Hiker rescued from Colden Trap Dike

Forest rangers rescue hiker with helicopter, ropes

Forest rangers and volunteer climbers rescued a hiker with a minor leg injury who was stuck on a ledge in the Mount Colden Trap Dike on Saturday. This was the second technical rope and helicopter rescue at the Trap Dike this summer and the fourth in the last two years.

“DEC has seen an increased number of rescues in the Trap Dike over the past decade or so,” state Department of Environmental Conservation Region 5 Forest Ranger Captain Christopher Kostoss wrote in an email. “It is often debated on social media forums whether this is a hike or a climb.”

The rescue

The call went out at 5:32 p.m. from a hiker in Avalanche Pass who heard a 22-year-old hiker from Johnson City yelling for help in the Trap Dike. DEC dispatch was told the 22-year-old an unstable lower leg injury.

Ranger Robert Praczkajlo was lowered from a New York State Police helicopter down to the hiker’s location on a ledge just north of the Trap Dike while Ranger Robbi Mecus led a team of assistant forest rangers and DEC volunteer climbers in from the bottom.

The DEC said Mecus and Praczkajlo are rescue technicians — highly trained in technical rope rescues.

The DEC said Praczkajlo determined the hiker was uninjured but in a compromised location that required a technical rope rescue.

Rescues in the Trap Dike are complex and technical, Kostoss said, risky for all involved. Because they take so long, an injury that might not be fatal in other locations could be fatal there.

Michael Bucci, a representative with PC Public Affairs, a press relations firm for the Police Benevolent Association of New York State — the forest ranger union — said Mecus and Praczkajlo’s “specialized capabilities” were crucial to this dangerous rescue.

“They are aware of the danger, but as typical with law enforcement people, there is a recognition that there are some things more important,” Bucci said. “It’s somebody else’s life and well-being and a family is concerned about their well-being. That’s what they’re thinking about in the moment.”

A group of eight rangers, two assistant rangers and two volunteer hikers belayed and lowered the hiker to safety, where he was reunited with his hiking companion.

The rescue lasted more than five hours, ending at 10:46 p.m. But the rangers were not done. They joined another group of rangers on the Van Ho Trail, one mile above Indian Falls on the trail to Mount Marcy, where they spent five hours in the dark carrying a hiker with an ankle injury out to Marcy Dam.

Trap Dike traps

Kostoss attributed increased Trap Dike rescues and injuries to both a general increase in High Peaks hiking and an increased use of social media hiking forums to document and post about adventures in the wilderness.

“Unfortunately, some of these postings motivate inexperienced hikers to undertake routes beyond their capability, which can lead to complex and dangerous rescues for everyone involved,” he wrote.

“The Trap Dike route up Mount Colden in the High Peaks Region is not an official trail,” according to the DEC. “In fact, it is not a trail at all. This route is classified as a rock-climbing route.”

Kostoss said rangers have attended to injuries within the dike itself as well as on ledges near the dike where climbers exit “off route” and get stuck.

“Portions of the Trap Dike are what we refer to as ‘no fall zones,’ meaning that an accidental fall could result in serious physical injury or death,” Kostoss said.

He said these areas require rope, helmets experience and climbing “on belay,” meaning another climber attached to rope acts as a counterweight for an ascending or descending climber.

He said the best way for the uninitiated to enjoy the Trap Dike is with a licensed guide.

Kostoss also suggested avoiding this climb after rain.

“It is essentially a waterfall,” he wrote. “Increased runoff makes it much more difficult and even treacherous to climb.”

The DEC suggests taking one of the other trails to the summit of Mount Colden if not prepared for the climb.

(Correction: An earlier version of this article incorrectly identified the forest rangers’ union as the New York State Correctional Officers and Police Benevolent Association. The rangers’ union is the Police Benevolent Association of New York State. The Enterprise regrets the error.)


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