By MIKE LYNCH
Forest rangers and state police rescued four unprepared 17-year-old hikers atop Mount Colden this week.
Conditions in the Adirondack lower elevations have been spring-like recently, but there is still a significant amount of snow atop the High Peaks, where temperatures are much colder. Colden had about 5 feet of snow at its summit, according to the state Department of Environmental Conservation.
Forest ranger Scott Van Laer tweeted after Tuesday evening’s rescue that the situation was “preventable.” He later said on social media that it was a “life lesson” for the hikers, who were “good kids.” He noted in the Adirondack Backcountry Hikers’s Facebook group that the hikers were wearing sneakers and had no headlamps or snowshoes.
One of the teenagers injured his leg in the incident and had to be taken from the mountain in a state police helicopter to Adirondack Medical Center in Saranac Lake. The other three hikers were treated for hypothermia.
Hikers being unprepared in the High Peaks isn’t uncommon. During the fall and spring seasons, hikers are sometimes caught off-guard when conditions in the high elevations are winter-like compared to warmer conditions at trailheads.
To address the issue of unprepared hikers, the state Department of Environmental Conservation, Adirondack 46ers, and the Adirondack Mountain Club have been making extra outreach efforts to educate hikers and prevent search-and-rescue missions.
This past President’s Day weekend, the DEC spearheaded an outreach effort that consisted of them talking to more hikers directly at trailheads. The initiative was based on the Preventable Search and Rescue program developed by the National Park Service.
Overall, the number of search-and-rescue mission has spiked in recent years as the number of hikers has increased. Statewide rangers conducted 346 search-and-rescue missions in 2017, resulting in 147 rescues and 22 recovered bodies, according to the DEC. A decade earlier they went on 245 missions, making 92 rescues and finding four dead.
The numbers have been especially noticeable in the High Peaks Wilderness, where the most recent four-year average rose to 97 search-and-rescue incidents per year. During the previous four years, rangers responded to an average of 65 incidents per year. Many of these incidents are the result of hikers being improperly prepared, according to the DEC.