Hiker who died in High Peaks was experienced but ill prepared
LAKE PLACID – Even though she was an avid and well-versed hiker, a 61-year-old woman who died of hypothermia in the High Peaks over the weekend was ill prepared for a winter hike, according to the coroner who handled the case.
Hua Davis perished from hypothermia due to exposure, according to Essex County Coroner Frank Whitelaw. State forest rangers found her Saturday afternoon on MacNaughton Mountain in the High Peaks Wilderness.
“She was not dressed properly. As far as her footwear, she was only wearing a pair of Skechers sneakers,” Whitelaw said by phone Monday morning. “She had some gaiters on, but she was wearing draw-string fleece sweatpants, and that was it. And once you get them wet, that’s it; you’re wet.
“Her upper garments would have been adequate if they hadn’t gotten wet, but they were soaked through.”
Whitelaw said Davis was of a very small stature, being just over 5 feet tall and weighing around 100 pounds.
“Of course hypothermia is going to set in much quicker when it’s a smaller person,” he said.
Whitelaw did note that Davis was very physically fit.
He added that “she was not carrying any emergency gear: no space blanket or anything like that, no decent fire-starting material or anything.
“There was evidence at the scene that she attempted to use her fleece gloves as fuel for a fire. That was unsuccessful.”
MacNaughton has no official, marked trail, but it does have herd paths. Numerous other hikers were on the mountain Saturday.
“What it was described to me was that rangers just merely followed her path as she went down the back side,” of the mountain, Whitelaw said. “They found that at some point her trail became extremely erratic, which is consistent with the deliriousness caused by hypothermia.
“And then she eventually just sat down against a tree and just went to sleep, and that was it.”
Whitelaw said that it’s important to get this information out so the public can understand the dangers of winter hiking in the Adirondacks. One of the responding rangers fell through the ice and was soaked after locating Davis’ body, showing that the public’s unpreparedness can put both hikers and forest ranger rescuers in danger.
“For one, she was hiking alone – bad news there. Hiking alone in the winter, double bad news. And hiking alone in the winter to MacNaughton, triple bad news,” Whitelaw said. “To do it alone in the winter is completely unreasonable.”
John Sasso, who lives in Albany and met Davis briefly last year, said she seemed like a confident and experienced hiker.
“I only spoke to her a little, but in overhearing her conversations with others, she was quite an enthusiastic, upbeat person who seemed to have a high-level of confidence,” Sasso said by email. “She talked about many of her other hikes, and in my discussions with her regarding gear and observing some of her gear, she seemed like an experienced hiker.”
The state Department of Environmental Conservation has been quiet so far on this death, but it has a webpage devoted to hiking safety at www.dec.ny.gov/outdoor/28708.html.