Shinning A Light On Fall Hiking

View From Mt. Severance, Saturday, October 8, 2011

A number of hikers who took of advantage of last weekend’s spectacular weather had to be rescued because they failed to allow enough time on their descents to make it out in daylight.

Many of those rescues could have been avoided if hikers had carried flashlights to help the find their way back to the trailhead, according to Dave Winchell, spokesman for Region 5 of the state Department of Environmental Conservation.

“The number of people who still don't bring flashlights when they go on hikes, just don't realize, with fall, it gets dark a lot quicker and don't plan ahead that well,” Winchell told the Adirondack Daily Enterprise.

“We had three different searches, that it was late in the day, and people did not have flashlights with them.”

And as we discovered first hand – we almost became one of those rescued groups. Late, last  Saturday afternoon, when it was still warm and balmy, we set off with friends to hike Mt. Severance.  It was our first time and we couldn’t wait to get to the top for a stunning view of the fall colors surrounding Schroon Lake from the mountain’s 1880 foot summit.

When we got to the top, we weren’t disappointed – it truly was stunning. In retrospect we spent a lot of time at the top, resting, talking with the couple we hiked with and taking photos of the ever changing vista – the colors seemed to intensify as they the sun went down.  We finally left the top at around 6.10 pm (judging by the time date stamp on a photo on my iPhone.

It was about 20 minutes into he descent that I got worried. The sun was setting fast – and the trail grew darker under the canopy of leaves.  It was then I realized that we might soon be in trouble. I ran ahead of the group, trying to get as close to the trailhead as possible – the rest of my group was behind me. Annette, my wife, was  in between me and the other couple. I could here her, but not the other couple. If you’ve hiked Severance, you know you are back near civilization when you hear the traffic sounds of I-87.  I heard the sounds of the traffic –and by now it was very dark – but I still wasn’t at the trial head.  And, my group was so far back they couldn’t hear my voice when I called. My goal was to get as close to the trail head as possible – so if the other’s couldn’t find  their way out – I would be able to get help. So how close did we come to being rescued?. Very.  Towards the end of the trial, it was so dark, there was a fork that I didn’t know if I should take left or right – in the very dim light, both options seemed viable. When I went t the right, there was a lot of “crunch”  underfoot. That didn’t seem or sound right.

When I went to the left, it seemed like a well walked trial – that’s what I took. In pitch blackness I made it to the underpass.  I called to the rest of my party, and by setting the flash of my camera off, they had a visual to find me.

We were all greatly relieved when we got down – me the most.

“I thought I would have to call the police or the Van Windens (A family of excellent hikers who could have bailed us out by starting at the trial head with flashlights),  I told my group.

The take away lessons here are straight forward – make sure you leave ample time to get back to the trail head and always carry a flashlight and a phone.