dennis probably died instantly. He was thirty-five years old.
Whenever a rock climber dies, questions arise about the safety of the sport. Some people even wonder if climbers have a death wish. It does seem like a dangerous pastime, but most climbers are cautious, and they spend a small fortune on gear meant to protect them in case of a fall.
Before this week, the most recent climbing death in the Adirondacks had occurred in 2007, when Dennis Luther fell on Poke-O-Moonshine in a rappelling accident. At the time, Don Mellor, the veteran climber from Lake Placid, pointed out that Luther’s was only the fifth rock-climbing fatality in the region. And technical climbing in the Adirondacks began way back in 1916, when John Case ascended the cliffs on Indian Head overlooking Lower Ausable Lake.
So now we have six climbing fatalities. That’s too many, but six deaths over the span of nearly a century does not suggest that rock climbing is a reckless sport. Far more people are killed in hunting accidents, snowmobile accidents, and ATV accidents.
Did Dennis Murphy make a mistake on Upper Washbowl? Or was he just unlucky?
Ultimately, it doesn’t matter. His friends will miss him just the same.
What follows is the May and June Forest Ranger Activity Report for DEC Region 5, which includes most of the Adirondack region. These reports are issued periodically by the DEC and printed here at the Almanack in their entirety. They are organized by county, and date. You can read previous Forest Ranger Reports here.
Town of Jay, Hurricane Mountain Primitive Area
On Saturday, April 24, 2010, at approximately 3:54 pm, State Police Dispatch received a call reporting a hiker on the Lost Pond side of Weston Mountain who was vomiting, had a severe headache and was unable to walk. Joe Demer, 23 of Amsterdam, NY, was hiking with a group of friends and reportedly had had nothing to eat or drink all day. DEC Forest Rangers responded and requested assistance from State Police Aviation and BackCountry Medical. When forest rangers located Mr. Demer and his party they provided him water and energy food. His condition improved and forest rangers cancelled the aviation and backcountry medical assistance. Eventually, Mr. Demer’s condition improved enough for him to walk. Forest rangers escorted him and his party out to the trailhead. Mr. Demer refused further medical treatment and was released to his friends at 8:00 pm. DEC Forest Rangers remind hikers to carry and consume plenty of food and water while hiking. » Continue Reading.
The dry weather prior to and during the Memorial Day holiday weekend resulted in a high fire danger and eight wildland fires in the NYS Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) Region 5 portion of the Adirondacks. However, the rains on Tuesday, June 1, have likely put out many of fires and lowered the fire danger. What follows is a summary of wildland fires that DEC forest rangers and others responded to over since Thursday, and their status as of late yesterday afternoon provided by the DEC:
* The 0.3 acre Valentine Pond Fire in the Town of Horicon, Warren County, which was started by lightning on May 27, is out.
* The 1.0 acre Wevertown Fire in the Town of Johnsburg, Warren County on Mill Mountain, which was started by fire on May 27, is out.
* The 7.0 acre Skagerack Mountain Fire in the Town of Chesterfield, Essex County, which was started by lightning on May 27, is in patrol status. » Continue Reading.
I do a fair amount of skiing in the backcountry, often solo, and I’ve thought a lot about what I would do if something went wrong and I had to bivouac overnight. What would I do for shelter?
Snow shelters commonly covered in outdoors books include the igloo, quinzee hut, and snow cave. But all of these take considerable time and effort to build. I figure if I can build an igloo, I probably can get out of the woods—in which case I don’t need an igloo. Moreover, the snow conditions in the Adirondacks are not ideal for building igloos and snow caves. For igloos, you want wind-packed snow that can be cut into blocks. For snow caves, you want drifts that are at least six feet deep. You might be able to find appropriate snow in some places in the Adirondacks, but the chances are slim that one of them will be the place where you break an ankle.
A quinzee hut, in contrast, can be built just about anywhere there’s snow. Basically, you shovel snow into a large mound, wait a few hours for the snow to set, and then dig a room inside the mound. In an emergency, though, you want something that’s quicker and easier to construct.
Like a snow trench.
“In the Adirondacks, if you’re in an emergency situation, most of the time a trench is the most practical shelter,” says Jack Drury, an outdoors author who founded the Wilderness Recreation Leadership Program at North Country Community College in Saranac Lake.
For a trench, you’d like the snow to be at least three feet deep. If it’s not, however, you can use excavated snow to build up the walls.
A one-person trench should be dug three or four feet wide and six or seven feet long. Drury recommends leaving at least five or six inches of snow at the bottom as insulation against the cold ground.
