The Rescue Report: A Broken Leg on Armstrong and Gothics

Accidents happen and plans go awry—That’s just part of what makes an adventure. But when they get really bad, oftentimes hikers need a little help. Thankfully, across the Northeast and the country, there are experienced professions in place to lend a hand when an adventure makes a bad turn. In New York State, that comes in the form of Forest Rangers from the Department of Environmental Conservation. But no matter how well they do their job, we would all probably prefer to not need their services and get out of the woods on our own. Luckily for us, the DEC is also a resource of information, regularly sharing the incidents that rangers respond to. Necessary reading for Adirondack explorers, we’re taking them a step further and adding commentary from experienced rescuers, emergency personnel, and backwoods folk, so that you might know what not do to the next time you’re outside, and how to avoid needing a rescue and being in the DEC report yourself.

Would you do something differently, have another suggestion for ways to avoid these situations, or a question about the best thing to do? Leave a comment!

View more incident reports from the DEC, here.

A Broken Leg on Armstrong and Gothics

Town of Keene, Essex County: On Sept. 17 at 1:50 p.m., Ray Brook Dispatch received a call from a hiker advising that her husband, a 68-year-old male from Hinesburg, Vt., had suffered a possible fracture to his femur while hiking between Armstrong and Gothics mountains. The male hiker’s injury was non-ambulatory. Phone coordinates obtained by Essex County 911 placed the pair near the summit of Armstrong Mountain. Forest Rangers were dispatched to coordinate the rescue effort. Three Rangers were picked up by a New York State Police Aviation helicopter and two Rangers were inserted on the summit of Armstrong Mountain. The Keene Valley Rescue Ambulance staged at Marcy Field with an Advanced Life Support crew. One Ranger was staged at Keene Valley Fire Department with a ATV in the event a hoist extraction could not be performed. The Rangers inserted on Armstrong Mountain hiked down to the injured hiker, stabilized his injury, and outfitted him with a rescue harness. He was then hoisted out by the helicopter and airlifted to Marcy Field, where he was turned over to Keene Valley Rescue for transport to Elizabethtown Community Hospital. The Rangers that were inserted assisted the remainder of the hiking group out of the woods six miles with their gear, and the incident concluded at 4:30 p.m.

Analysis: This is a great example of a well-coordinated rescue for a serious injury that went relatively quickly. A 6-mile carryout in rough terrain could easily take 12 hours or more and require many rescuers. A helicopter evacuation can often be much faster and safer for everyone involved in the rescue. Unfortunately, mountain weather and terrain can often prevent a helicopter from accessing an injured person in the mountains. It is important for recreationists to remember that access to a helicopter is not always possible and it should not be considered a reliable option in a backcountry emergency. Dealing with a broken leg in the backcountry is never an easy situation, but having a responsible hiking partner with some Wilderness First Aid training and supplies, reliable communications, and a thorough trip plan, can help greatly during a backcountry emergency.

Splitting-Up on Allen Mountain

Town of Newcomb, Essex County: At 5:03 a.m. on Sept. 17, DEC’s Central Dispatch received a call for Forest Ranger assistance from Essex County 911 for two hikers lost on Allen Mountain. The group of three from Rochester had planned to hike Marshall and Allen mountains, but one of the hikers suffered a minor knee injury while climbing Marshall. The subject stayed at the Calamity lean-to with his camping gear while the other two subjects decided to hike Allen Mountain. On the trail, the pair became lost and spent the night in the wilderness. The next morning, they hiked up Skylight Brook to try to obtain cell coverage and called 911 for help. Based on the coordinates provided, Rangers located the two hikers, who were cold but in good condition. They were escorted back to the Calamity Brook lean-to where they were reunited with their companion and hiked out. The incident concluded at 2:30 p.m.

Analysis: This situation is a near-miss after an unexpected injury changed the group’s travel plans. The hikers decision to split up, put two group members over 5 miles from from the injured member without communication resulted in an additional hiccup in the groups outing. The sum of unexpected outcomes and mishaps in the backcountry often lead to serious incidents with undesirable outcomes. Had the weather been worse, in this case, spending a cold, wet night in the mountains can lead to hypothermia or other injuries and the hikers could have faced a much worse outcome. When unexpected mishaps happen in the backcountry, it’s always best to default to conservative decision making and come up with a new plan.


MntnReview: 'Where You'll Find Me' by Ty Gagne

“Do you own a PLB?” my mom asked out of nowhere one afternoon this summer.

Embarrassingly, despite spending a decade of my life working in outdoor retail, I had to Google it to know what she was talking about. It’s a personal locator beacon, duh.

“Like, for skiing?” I asked, trying to put off telling her that I do not, in fact, have one.

“Like for any of the crazy stuff you and your husband do!”

[*eyeroll emoji*]

Eventually, I learned why she was suddenly so curious. She had attended a presentation given by Ty Gagne, author of Where You’ll Find Me: Risk, Decisions, and the Last Climb of Kate Matrosova, and had convinced herself that I would die on top of a mountain without one.

I remembered being equal parts sad and annoyed when the stories about Matrosova and her ill-fated hike of the Presidential Traverse first came to light in February 2015.

When Gagne’s book was finally released about two months later, I came home from work to find a copy sitting on my front porch—courtesy of my mom. I held off on reading it for a few weeks, however. I was in the middle of a different book at the time, and I remembered being equal parts sad and annoyed when the stories about Matrosova and her ill-fated hike of the Presidential Traverse first came to light in February 2015. And, I wasn’t in a hurry to revisit those feelings.

Kate Matrosova
Kate Matrosova

But, once I started reading it, I couldn’t put it down.

Roughly the first half consists of Gagne meticulously piecing together what happened as Matrosova attempted to complete the northern section of the Presidential Traverse (from Madison to Washington) in one day, by herself. Throughout, Gagne tells Matrosova’s story in incredible detail—and without judgment. Data gleaned from her Suunto watch and Garmin GPS, in addition to Gagne’s own exhaustive research, puts her journey together. While he factors in the broader psychology of risk analysis and decision making, he further makes it clear how easy it would be for any confident, hyper-motivated hiker to make the same mistakes.

It further reminds you that, no matter how prepared you may be, how much experience you have, or how detailed a game plan you’ve created for yourself, when you head into the mountains, you are at their mercy.

The book’s second half reconstructs the search and rescue (SAR) effort. Specifically, this pertains to the timeline from the minute NH Fish and Game received the call about Matrosova activating her PLB to the moment the rescue teams returned to the trailhead with her body. Among my personal knowledge of the area, recognizing some of the rescue crew (shout out to Charlie Townsend, a former EMS Climbing School Guide), and Gagne’s ability to explain the entire SAR process in such great-yet-easy-to-comprehend detail, the story gets especially compelling.

As winter approaches and hikers begin to think about their seasonal objectives, reading Where You’ll Find Me should be at the top of your to-do list. Not only is the book a quick and easy read, but it further reminds you that, no matter how prepared you may be, how much experience you have, or how detailed a game plan you’ve created, when you head into the mountains, you are at their mercy. Oh, and if you happen to have a super-motivated but PLB-less hiker in your life, don’t be afraid to “mom” them and give them a copy of Where You’ll Find Me as a hint gift!