Singapore man rescued after three nights in Dix Pond swamp

A man from Singapore who went missing for three nights in the Dix Pond swamp last week told forest rangers with the state Department of Environmental Conservation — who found him last Wednesday — that he might not have lived through a fourth night in the swamp.

Forest rangers Andrew Lewis and Jamison Martin, who assisted in the swamp search and rescue, said the hiker drank swamp water to survive and that he was found in hypothermic conditions, with tattered clothing and bug bites covering his face. Rangers are reminding hikers to select hikes that are appropriate for their skill level and to practice safety and preparedness on the trail.

Getting lost

The 58-year-old man from Singapore, who rangers declined to name, was a college professor who’d recently left his job, according to Martin. The man told his wife that he wanted to spend a week in the Adirondacks. Martin said he left his wife a “rough itinerary” of what he planned to do: spend some time in Burlington, visit Lake Placid, and hike all five peaks in the Dix Range in one day. He flew into the John F. Kennedy International Airport — though it’s unclear when — rented an SUV and made his way to the Adirondacks.

On Wednesday, June 22 around 9 a.m., Martin said he got a call from Ray Brook Dispatch saying a woman from Singapore was on the other line. She said she hadn’t heard from her husband since the evening of June 19, a Sunday — the day he’d planned to hike the Dix Range.

Martin called the Dix Range an “extremely long, arduous hike” that’s not well-marked. He said it’s common for people to get off trail there and develop side paths.

The Singapore man had been communicating his whereabouts with his wife through apps like Whatsapp, and he was logging his progress on the Dix Range with a map app called Strava. The last map image his wife received from him showed that he’d summited all five peaks in the range, with his final location showing him at the summit of Macomb.

Martin went to the Elk Lake parking area, which leads to the Dix Range, and saw an SUV there. When Martin peeked in the windows, he saw airline luggage with airport tags attached. He looked at the trail register and saw that the man from Singapore had signed in to the register but hadn’t signed out. Rangers needed to confirm that it was his SUV before starting a full-blown search, because people often forget to sign out of the trail registry.

“That does happen from time to time, but it kind of started getting the spider senses tingling, so to speak,” Martin said.

Once they verified that the rental belonged to the man from Singapore, they knew he was still in the woods somewhere.

Through interviews with other hikers who’d registered at the trailhead after the time the man from Singapore had, Martin said the rangers pieced together that the man was likely off the trail somewhere; no one they interviewed had seen him on the trail. Martin said the “ball started to roll for a significant search after that.”

Search and rescue

When rangers interviewed people who hiked the trail around the same time as the Singapore man, some said they’d seen him along the trail at various times. Martin said that multiple interviewees said the man was visibly “whooped.”

Those interviews were key in helping rangers confirm the man’s whereabouts over the course of that day.

“Another big reason why people should sign in and out,” Martin said, “because it’s not just your well-being, but it’s others’.”

The man’s wife connected forest rangers with one of her stateside friends who was able to come by a more recent Strava map from the man. The map showed that he’d started to descend the west side of Macomb, an area that’s surrounded by a large swamp. The west side of Macomb has a long slide that turns into a riverbed, where the trail diverts from the riverbed path. Rangers later gathered from conversations with the man that he’d likely left the summit of Macomb around 7 p.m., after at least 12 hours of hiking. He lost the trail later that night.

Lewis said that “the worst of all conditions” were conspiring against the Singapore man as he entered the swamp. He said a large spruce forest blew down there around 50 years ago, and young, thick doghair spruce started growing up in its place — on top of fallen trees that the man had to maneuver over and under, he had to make his way through a thicket of trees and limbs. Plus, Lewis said, he was wading through knee-deep swamp conditions. Lewis said the swamp is “one of the most brutal swamps you could get stuck in.”

“You wouldn’t want to be in there three minutes, never mind three days,” Martin said.

Around 10 rangers teamed up to search for the man in assigned areas, Lewis said, focusing on the perimeter of the swamp and hoping to establish voice contact with the man by yelling his name. New York State Police also assisted in the search with a helicopter, but Martin said they ran into weather conditions that kept them from fully entering the search area.