Given enough time, you can create an A-frame roof from slabs of snow, but in an emergency, you can just lay branches and evergreen boughs across the trench and then place snow over the boughs for insulation. If you have a tarp or a waterproof shell, lay it over the boughs before piling on snow. Once inside, stop up the entrance with your pack to keep warm air from escaping.
Drury recommends that winter travelers keep a piece of closed-cell foam in their packs to use as a sleeping pad. It should be long enough to stretch from your shoulders to your butt. If it’s an emergency and you don’t have a pad, place evergreen boughs on the bottom of the trench for insulation. He also recommends carrying a lightweight sleeping bag or heavily insulated pants and jacket for emergencies.
“You might not be comfortable, but you’ll survive the night,” he said.
Drury said the temperature in a properly constructed snow trench should stay in the twenties even if it’s colder outside.
These DEC Forest Ranger reports are to good to pass up. They are a slice of the Adirondack experience that is almost never reported, and since the last one was so popular, we offer you the October 21st report in its entirety:
Town of Keene, High Peaks Wilderness Area
On Wednesday, September 30, at approximately 7:28 PM, DEC Dispatch received a call reporting an overdue hiker from Mount Marcy, Table Top and Phelps Mtn. James Cipparrone, 29, of Berlin, NJ, was last seen at approximately 4:15 pm Monday, September 28, departing the lean-to at ADK Loj to camp in the interior. Last known contact with Mr. Cipparone was on Tuesday, September 29, in a phone conversation with his father he stated that he was on top of the mountain, but eight miles from his group. Based on the description of the gear the he was carrying, it was decided that he could spend one more night out. » Continue Reading.
For the interest of Almanack readers, we present the September DEC Region 5 Forest Ranger Report in its entirety:
Town of Black Brook, Taylor Pond Wild Forest
On Saturday, September 19, at approximately 2:05 PM, DEC Dispatch received a call from State Police in Plattsburgh, reporting a group of 3 young girls, ages 9, & 10, missing from the DEC Taylor Pond Campground. The girls were last seen at 11:30 AM heading to an outhouse. The girls’ parents searched for 2 hours before reporting them missing. Five DEC Forest Rangers responded, along with the State Police Aviation Unit helicopter. A forest ranger aboard the helicopter spotted the missing group approximately 3 miles from the campground. Another forest ranger searching in the area made contact with the children and safely escorted them out of the woods by 5:15 PM. » Continue Reading.
The DEC is requesting information from individuals who may have been hiking in the Indian Lake, Hamilton County, region of the Adirondacks earlier last week. A 71-year-old man named Frederick Gillingham from Camarillo, California, has been missing since approximately Sunday, October 12. He is 5’9″ and 165 pounds with thinning white hair, a white beard, glasses and is possibly wearing a pair of old, brown hiking boots in size 9. That’s a picture provided by the family at left. Since first being notified of the missing man’s disappearance on Wednesday, October 15, DEC Forest Rangers have been conducting search efforts with the assistance of New York State Police helicopters, search and rescue volunteers and search dogs. An incident command post has been created at the Indian Lake DEC facility and an 8,600-acre primary search area has been established.
Mr. Gillingham’s car was found at the Rock River trailhead on Route 30 in Indian Lake at DEC’s Blue Mountain Wild Forest on Wednesday. Evidence found at the man’s seasonal camp located nearby, as well as discussions with family members, indicates he may have been missing since last Sunday. Other than Mr. Gillingham’s car at the trailhead, no other evidence of Mr. Gillingham has been discovered to date.
DEC asks that any hiker, hunter or other visitor to the Indian Lake region in the past week who may have encountered Mr. Gillingham or have information on his whereabouts to please contact the DEC command post at 518-648-0108 or the DEC Ray Brook dispatch at 518-897-1300.
We don’t often get an opportunity to hear from local Department of Environmental Conservation forest rangers, so yesterday’s interview with 26-year veteran DEC Forest Ranger Mark Kralovic by Gloversville Leader-Herald reporter Kayleigh Karutis is worth noting here on the blog.
Although Kralovic, who is stationed in Wells, Hamilton County, notes that he has not seen an Adirondack moose yet, he has seen some strange and dramatic things:
Kralovic said he has seen anywhere from five to over a dozen rescues a year, and each presents its own unique challenges. » Continue Reading.
Regular readers know the Almanack is obsessed with stories of danger, death, and survival in our region’s wilderness areas. Now Field and Stream offers an online quiz to see if you know how to survive in the woods during winter conditions. Good luck!
Photos of the Adirondack Lodge fire from the Adirondack Daily Enterprise:
The resort was built in 1882 as a private residence. In the 1950s, he said, the residence became the Lake Placid Manor and was later renamed the Lake Placid Lodge. It is currently owned by David and Christie Garrett, who also own The Point, another resort lodge located on Upper Saranac Lake.
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