To Mayor Clyde Rabideau, village of Saranac Lake:
We are both experienced hikers and have climbed the 4,000-footers in New Hampshire (48) and Vermont (five). Beginning in 2017, we have focused on the Adirondacks, climbing 17 of the High Peaks that season and 18 more through August of 2018. On Wednesday, Sept. 12, we climbed Mount Marshall.
We had a great hike up, but unfortunately, our descent did not go as planned. We were only 15 to 20 minutes down from the summit when Joan fell on a slab of wet rock, skidding until her slide was stopped by a root system that crossed the rock. She thought the right leg of her rain pants must have caught on a root. But the pain when she tried to move her leg made her realize that a sharp root stub had been driven into her right leg just above and behind her knee. She was impaled on the root.
Miraculously, we had cellphone service. We called 911 and explained our situation. Within seconds we were speaking to Forest Ranger Rob, who further assessed our situation and dispatched a medevac helicopter, estimating its arrival in 45 minutes to an hour. We confirmed that we had food, water, first-aid supplies and adequate clothing for safety and comfort. He coached Brenda to lift Joan’s leg off the root and bandage the wound so that Joan could be more comfortable, and to keep her leg raised while we waited. He left us connected to Department of Environmental Conservation Dispatcher Alicia, who remained our contact throughout the rescue.
It wasn’t possible to drop a ranger on the summit of Mount Marshall due to the dense cloud cover. Instead, Forest Ranger Scott was dropped on the Cold Brook Pass trail some distance below us and was hiking up to our location. We settled in for a much longer wait. We were astonished at how quickly Scott reached us; he acknowledged that he ran the whole way.
He worked quickly as more clouds were closing in and the window of opportunity for evacuation was short. He buckled Joan’s helmet, fastened her securely in the harness, helped her off the trail to the pickup point as the helicopter hovered above. She was quickly raised aloft, and the helicopter delivered her to the Adirondack Medical Center emergency room very shortly thereafter. She was treated and released later that evening.
Once Joan was in flight, Scott recommended that he and Brenda should hike to the Lake Colden outpost, spend the night there and hike out in the morning. Scott let the way on the herd path, especially challenging after dark, and they arrived at the outpost at about 10:30 that night. The wood stove was burning, Scott made mac ‘n’ cheese for a late dinner, and a bed was ready for Brenda. Thank you, DEC, for keeping the interior outposts open and staffed.
The next morning, Outpost Caretaker Eric offered bacon-and-egg sandwiches or oatmeal for breakfast. Scott, Assistant Forest Ranger Greg and Brenda hiked out from the outpost, walked to the shore of Lake Colden for a beautiful view of the lake before we departed.
Brenda was limping (only slightly) on a sore knee due to minor skid and fall on the herd path the previous evening. In deference, we paddled the length of spectacular Avalanche Lake and were later met by Forest Ranger Pete in a all-terrain vehicle at Marcy Dam. Rangers Scott and Pete dropped Brenda off at her car in the Adirondak Loj parking lot.
Throughout our rescue we were consistently impressed by the expertise, professionalism and kindness of the individuals who guided us safely through this experience. In addition, the cooperation between agencies and the communication systems in place were impressive. We were in regular communication with the DEC dispatcher and the forest ranger as we waited on the mountain. Once we separated, with Joan going to the hospital and Brenda to the outpost, we were kept informed. Brenda knew that Joan was being treated in the ER and was okay. Our travel companions were notified that Joan was on the way to the ER and met her there. They were notified when Brenda had arrived safely at the Lake Colden outpost. Brenda was notified that Joan was released from the hospital and resting comfortably back at the Porcupine Inn. This Thanksgiving, we were particularly thankful for our rescue team. We believe that most of them live in or around Saranac Lake, and we would like to acknowledge them by name:
By phone: Forest Ranger Rob Praczkajlo, DEC Dispatcher Alicia Bodmer
On the ground: Forest Ranger Scott van Laer, Forest Ranger Pete Evan, Assistant Forest Ranger Greg Bowler, Lake Colden Outpost Caretaker Eric Burns
In the air: State Police helicopter pilot Tim Orapallo, Forest Ranger Rob Praczkajlo (also by phone), Forest Ranger Ben Baldwin
At the hospital: Physician’s Assistant Julie Golden, Registered Nurse Emily Sugarman, certified radiology technician Pete Van Dien.
We commend the village of Saranac Lake and her heroes with heartfelt thanks.
Joan Renaud lives in Merrimack, New Hampshire. Brenda Tirrell lives in Wilmot, New Hampshire.