NPT rescue was an avoidable situation
After the story about Stephen Hine and Kyle Austin was published in the Adirondack Daily Enterprise on Jan. 30, it was shared on the Internet via Facebook and in hiking forum chats.
Hine and Austin had attempted to hike from Long Lake to Lake Placid on the Northville-Placid Trail in just one day. They started their trip at 1 a.m. that Sunday night, hoping to finish by the end of the day. When they didn’t return as scheduled, a rescue was initiated and the men were safely located on Monday with only minor injuries. However, had they not been rescued or stayed in the woods another night, they might not have made it out.
The men are both long-distance runners, but they appeared to be unprepared for this trip. The didn’t have enough winter clothing, snowshoes or skis or even a compass and map. For food, they only brought two bagels with peanut butter and some prunes. They had one canteen and a filter for water.
The hikers were criticized for being underprepared and not having a good plan for their trip. While many would agree that they made mistakes, I would prefer to stay away from the harsh criticism that you find on the Internet and take a look at this situation constructively, so people can hopefully learn from it in the future.
Luckily, and to his credit, Austin agreed to provide me with information about the trip for this purpose. There are many ways to break down this trip, but I’d like to put the mistakes into three categories: trip planning and decision making, gear, and food and water. Some of these mistakes are pretty obvious, but the Adirondacks attract a large amount of first-time users that could probably benefit from reading about other’s actions.
Trip planning and decision making
Trip planning and decision making on any trip is obviously essential. Perhaps the biggest mistake these men made was trying to hike nearly 40 miles in one cold winter day. Having an overambitious trip plan left no room for error, especially in the winter when there is a higher risk of hypothermia.
In addition, Austin also said the pair made a mistake in attempting the trip at all. Going into the trek, Hine was exhausted already because he had worked all day Saturday and then driven from Philadephia to Long Lake. Not only did the men fail to recognize this heading into the trip, but they also should have taken notice of it about five or six miles into the trip when Hine was noticeably wiped out.
Austin indicated that they both are long-distance runners and had pushed themselves far past the point of exhaustion in the past and come out OK. Up against the elements, this was too tough to do.
“This was one time when quitting would have been smart,” Austin said.
Had they quit six miles into the trip, this would have been a non-story, instead of making headlines in newspapers across the state after the story was picked up by The Associated Press. They also wouldn’t have put their lives in danger and caused a large-scale rescue that involving a number of forest rangers.
Food and water
For some reason, Austin and Hine didn’t bring much food on this trip, only taking two peanut butter bagels and some prunes. For water, they brought a canteen and water filter.
Having enough food in the winter is essential because you often burn more energy in the colder weather. Having an adequate amount of calories in your system is important for maintaining a normal body temperature. Always bring extra food and water in the winter. You need the extra energy to get by in the winter, especially when temperatures are in the single digits like they were during the time period when this trip took place.
The men said they didn’t bring a map, compass, GPS or snowshoes. One was wearing Carhartt pants and the other was wearing sweatpants. You can get away with having some of the wrong gear even in tough situations, but these guys just made too many mistakes in this category.
During the time the men spent in the woods, they lost the trail and also tried to get to higher ground at one point to determine where they were.
A map and compass would have obviously helped them navigate. In addition, it is important to wear either snowshoes or skis. Trying to get around without them in the snow is exhausting and inefficient.
The one thing these men did have on their side was that they had one negative 20-degree sleeping bag, which I guess they planned to share. They also did have some extra clothing, but apparently it wasn’t enough to keep them warm in this case.
In hindsight, this search and rescue was completely avoidable. Essentially, the pair should have never attempted the trip in the first place. Considering the circumstances, a short hike in the Long Lake area would have been more suitable. I’m sure Austin and Hine realize that now, and hopefully others will learn from their mistakes.