Thru-hikers became first responders for rescue in Smokies

This forum is for the Appalachian Trail which runs for nearly 2200 miles through 14 states from Georgia to Maine.
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Post by Guests » Mon Apr 04, 2011 2:21 am

Sounds like this guy had a few rough days on the Trail....

Thru-hikers became first responders for rescue in Smokies
Knoxville News Sentinel

Mike Meadows (trail name "Hap"), Nate Provonost ("Johnny Appleseed"), James McCullum ("Mango") and "Pa Bert" don't consider themselves heroes, but what do you call it when people save another person's life?

Appalachian Trail (AT) thru-hikers Johnny Appleseed, 18, and Mango, 19, arrived early at Tri-Corner Knob Shelter in the southern middle section of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, through which the AT passes, around 2:30 p.m. on Sunday, March 20. They read the shelter log in which a ranger had written a "missing hiker alert."

Sixty-two-year-old Hap, who'd lost 100 pounds last year by hiking in his home state of Florida, arrived shortly thereafter. Hap was hoping to get fit and continue losing weight by hiking the entire AT from Georgia to Maine. Since starting only weeks earlier, it appeared as if he'd already lost another 30 pounds.

Around 7 p.m., after cooking dinner with Hap, and Pa Bert's later arrival, they heard a voice outside the shelter saying, "Hello?... I need help." They immediately knew it was the missing hiker mentioned in the log. "I'm so scared," said 23-year-old UT student Chad Hunter as he stumbled into the shelter. His bare hands were frozen, leaving him unable to move his bent fingers, his clothes torn and wet, and he was rambling, sometimes incoherently. His boots were untied; one was missing a shoelace. They'd all heard about it the dangers of backcountry hiking, but now they saw them before them in this young man with what appeared to be a fullblown case of hypothermia.

The hikers sprung into action, each working as efficiently as any team that had been practicing this for years. While Chad drank his fill of water, Hap began cooking him a hot meal. Pa Bert and Mango checked everyone's cellphones to see if any could call out. Since they were out of range, they gathered the three working phones and decided to hike south until one of them worked and they were able to summon help.

After walking close to an hour, they finally were able to reach 911, and the dispatcher gave them the phone number of the nearest ranger station. They lost reception again and hiked another 20 minutes before they had reception again. When they finally talked to the Cosby Ranger Station, they were told it could take seven hours for help to reach the remote shelter, but they were on their way, hopeful to be there by daylight.

Meanwhile, back at the shelter, Johnny Appleseed comforted Chad simply by talking with him; Chad hadn't talked to anyone in days. Johnny Appleseed listened as Chad told him the story of how he came to be lost for four days after four days of back-country camping. He'd started out at a remote campsite and then decided, with the "map in his head," to hike downstream off-trail headed for Ramsey Cascades. After a while, he became entangled so badly in a rhododendron thicket, he ditched his backpack in an attempt to make a "mad dash" for what he thought was the AT. He did, however, have a fanny-pack with food, water and an emergency blanket, which were all lost or used up over the next few days.

For the last few days, he'd eaten only three maggots, a worm and some ferns. Like all backpackers, he'd been thinking about food - a lot. He also worried about his parents, who'd reported him missing days before after not having heard from him since he left to go backpacking alone.

Hap had already put his own gloves on Chad's frozen fingers; now he covered him with his sleeping bag, sacrificing his own comfort in the process. Pa Bert loaned Hap his sleeping bag liner, while another hiker who'd shown up around 10 p.m. loaned her down jacket for a cover, but he never slept as he lay cold in the dark.

At 2:30 a.m., two rangers and a paramedic arrived after hiking up Snake Den Ridge Trail from Cosby. They worked on Chad an hour or two as they hooked him up to an IV and bandaged up his left arm, neck and back of his head. One ranger built a fire in the shelter, which made it slightly warmer as they waited for daylight.

By daylight, Chad was able to walk out the two and a half miles to a helicopter landing pad. A basket was lowered for him, and the helicopter whisked him to safety and his family.

The rest of the hikers prepared for another day of hiking. Hap, who'd told Chad to keep his 15-degree $400 sleeping bag, knew he'd have to do more miles this day than he'd ever done in his life. He knew of the inherent danger of being this far out in the wilderness without a sleeping bag. The 12-mile days he'd recently worked up to would only get him to another shelter, and he couldn't face the thought of another freezing cold, sleepless night. Though he was a faster hiker, Pa Bert sensed the seriousness of Hap's situation, and hiked with Hap all day for a total of 18 miles. Finally out of the national park, at the base of steep stone stairs, just a mile from a hikers' hostel, Hap could go no further. Curtis, the hostel proprietor, happened by at that moment; Hap was more than happy to catch a ride that last mile. The next day, he was shuttled to an outfitter in Hot Springs, N.C. to replace his sleeping bag.

On the Trail, there's an unwritten code that compels hikers to help each other. The efforts of those hikers who happened to be at Tri-Corner Knob Shelter that evening would probably have been repeated by anyone who'd been there, far from civilization. But these were the hikers who were there: two teenagers hiking home to Maine on their first real adventure since graduating from high school ( and two retirees in their 60s who'd met only days ago on the Trail. They simply did what needed to be done. And they did it well.

Maria Guzman is a freelance contributor to the News Sentinel.

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