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Editorial: Be prepared for dangers of fall hiking

Editorial: Be prepared for dangers of fall hiking

Death a reminder that Adirondacks can be unforgiving to the unprepared
Editorial: Be prepared for dangers of fall hiking
Alex Stevens.
Photographer: Provided

At noon on Tuesday, September 20, 5,344 feet above sea level atop New York’s tallest peak, Mount Marcy, it will be 59 degrees, with a wind-chill of 56.

Winds will be out of the north-northwest at 18 mph. There’s a 1 percent chance of precipitation and a zero percent chance of snow.

In the coming days and weeks, that kind of information will be vitally important for people to know as they venture into the Adirondacks to admire the spectacular fall foliage.

Many view hiking in the Adirondacks as little more than a casual stroll in the woods. But as unprepared hikers have found out, it’s more complex and dangerous than your morning power walk around the cul-de-sac.

A hiker from New Jersey was the latest example of someone who went into a hiking adventure unprepared and ill-equipped for what was ahead.

The body of 28-year-old Alex Stevens was found near Wallface Mountain in Essex County on Monday, 16 days after he was reported missing from a planned three-day hike.

The mountain he was found near isn’t particularly tall — at 3,727 feet, it’s not even listed among the top 46 Adirondack High Peaks.

Based on anecdotal reports from experienced hikers, the hike through the brush in that area is moderate to difficult. In late summer, he was taking on a challenge, for sure, but he wasn’t exactly trying to conquer Everest.

Yet according to a report in the Adirondack Daily Enterprise on Tuesday, coroners determined Stevens died of bronchial pneumonia brought upon by exposure to the elements and hunger. He also may have suffered from hypothermia.

Without proper food, clothing or skills for hiking in the back-country, it cost him his life.

If you think Alex Stevens was the only person who ever didn’t take the challenges of an Adirondack hike seriously, you’d be wrong.

Many people have become lost, injured and even lost their lives because they underestimated the difficulties, didn’t plan for emergencies, didn’t check conditions before venturing out, and didn’t consider that the Adirondacks are much colder and the conditions that much more unpredictable and volatile, than here in the flat lands. 

The Adirondacks are known for heavy unexpected snow squalls, rain storms and fog that cause even experienced, well-prepared hikers to lose their way. People have even been trapped in avalanches. It might not snow in early fall where most of us live, but it does in the Adirondacks. And it only gets worse as we get deeper into fall and winter.

Don’t take your leaf-peeping expedition in the Adirondacks lightly.

The Adirondack Mountain Club (adk.org) is one resource that allows hikers to check trail conditions and weather forecasts. The report at the top of this editorial came from the Mountain Point Forecast section of the National Weather Service website, which was a link from the ADK website. The state Department of Environmental Conservation (www.dec.ny.gov), is another great source of information on backcountry hiking.

When people are unprepared, they get injured. They get lost. And as in the case of Alex Stevens, sometimes they die.

Before going out, do all you can to make sure you don’t suffer a similar fate.

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