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My Rescue Story | Why We Need to #AddNYSRangers

By: Brittany Noxon - guest author
Thursday, March 28, 2019

Growing up in the Albany area, I learned to appreciate nature quickly. I’m an avid hiker, photographer, nurse, wife, and dog mom. I love to get outside for the peace it offers me. I always feel recharged after going on an excursion. I prefer to hike smaller mountains in the Adirondacks solely because I have a hip impingement, which restricts me to about six miles. Believe it or not, I almost find myself lucky to be hiking these smaller trails as opposed to the “High Peaks.” You can experience some really amazing views without hiking 20+ miles, feel the exhilaration of summiting a mountain, and are in turn preserving the trails of some of the most fragile alpine environments. I fear that people aren't hiking to feel recharged, but instead “do it for the gram.”  I also love to meet new, like-minded people, and to help pick up after those who don't. If you ever see me out there, please don't hesitate to strike up a conversation.

The Adirondack Park is home to me

Having traveled the country in an RV with my husband as a travel nurse, we saw some spectacular mountain views in Colorado and in the Eastern Sierras in California. Still, nowhere compares to the Adirondacks. The Adirondacks may not be 14,000' high, but in my personal opinion, the terrain is so much more beautiful on the ascent up. Knowing we have a six million acre protected playground with hundreds of peaks, 2,800 lakes and ponds, and more than 1,500 miles of rivers, fed by an estimated 30,000 miles of brooks and streams is something pretty special.

The thing I never expected to happen to me, did

In one of my hundreds of hikes in the Adirondacks, one experience has stuck with me that I’d like to share. As a relatively experienced hiker, I really didn’t think that an excursion up a trail I had done many times would turn into one of the worst nights of my life.

In 2017, my husband and I, as well as a few friends went up to Fort Ann to watch the fireworks a top Sleeping Beauty Mountain. Being that we were going down after sunset, we all had our headlamps or flashlights in preparation to go down in the dark. The sunset was incredible.

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Before this outing, I had hiked Sleeping Beauty over 10 times before in many seasons, and got a little bold. I wore shoes without any ankle support. I had my light on the red light because bugs were swarming my face with my bright light on (I now know I could have taken my headlamp off and used it as a flashback, everything is 20/20 in hindsight!) Since I had less light, my foot became caught a root about 0.1 miles from the summit. Since we were descending, I had some momentum. It pulled me forward and I fell on top of my foot. Not only did I break my 4th and 5th metatarsals, I also tore the calcaneofibular ligament in my ankle.

0.1 mile from the summit, I felt helpless

We had seven people in the group, two of which were far ahead of us. When I fell, I thought I just sprained my ankle so I advised others in the group to head down, and if we didn't make it within 30 minutes behind them, to call for help. My husband and I, and our friend Taylor, realized it was more than a sprain when every step I tried to take, burned and I had no ability or control to flex or extend my foot. Kind of a necessary part of hiking! Luckily, my husband is handy in the woods and went to school for Environmental Conservation.

I felt safe, but so helpless. Luckily, Taylor had the smallest amount of cell service. He made a 911 phone call and just after he gave our location, his phone died. No one else in our group had cell service to let our other friends know what happened. They waited until the ambulance arrived at the Dacy Clearing parking lot, and realized I was in trouble, but help was on the way.

Rangers & volunteers to the rescue

When I realized I was seriously hurt and we were able to send them our location, we stayed put. When they reached us, I was so relieved and grateful they were able to find us so quickly. No one should have to try to hike when they're in danger. Imagine if this were my neck, and I needed to be stable. Two Forest Rangers and about ten volunteer first responders assisted me in trying to walk down, but every hop shook my broken bones against one another. The last mile I just couldn't take it anymore. Everyone in the group took turns carrying me down Sleeping Beauty.

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They joked about another hiker hurting themselves on the same root about a week prior and had to be carried down. I had to wonder why the area of the trail wasn’t repaired to protect the hiker’s safety. But then I realized, it wasn't just the root. It was my lack of paying attention, and not using my gear appropriately.

What I learned, and what I want you to learn too

  • Take your research seriously. Know how long, how difficult, and what obstacles you will encounter. Bring a paper map and compass and know how to use it. Plan ahead and prepare is a key part of Leave No Trace, take it seriously.
  • Wear hiking boots or hiking shoes, ALWAYS. You can hurt yourself easily, even on the easiest trail out there. If I had the appropriate shoes on, I likely would not have broken my foot or tore my ligament.
  • I never hike mountains alone anymore. If I was by myself when this happened with no cell service, no support, out in the wild at night, things could have been much worse.
  • Bring plenty of water and food, enough if I were to ever get stuck overnight, a set of warm clothes, and wear the right gear (layers and waterproof.)
  • Bring a portable phone charger with you hiking.
  • Turn the darn headlamp on the brightest setting at night!

My experience showed me why we need more Rangers

One of the two Rangers that spent hours carrying me down the mountain that night, willingly left their home to complete a rescue on their day off because of understaffing. They had the choice to let their colleague continue a mission they couldn't complete on their own- and leave someone injured on a mountain- or get out of bed after their last shift, when they should be resting for the next one, to help someone.

New York State shouldn’t be making the hardworking Rangers make these decisions every time a rescue call comes in.

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The side effects of overuse are showing

I don't mind cleaning up litter after people who don't, but it would be nice to visit my favorite swimming hole or trail and not see trash, or for parking to be safer for drivers and hikers. Over the past few years, I have seen more garbage on trails and footpaths widened, and it isn't stopping. It's getting worse. We need to do something.

Even as a relatively experienced hiker, I made mistakes that could have been prevented if there were people who offered to talk to me about my trip before we did it. I hope that continuing to expand more and more education and outreach, preventative search and rescue efforts can help people who want to explore our wild places to do so safely and in a way that helps protect the places they visit. If we all want to be able to enjoy the Adirondacks for years to come, this is necessary.

If you want to join the efforts to protect Adirondack wilderness and waters from overuse, you can sign the petition and stay up to date on what’s happening on overuse in the Adirondacks.

Before you head out on any outdoor activity, make sure you plan ahead and prepare. In the Adirondacks, always check the NYSDEC Adirondack Backcountry Conditions and Information page with updated information on weather, safety information, highlights and reports that may be helpful to your safety and the safety of the area you are visiting. 

 

Uploaded Image: /vs-uploads/images/Brit_Nox.jpgBrittany Noxon is an avid hiker, photographer, nurse, wife, and dog mom. She loves to get outside and find peace in the Adirondacks smaller peaks. The best day in the woods to her involves the exhilaration of summiting a challenging mountain, but also helping preserve the special places she visits.

 

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