My son and I along with a friend and his son climbed Wright Peak in the ADKS on Sunday Feb 15th. The temperature was minus 8 up to the Wright Peak Jct. and about minus 15 on the summit. With winds about 30+mph on the summit rock, the wind chill was somewhere between -40 and -50 degrees fahrenheit. Needless to say, we didn't stay for more than a few minutes before starting down. I love hiking in the ADKS in the winter because there are no bugs and none of that endless rock hopping you experience in the summer. With about 3 feet of packed snow, it is like walking on a carpet all the way to the top. The summit of Wright required a bit of scrambling because the summit is an open rock face. We managed fairly well with our snowshoes and on the summit we were greeted with some nice views of the central ADK high peaks. Given the weather conditions, all in all it was a good hike.
Here are some additional pics
However it was not so good for a group of five climbers (a father and son and three guests, including one woman) in front of us. They had just come down from Algonquin Peak and we met them at the Wright Jct. on the way down. After a little break, they started down the mountain about 2 minutes or so in front of us. The woman in their group was not doing well with the cold and she needed to get out quickly. At a small ice wall on the trail just below the junction (which required a minor but fairly easy scramble) one of the guys in their party slipped and broke his leg above the ankle. We didn't see the fall, but apparently his snowshoe got caught as he was navigating this scramble. Given that the temp was at -8 (f) and there were only 2-3 hours of daylight left, it was a very serious situation.
A few things made this better than it could have been. First, there were a lot of people present: their group of 5, our group of 4 and 2 German hikers with skis who were with us on the summit of Wright and came to the scene just behind us. They were able to move down the mountain quickly to alert authorities. Second, and somewhat miraculously, we had cell service at the spot and at least two phones that hadn't died due to the cold. They were able to place a 911 call and initiate a rescue. Third, one of the guys in their group was carrying very good and extra winter gear, including at least one 0 degree bag (they were NOT camping) and what looked to be 2 Marmot 8000m Parkas. They also had a small sled.
After assessing things as best we could, my group started down with two in their group—including the woman who had been struggling to keep warm. The other two men stayed with the victim who was stable, talking and in relatively good spirits. He was in his early 30s.
What made us especially nervous as we hiked out was that we did not see a rescue team coming in. High winds would have prevented a helicopter rescue and and the thought of spending the night on that trail in those conditions—I can't imagine.
When we arrived at the Adirondack Loj (aprox 5:00pm), two relatives were there and had been in contact with the DEC and State Police. They told me that the DEC intiated a snowmobile rescue from Marcy Dam up what she described as an old connector trail to the Macintyre Range. She was not familiar with the trails and I can only assume that she was referring to the Whales ski trail. If so, that might explain why we didn't see anyone on our way out. Anyway, this relative said that she had just made contact via phone with the group and the two men had just put the victim on their sled and began their own decent hoping to intersect the rescue team. A good move.
On Tuesday morning I was able to reach the father in the group and found out that everyone had, in fact, been able to get out on Sunday evening. The victim was taken to the hospital in Lake Placid where he underwent surgery for two broken bones in his right leg below the knee. It was a good ending to what could have been tragic.
This event brought home to me the importance of being prepared in these extreme conditions. Accidents can happen even with the most experienced backcountry hikers. And being prepared for such accidents can mean the difference between life and death. It also highlighted for me the importance of hiking with at least one other person. What if our technology had failed us or if no service was available (it usually is not)? What if this person had been hiking alone? Sustaining an injury like this alone would not have ended well. I learned later this week that on the same day we were doing our hike in the ADKS a NYC women attempted a solo hike in the White Mountains of New Hampshire under conditions that were even worse than what we experienced. She was found dead, apparently of exposure, on Monday morning near Mt. Madison. She was an experienced hiker and prepared; but she was alone.
As a scout leader, we hammer it into our boys from their Tiger year on that they should always travel in groups, with at least one other "buddy." It is a basic safety rule and is especially important in the backcountry and in extreme weather conditions like we faced this past weekend. I have never solo hiked in the backcountry. And after experiencing this accident on the trail, I never intend to do so.