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December 17, 2012

Grueling rescue saves Adirondack hiker

KEENE — Rescue teams wrapped up a harrowing 28-hour rescue in the High Peaks Sunday evening, carrying an injured hiker miles through snow and bitter cold.

The ordeal began 4 p.m. Saturday when a member of a four-person hiking group fell 150 to 200 feet down a slide on Nippletop Mountain. Members of his group tried to call for help, but with limited cell-phone service, they were unable to reach emergency workers. The group split up, one climbing down to the 41-year-old male from Syracuse, and the other two heading down the mountain to call for help. 

Department of Environmental Conservation dispatch received the first rescue call at about 8 p.m. Saturday. Forest Ranger Lt. Julie Harjung responded with a team of six forest rangers and Gary Nye of Backcountry Rescue. Nye is also a physician’s assistant from Adirondack Medical Center in Saranac Lake.

According to Harjung, the incident commander for the rescue operation, the injured hiker sustained significant trauma from a major fall and was “very, very lucky” he was not alone and that a member of his party was able to begin life-saving measures before rescue teams arrived.

Rescuers reached the hiker on a remote slide at about 3:40 a.m. Sunday, but found the terrain and icy conditions required technical rope skills. Nye, who stayed with the hiker through most of Sunday, was able to stabilize him and also prevent hypothermia through the night, when temperatures fell to about 9 degrees. Throughout the whole ordeal, the injured hiker was conscious and awake, Harjung said.

“This was probably one of the most grueling rescues we’ve undertaken,” said Harjung, a 16-year veteran of the DEC. “This was a phenomenal team effort — everyone deserves a round of applause for helping bring this person in alive.”

The combination of cold, snowy weather, difficult terrain in a remote location, having to carry in equipment more than 3.5 miles and having to bushwhack through thick undergrowth made the rescue long and difficult, Harjung said. Under better conditions, helicopters are used for rescues in remote locations such as this one, he said. State Police attempted to respond with a helicopter Sunday morning, but because of low cloud cover and poor weather conditions, that attempt was aborted.

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