Search continues for hiker missing near Wallface Mountain
NEWCOMB — Although searchers are on their fourth day following a cold trail for a hiker who appears to have been inadequately prepared for the three days he planned to spend in the mountains, Forest Ranger Brian Dubay said Tuesday he’s always optimistic.
Dubay addressed a press conference at noon Tuesday at the Newcomb firehouse to update the public on day three of the search for Alex Stevens, 28, of Hopewell, New Jersey. Last seen Sept. 2 deep in the High Peaks Wilderness, Stevens was reported missing by some friends on Sunday after he failed to show up for a rendezvous.
The search for Stevens continued Wednesday morning with five members of state police’s Special Operations Response Team and a police canine unit joining 24 state Department of Environmental Conservation forest rangers, one volunteer climber and two volunteer searchers, DEC spokesman David Winchell said.
“People are resilient,” Dubay said. “I’ve always been amazed by what people can do.”
Stevens was last seen at the base of the cliff at Wallface Mountain.
“He had a conversation there with some people,” Dubay said.
Searchers used the trail register to track down the hikers who had seen Stevens. According to the people who spoke with him, it was between 6:30 and 7 p.m. the Saturday of Labor Day weekend.
“He was memorable,” Dubay said. Stevens was wearing open-toed sandals and had a small backpack with him. Further, the lateness of the hour was unusual.
“There was no indication he was there to climb,” Dubay continued. Wallface has the state’s largest cliff and is a magnet for rock climbers, but it doesn’t get a lot of traffic because of its remote location. Most hikers go in planning to camp overnight, then climb. While rangers were uncertain what equipment Stevens had with him, he does not seem to have been adequately prepared for spending the night exposed to the elements. On Sunday, Sept. 3, while rangers were engaged in a search for a missing soldier on St. Regis Mountain, it rained almost nonstop from 5 a.m. to 8 p.m.
Stevens’ Facebook page posts indicate he had a bitter frame of mind, but Dubay said there were no indications that he was despondent or intent on harming himself. Points in Stevens’s favor are his age — 28 — and sound physical health. At 5 feet, 11 inches and 220 pounds, Stevens was not suffering from any injuries or ailments, and he had plans to meet up with friends in New York City. They were the ones who called state police to report him missing.
Dubay said they had worked the social media angle in the search and found that Stevens was interested in Wallface.
“He dabbled in the climbing world,” Dubay said.
Stevens had his cellphone with him, a blanket or bed roll, and a hammock with a tarp that he could use to stay out of the weather. He bought some food as well.
The rescue teams believe Stevens attained the summit of Wallface. On Monday they found items belonging to him near the summit: a strap that matched one on the hammock he bought, and two foam ear plugs.
“Family members said he couldn’t sleep without ear plugs,” Dubay said.
The difficult terrain and its remoteness make the search challenging. Helicopters are bringing the search crews in and out. Further, the base of the cliff has caves and a field of talus, or large broken rocks, that create holes people could fall into.
The search for Stevens follows on the heels of a successful search for Richard Guinan, an Army soldier from Fort Drum who got lost coming back down from St. Regis summit. Rangers are getting tired, Dubay admitted.
“We are able to do the job we have now because of volunteers,” he said. “Obviously it’s been a very busy summer. I’m glad people come up here and recreate, but could we use more members of the team? Absolutely.”
“We’ve got the cream of the crop,” he said of the search crews. “The key word is volunteers — these guys do this for free.”
Dubay cautioned hikers to stay on the trails and follow best practices.
“The best thing people can do is plan ahead and prepare,” said Dubay. “Bring adequate clothing for the elements. Tell people where you’re going.”
The town of Newcomb is letting the search-and-rescue operation make its headquarters in the town’s volunteer fire hall.
“These guys have been great; I think we’ve been offered 32 days,” to keep looking, Dubay said.
The third day of the search began Tuesday with 24 DEC forest rangers, six volunteer professional rock climbers, four members of Search and Rescue of the Northern Adirondacks (SARNAK), two radio operators and State Police Aviation Unit helicopter. On Monday, 27 rangers and two volunteer professional climbers searched for Stevens.
On Sunday, forest rangers found Stevens’s vehicle at Upper Works trailhead at the end of Upper Works Road in Newcomb. An entry in the trailhead register dated for Sept. 2 indicated Stevens planned to spend three days in the wilderness.
He has glasses and longer hair that he typically wears in a bun. He may be carrying a green-colored, light backpack.
New York State Police and the Hopewell Township (N.J.) Police Department are handling the missing-persons investigation while DEC handles the search. Anyone who may have seen Stevens or has information about his whereabouts is asked to call state police in Ray Brook at 518-897-2000.
Enterprise Staff Writer Antonio Olivero contributed to this report.