Missing hikers found alive, hypothermic

Blake Alois, left, and Maddie Popolizio, both of Niskayuna, sent this picture to family members from their hike on Algonquin Peak around noon Sunday. They were missing for nearly two days until rangers located them late Tuesday morning. (Photo provided)

LAKE PLACID — The two hikers who went missing on Algonquin Peak and spent two unplanned nights out in bitter cold weather have been found alive but may be severely hypothermic.

Blake Alois, 20, and Maddie Popolizio, 19, both from Niskayuna, were found by a forest ranger around 11 a.m. near the summit of the 5,114-foot mountain, according to state Department of Environmental Conservation Forest Ranger Capt. John Streiff.

He said rangers are still determining whether the pair can be airlifted to the hospital or whether they’ll have to be extracted from the woods over land. Alois and Popolizio are believed to be hypothermic but they haven’t undergone a full medical assessment yet, Streiff said.

“The subjects were located near the summit of Algonquin, and at this point measures are being taken to evacuate the two,” Streiff said. “Their medical condition is unconfirmed at this time.”

Alois’ mother, Doris Alois, confirmed to the Enterprise that her son and his girlfriend had been located. She said she got the news around 11:30 a.m. in a text message from her other son, then in calls from DEC dispatch and a forest ranger.

“They’re alive, very seriously hypothermic,” Doris Alois said. “The ranger who found them is with them. They were able to have a verbal exchange. I don’t know if it made any sense or what they said. They’re probably debilitated.”

“Now the rangers are trying to figure out if they can send a stretcher down by helicopter. Depending on where they are, they might not be able to do that. They might have to take snowmobiles, then it would take hours to get them down.”

Asked how she’s feeling, Doris Alois said she’s doing much better, but she’s still worried.

“The rangers kept on telling me, ‘It’s life-threatening. You need to know that,'” she said. “So I’m scared. I want them to get them to a hospital as soon as possible.”

Doris Alois said earlier today that the young couple drove up from the Albany area early Sunday morning to do a day hike up Algonquin, which is the second highest mountain in the Adirondacks.

“Around 4:30 p.m. (Sunday) he still wasn’t in cell range, and I was starting to get concerned,” Doris said. “I felt like he should be off the mountain at the time because they had gone really early. I called the rangers and they said it was still too early, people were still up in the mountain and they weren’t going to do a search then.”

“By 8 o’clock that night they did start a search. They went to go look at the trailhead login, and they never signed out and their car was still there.”

The last communication Alois and Popolizio had with family members was around noon Sunday when they sent photos and videos of their hike. The couple appeared to be in good condition and wearing winter clothing at the time, state Department of Environmental Conservation spokesman David Winchell said in a statement emailed before the couple was located.

Forest rangers located the pair’s vehicle Sunday night and began searching the trails to Algonquin Peak and Lake Colden. Rangers were in the woods until 3:45 a.m. Monday.

On Monday, more than 20 rangers searched the trails and drainage systems in the area around the mountain. Snow, clouds and winds prevented the use of a helicopter or other aviation resources and made for difficult search conditions, Winchell said.

Today, two dozen forest rangers, accompanied by members of the New York State Police Special Operations Response Team, continued the search, along with State Police Aviation Units that joined the search this morning.

“Searchers face below freezing temperatures, wind chills below zero, and three feet or more of snow,” Winchell said.

An incident command post was set up on the grounds of the Adirondack Mountain Club’s Adirondak Loj property where the state Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Services assisted with communications.

A family member created a social media post asking for volunteers Monday night that quickly went viral, being shared almost 3,000 times.

Doris Alois said her husband, her other son, friends and members of Popolizio’s family traveled to the Loj to join the effort, but the rangers wouldn’t let them search “because it’s too treacherous.”

Winchell said DEC didn’t seek additional help from friends and family members of the lost hikers “due to the adverse conditions.” He said it would have added “additional risk to the searchers and divert resources from finding the missing hikers.”

Before the couple was found, Doris Alois said she was desperately hoping searchers could find the pair before nightfall.

“Today is crucial, because tonight will be night three,” she said earlier.

Doris said her son and Popolizio have been together for more than a year-and-a-half. They’ve hiked together in the Adirondacks often, including in the winter, she said.

“They were experienced,” she said. “They usually go together. He’s never done Algonquin though. They weren’t planning to spend the night out, but I know he’s pretty well stocked with his winter gear and stuff like that. I don’t know exactly what he brought with him, but he’s pretty well stocked.”