A.T. Ridgerunner Report on 4 Hikers Rescued in Smokies

Saturday, April 30, 2011

You may or may not recall this story from early last month, as it was not widely reported, but four hikers suffering from hypothermia had to be rescued in the Smokies by a couple of Appalachian Trail Ridgerunners.

The report (below) comes courtesy of the latest Friends of the Smokies email newsletter. The report was written by Doug McFalls, a name you might recall associated with the LeConte Lodge. Doug was the winter caretaker for the lodge during the 2009/2010 winter. He gained some notoriety by blogging about his experiences atop the mountain. He's since launched another blog, called Reflections Of The Smokies, and volunteers as a ridgerunner.

Here's Doug's report, dated Monday, March 7th:

"We were involved in the rescue of 4 hikers on their Spring Break from FSU at the Double Springs Shelter. Caleb and I turned them over to Park Rangers at Clingmans Dome Parking lot. The hikers were all dehydrated and from mild-moderate to moderate-severe Hypothermia. One had an injured knee. The weather conditions were severe with high winds and heavy rains Friday and Saturday turning to snow, ice and high cold winds on Sunday."

The report continues, "March 4, 2011 Ridgerunner Caleb Gray and I arrived at Mt. Colins Shelter in rain and high winds at aprox. 1830. At 0530 the next morning (yes, that's 5:30am) 4 hikers (to be rescued the next day) arrived. As Caleb and I prepared to hike out to The Double Springs shelter we both agreed that the 4 hikers would most likely hike out to Newfound Gap when they awoke later in the day. We arrived at Double Springs Shelter at 1525 in cold temperatures, heavy rain and high winds. At 2030 the 4 hikers from Mt. Colins Shelter arrived at Double Springs. The hikers were all soaked and cold. They all got in their bags and tried to sleep...

March 6, 2011 0700 Caleb and I awoke to 4" of snow on the ground and heavy snow falling, 20-25 degrees. High winds. Caleb and I decided to assess the 4 hikers. All of their clothing and gear appeared saturated. They all seemed unprepared for the snow and severe cold...

Hiker #1 6'2" 180 lbs. 21 year old white male. Mild to Moderate Hypothermia. Dehydrated. Complained of a hurt knee but could walk ok. All his clothing was wet and cotton. He was wearing leather loafers (boat shoes).

Hiker #2 6'3" 200lbs. 24 year old white male. Moderate to Severe Hypothermia. Vomiting due to Hypothermia. We found out that at one point in the night (Hiker #1) had got in [friend's] sleeping bag with him to help warm him up. Hiker #2 was Dehydrated as well. His clothing was wet and all cotton. We immediately got him out of his wet clothing and into some of our dry cloths including wool socks and fleece hat. Caleb put him in his 0 degree sleeping bag. We started hydrating Hiker #2 with watered down gator aid to try and get fluids and electrolytes in him. At this point we decided that we had to evacuate these hikers.

Hiker #3 5'6" 160lbs. White male. Mild Hypothermia. Dehydrated. Wet clothing. Tennis shoes.

Hiker #4 5'6" 160lbs. White male. Mild Hypothermia, Dehydrated. Wet clothing. Tennis shoes.

We contacted dispatch and informed them of the situation. Gave all the information we had. Informed of our decision to evacuate the hikers.

We continued to hydrate the hikers. We got the hikers into as much of our dry clothing as we could without jeopardizing our own personal safety. We tried the best we could to get them into a dry base layer of clothes, wool socks, hat, gloves. While we were getting them hydrated and feeding them carbs Caleb fashioned Gaiter/Socks out of trash bags and duck tape to protect their feet.

After dispatch coordinated with law enforcement we got the go ahead to leave Double Springs Shelter en route to Clingmans Dome Parking lot. (aprox. 3 miles). We left at aprox. 1000. In about 8" of snow and 20 degree temps. I hiked lead and Caleb hiked sweep.

We stopped about every 10 to 20 minutes to make everyone drink-eat and evaluate conditions. [One individual] got weaker and complained of more knee pain so Caleb carried his pack the last 1.5 miles.

We arrived at Clingmans Dome Parking lot at aprox. 1330. We hiked through 8 to 12" of snow, 2-3' drifts 10-20 degree temps and high wind.

We tried to get out of the wind and await the Ranger's arrival at the Clingman's Dome Information Center. We turned our hikers over to the Rangers and rode down to Newfound Gap in 4 wheel drive trucks behind two snow plows. We debriefed at Newfound Gap and asked our hikers to pass on all that they had learned."


I can't help but comment on how completely unprepared this group was. I realize accidents happen beyond the control of many situations, but these guys were literally asking for trouble.

Fortunately they had the two ridgerunners to help them get out of their predicament. Who knows what would've happened without those two volunteers.

Friends of the Smokies relayed this story because they wanted to point out that the ridgerunner program is one of the services they help to fund. It takes $38,700 to support the Appalachian Trail Ridgerunner in the Smokies. In fact, they provide more than $1.2 Million dollars to the park - money that goes towards programs and projects that help make the Smokies one of the premiere parks in the NPS system. Friends of the Smokies can always use your help by making a donation. If you would like to learn more about the projects Friends of the Smokies helps to fund, and to contribute, please visit their website for more information.



My Life Outdoors said...

They certainly did seem unprepared. But I can remember the first time I realized cotton was deadly. I used to hike and backpack with mostly cotton clothing. When your young...you don't know these things unless someone takes the time to tell you. I once overheard a ski worker condescendingly comment on a novice skier's cotton clothing. It was a particularly cold (-40) winter ski trip. I couldn't help but think...why not tell the young man why cotton is no good instead of criticizing his gear. There has to be a way to convey this info to want-to-be backpackers.

The Smoky Mountain Hiker said...

MLO - I agree with you to an extent. 20+ years ago, for the most part, people really only had Backpacker and Outside Mags, and the library, to help explain the dangers of not being properly prepared. Now there are probably hundreds or thousands of resources on the internet, not to mention cable shows like Survivor Man, Dual Survival, Man vs Wild, etc...

Moreover, prior to the 80s and 90s, hi-tech gear was really only in its infancy at that time, so information about their benefits weren't as well known.

At a minimum, these guys should've checked the weather forecast and realized that tennis shoes would've been a bad idea.