Ranger Jason Scott was assigned to search the south side of the Dix Pond Swamp. At around 2:50 p.m. that Sunday, he shut off the ATV he was driving and started calling the man’s name. He heard a response. When Scott eventually approached the man, his clothes were shredded, his shoes were falling apart and his face was covered in bug bites and scratches from thrashing through the trees. He was hypothermic and roughly two miles from the trail.

Martin said the man told forest rangers that he didn’t think he would have been able to “make it through the night” if they hadn’t rescued him.

Be prepared

Rangers are hoping this narrow rescue could serve as an educational example for other hikers coming to the High Peaks. By Lewis’s and Martin’s standards, they believe the man wasn’t prepared for the Dix Range hike.

The three days the man spent in the swamp were filled with cold and wet conditions that, combined with his lack of food and water, led the man to experience what he told rangers were hallucinations — seeing buildings that weren’t there, talking to people who weren’t there and following trail markers that didn’t exist. He described small periods of sleep to the rangers, but they said he had severe lapses in his memory and that it was “tough to nail down details.” Martin said the man looked like he’d been in a bath for three days, with hands “pruned beyond what I’ve ever seen a human’s hands (look like) before.”

Lewis said that the man described his initial realization that he’d lost the trail. He went up and down a stretch of the mountain looking for it; he thought he found it, but he ended up in the swamp. He was exhausted, Lewis said, and he started to get panicked with disorientation.

“He had an extremely rough few days,” Martin said.

That state of mind is what rangers call “bonk,” Lews said — where your brain is deprived of the nutrition it needs to function properly.

“It’s very quick that you can go downhill,” Lewis said, “so we have a lot of issues with that — with hikers that are just not able to subside themselves with what they need throughout the day.”

Lewis said that staying sustained on the trail isn’t just about having protein and water — hikers need a multi-faceted source of nutrition that includes electrolytes, sugars and salts.

Martin said the man rationed what little food he had and drank swamp water to survive. Lewis encouraged hikers who are lost to follow similar survival tactics, saying people shouldn’t deprive themselves of water since illness related to drinking water in the wild probably wouldn’t settle in immediately.

“Sick is better than dead,” Martin added.

The man from Singapore was also facing especially rough weather conditions, rangers said, with cold nights and rainy days that brought the man in and out of hypothermic states. Combined with the swamp conditions, Lewis said, “he was in probably some of the worst conditions you can get yourself into in the Adirondacks.”

Martin measures hiker preparedness on whether or not the hiker is prepared to spend a night in the woods. If they’re not, he said, they’re not really prepared. Even if someone’s planning a day hike, like the man from Singapore, unexpected conditions and circumstances can turn a one-day hike into three.

Lewis said it’s important to have a compass and paper map when hiking. The man from Singapore apparently had an old Global Positioning System and a compass — both of which he lost along the way — and a map, which was rendered useless without a compass to orient himself. Lewis said hikers routinely write off the paper map and analog compass in favor of things that need batteries, like cell phones. Martin said it’s not only important to carry a paper map and compass, it’s equally important to know how to use them.

Rangers said rescue calls like this one have become common as more inexperienced hikers travel to the High Peaks and attempt hikes above their skill level. Martin said the man had recently been doing a lot of cycling and that he was in “decent shape” for someone of his age. But there’s no substitute for hiking the High Peaks, he said, and Lewis added that there’s “a lot more to it than cardio.”

Rangers encouraged new hikers, and hikers who are returning to the trails after a period of absence, to start out with more moderate trails before working their way up to more physically-demanding hikes like those in the Dix Range.

Rangers said the man from Singapore was ready to drive away as soon as they swapped his wet clothes out for dry ones. He was checked out by Schroon Lake EMS, which gave him a clean bill of health. Rangers watched the man for several more hours, feeding him and giving him water to make sure he was safe to drive. When they determined he was well enough, they cleared him to leave. They said he was eager to check into a hotel and get home.

“He told his wife that he was never gonna hike that mountain again,” Martin said.


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