Young Couple Stranded in Adirondack Mountains: Lessons from Their Ordeal

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A young couple went for a day trip to climb one of the highest peaks in the Adirondack Mountains, and they almost lost their lives in the process.  While the couple were both familiar with hiking, reasonably equipped and took plenty of precautions, a simple mistake almost turned into a tragedy.  Let’s look at some of the things they did right and wrong in order to learn from their ordeal.

Ordinary Day

The couple left in the early morning so they could reach the summit and return to the trail head before dusk.  They were carrying minimal gear and supplies, and their clothing was fine for a wintry day hike, but ht wasn’t suitable for a prolonged survival situation.  They let their friends and family know where they were going, they also took pictures of their hike and posted them to social media whenever they were within range of cellular service.

By all accounts, the hike was going well.  They reached the summit, took a few minutes to absorb the scene, and started to make their way down the mountain.  They thought there was plenty of time to make it back to their vehicle and drive home before dinner.   However, they became disoriented soon after their descent began and lost sight of the trail.  They ended up being instantly thrown into a survival situation that would last for nearly two days.

What they Did Right

It’s important to highlight the things they did right, because chances are that their actions contributed to their ability to get out alive.  They let people know where they were going to hike and what time they planned on checking in afterward.  They parked in a designated parking area, logged into a signboard near the trail head, and the couple were wearing appropriate clothing for the conditions they were expecting to encounter.

When they got lost, they also made one very important decision that is probably going to be credited for saving their lives.  They stopped wandering around.  As soon as they realized that they couldn’t find the trail, they sought out a suitable place to hunker down and shelter in place.  They knew that there wouldn’t be a lot of time to try and search for the trail with the amount of daylight remaining, and they erred on the side of caution.  As it turns out, they ended up not too far from the trail where their cries for help could be heard by rescuers once they reached the area.

They also took reasonable steps to conserve energy and stay warm based on the resources they had at their disposal.  They were in an area with sparse to moderate vegetation, and temperatures were hovering near or below the freezing mark.  They found a place to shield them from the wind and scavenged for some branches and forest debris to provide basic insulation.

They were young, strong and experienced hikers, but by no means were they equipped to camp out in a rugged mountainside for two days in the dead of winter.  However, they didn’t panic and start to let their emotions overrule their good judgment.

What they Did Wrong

The first thing that they did wrong was to head out on a moderately-risky hike with minimal gear or supplies.  While it may seem like overkill to bring a fully-loaded backpack on a day trip, their experience illustrates how welcome those supplies would be if you get stranded.  Even a reasonable compromise that included the most basic items would have made it easier to weather their experience.

They should have also brought warmer clothing, just in case.  It’s much easier to remove an extra layer when too warm than to have no options when it gets unexpectedly cold.  The most serious injuries the couple faced were the early stages of frostbite and hypothermia.  However, it is thought that if they were stranded for another day or so, they would have been at risk of succumbing to exposure.

Another concern is how they forgot to orient themselves and properly mark the trail once they stepped off at the summit.  Chances are that they would have made it home that evening if they maintained good situational awareness.  Whether they had a false sense of security due to a familiarity with this particular trail and peak, or simply forgot to take in their surroundings, the lack of maintaining situational awareness was the reason they got lost.

Finally, they didn’t plan for unexpected problems, which should be something that we all plan for as a rule.  Not only was getting lost unexpected, but so was the next 24 hours of inclement weather that delayed rescue efforts.  Always prepare for the worst so that you have your bases covered if you end up facing a similar situation.

Fortunately, this ordeal had a happy ending, and the couple are expected to make a full recovery from their brush with death.  However, this situation could have been avoided altogether by following some basic and time-tested principles.  Make sure that you’re equipped and prepared to deal with the unexpected if you plan on being in the wilderness this winter.  You never know when an idyllic day can turn into a survival situation with little or no warning.

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