This article was written by Neil Van Dyke, Search & Rescue Coordinator, Vermont Department of Public Safety, and previously appeared in the Winter 2019 Long Trail News.
While tens of thousands of people hike on Green Mountain Club trails every year without incident, occasionally things go wrong. Fortunately, Vermont has a dedicated and well-trained cadre of search and rescue people to help when things don’t go as planned.
The Vermont State Police have jurisdiction and take the lead when people are ‘missing or lost in the backcountry, remote areas, or waters of the State.’ Help for hikers injured in known locations
is typically delegated to local fire departments, emergency medical services, or search and rescue organizations.
I think it is of interest to review a fairly typical season of incidents on the Long Trail and Appalachian Trail in 2019. You may recognize some patterns.
Most injuries are caused by slips, trips, and falls. Wearing good footwear and not exceeding one’s abilities can help avoid falls, but even experienced hikers can have an accident and need help!
Most, if not all, other calls for assistance could be avoided by following simple safety practices.
- Keep your group together.
- Be sure everybody in your party has a map, knows how to read it, and understands the planned route.
- Tell somebody reliable where you are going and when you expect to return.
- Take a headlamp or other dependable light source (not your phone) even if you are just going out for a short hike early in the day. Keep the light source in your daypack with a set of extra batteries or take two lights to avoid having to change small batteries in rain or cold.
- Be sure to dress in layers and pack extras including a rain shell. Vermont’s weather can change quickly, especially at higher elevations.
- If you are on a long hike and intend to check in with family and friends, let them know there may be long periods with no contact because there is limited or no cell coverage in remote areas. Decide under what circumstances they should contact authorities. Search and rescue agencies will not usually search for hikers simply because friends or family “haven’t heard” from them, unless there are other risk factors involved.
- If you do need help, call 911. Resist calling other people so your phone line is open to communicate with emergency responders, and to save battery life.
I wish you a happy and safe winter hiking season!
2019 Search and Rescue Incidents
2/17. Long Trail near Skyline Lodge. Hiker separated and lost trail. Located and assisted out by rescuers from local fire departments and Vermont State Police.
4/22. Battell Trail. Hiker separated and lost the trail. Followed drainage back to the road.
5/2. Long Trail near Belvidere Mountain summit. Hiker lost trail in snow. Talked back to Vermont Rte 118 by Vermont State Police and given a ride back to her car.
5/23. Long Trail on Camel’s Hump. Hikers at Cowles Cove Shelter realized they had gone too far, having intended to descend the Forest City Trail while hiking on Camel’s Hump. Directions were given by phone back to their car in Huntington.
5/27. Long Trail on Camel’s Hump. Hiker called to report loss of the trail. Directions were given over the phone to get “unlost.”
6/13. Long Trail north of Little Rock Pond. As it began to get dark, two teenagers requested assistance while trying to hike to Vermont Rte 140. Rescuers from local fire departments and Vermont State Police located and assisted them down the Homer Stone Trail.
6/20. Report from GMC of a call from a family member who had received a call from a hiker “in distress.” Contact was made with the hiker a short time later, and it was determined there was not a problem.
6/28. Long Trail north of Kid Gore Shelter. Report of a hiker in distress. Located at Story Spring Shelter with a shoulder injury by search and rescue.
7/9. Long Trail at Governor Clement Shelter. Group had not returned to their summer camp when expected. Located at shelter by camp staff.
7/23. Near Cantilever Rock on Sunset Ridge Trail on Mount Mansfield. Injured hiker. Multiple search and rescue organizations responded and carried the subject on a litter out to Underhill State Park.
7/24. Long Trail. Hiker called from Corliss Camp to say they were confused on which way to go. Johnson Fire Department members hiked in to assist.
7/25. Long Trail. Fifteen-year-old on a summer camp overnight trip last seen near Cooper Lodge on Killington. Extensive search located teen in good condition 19 miles away at David Logan Shelter.
7/27. Long Trail. Injured hiker just north of Sterling Pond. Assisted off the trail by Stowe Mountain Rescue.
8/2. Appalachian Trail. Family member concerned that she had not heard from her mother hiking on the AT. Mother called and was okay.
8/7. Hellbrook Trail on Mount Mansfield. Injured hiker evacuated with assistance from multiple search and rescue groups.
8/10. Appalachian Trail. Family member concerned that she had not heard from her daughter hiking on the AT. Daughter called and was okay.
8/11. Camel’s Hump. Separated group. One person came down in Huntington instead of Duxbury as planned. Hiker came out on her own as search and rescue was ramping up.
8/17. Long Trail. Medical event at Whiteface Shelter. Assisted off the trail by Stowe Mountain Rescue.
8/20. Camel’s Hump. Camper with burns at Hump Brook Tenting Area. Evacuated by Waterbury Backcountry Rescue.
8/28. Long Trails. Injured hiker on Haystack Mountain in Lowell. Multiple fire departments and search and rescue groups assisted in carrying them off the trail.
9/4. Mount Mansfield. Report of a separated hiker during severe storm. Came out on their own.
9/4. Camel’s Hump. Hiker with a leg injury near Wind Gap. Assisted off the trail by multiple search and rescue groups.
9/9. Long Trail. Hiker with knee injury just south of Camel’s Hump summit. Carried off the mountain by multiple search and rescue groups.
9/12. Long Trail. Family member concerned she had not heard from her mother while she was hiking on the Long Trail. Mother called and was okay.
9/13. Mount Mansfield. Hiker stranded (unable to move up or down) with her dog on the Cliff Trail. Assisted by rescuers from Stowe Mountain Rescue.
9/18. Long Trail. Family member concerned that Long Trail thru-hiker had not checked in with their SPOT (satellite messenger) device. Hiker was okay.
9/19. Appalachian Trail. Hiker turned around on trail east of Killington. Able to find their way to a road and get a ride.
9/24. Long Trail. Hikers called to report they were lost near Little Rock Pond. Located and escorted out by Wallingford and Rutland Fire Departments.
10/15. Camel’s Hump. Hiking party separated near the hut clearing on Camel’s Hump. Started down Bamforth Ridge instead of Monroe Trail. Came out on own on Burrows Trail.
10/28. Long Trail just south of Smugglers’ Notch. Report of a hiker who had fallen causing a significant laceration to their forearm. Stowe Mountain Rescue responded, administered first aid, and
assisted hiker to the road.
11/13. Long Trail/Appalachian Trail. A man located about .5 mile from Goddard Shelter called 911 to report that he was too weak and exhausted to continue. Vermont State Police, SAR, and Fish & Wildlife wardens brought the subject out of the woods just after midnight.