A Costly But Safe Rescue of Two Hikers at Baxter State Park

Rescue helicopter at Maine's Baxter State Park. ~ Photo from Baxter State Park's Facebook Page

Rescue helicopter at Maine's Baxter State Park. ~ Photo from Baxter State Park's Facebook Page

As of today, December 18, 2014, winter is officially three days away. We've had a gloriously warm and hikeable autumn in Georgia. Elsewhere? Cabin fever is in full swing. Outdoorspeople want to go for a walk in the woods or up a mountain, even if it kills them.

That's the problem for the rangers at Baxter State Park in Maine, home of Mount Katahdin, the northern end of the Appalachian Trail.

According to the Baxter State Park Facebook page, two less-than-brilliant adventurers entered the park and camped for a few nights, without registering with the park, according to the rules.

Here's the Deal

After entering the Park without registering and camping for several nights at Roaring Brook and Chimney Pond without reservations, a group of two men from Ontario, Canada separated -- with one man returning to a vehicle at Togue Pond and the other man heading up on Katahdin on Monday, December 8. The hiker had only a tent, light boots and minimal gear.
Rangers became aware of the situation late in the day on Monday and started fires and lit propane lights in Katahdin-access roadside camps in case the hiker found his way out Monday night.
On Tuesday, Rangers began actively searching for the hiker. The National Guard responded to our request with a Blackhawk helicopter equipped with Forward Looking Infrared sensors. The helicopter could only fly for 2 hours due to the worsening weather in front of a significant rain and snow storm forecast for Tuesday afternoon and evening.
Later on Tuesday morning, Rangers located the hiker who had left the Helon Taylor trail, traveled down the slope and through the forest to eventually reach the Roaring Brook Road after falling through ice and spending an uncomfortable night in the woods.

Nobody died. That's good news. Until the bill arrives.

Baxter State Park Rule 2.2 states: "The Baxter State Park Authority may request reimbursement of search and rescue costs in cases of reckless hikers."

How much did this foolish jaunt cost the park and/or the hikers? "Over $10,000." That includes costs for the rangers and a couple of hours flying time for a "Blackhawk helicopter equipped with Forward Looking Infrared sensors." (Not available in any store.) The park will send a bill to the rescued individual requesting reimbursement of costs.

Two Common Responses

Common Response #1

  • Next time, let them freeze to death! If they're so stupid to go out in the (hello?) wilderness without proper gear, why should WE waste our time and helicopters saving morons? What if EVERYBODY did this? Could we save 500 people a day? No!! So, save the gene pool and let the [insert expletive of choice here] die. We can recover their bodies in the spring.

Common Response #2

  • Poor little bunny rabbits! Out in the cold all night! That must have been awful. How were they to know they had to register to go into OUR wilderness to be one with nature near OUR Mt. Katahdin? Do we really have to pay a tax to The Man to go outside? Rangers are PAID to serve people in the park! What was that helicopter doing that was otherwise so important? Look at all the practice they got in search and rescue! They should be ashamed of themselves for making this horrible ordeal even worse for our neighbors to the north -- who never do anything to hurt anybody. (Except for those &%*# cold waves they blast at us, maybe. But that's not the fault of these two Victims of Nature.)

The folks at Baxter said it well, "Events can conspire at times to mess up even the most prepared and thoughtful hikers, but reckless and illegal actions needlessly endanger hikers and rescuers alike."

This is America. (Or Canada, eh?) You have the right to walk into certain death in a frozen wilderness, if you choose. (OK, maybe not in Canada.) The cost for 1st Degree Stupid can go way beyond $10 grand. It might cost a life or three.

If you don't care about your own life, please care about the people who are compelled to go out after you and drag your crazy butt back to safety. Please.

We join the park rangers in this sentiment:

We thank the huge majority of our visitors who treat the wilderness with respect and incorporate planning and safe decision making into their wilderness journey.

Tags: Appalachian Trail, Hiking, News, Accidents, Rescues, and Robert Sutherland Travel Writer

About the Author Robert Sutherland:
Robert Sutherland is a travel writer enjoying life. Robert has two adult daughters and six grandchildren.
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Mainah on Dec 18, 2014
Best guess is they were from Massachusetts.
becca on Dec 18, 2014
from ontario canada
Frank Perreault on Dec 18, 2014
Just as an FYI, New Hampshire has the same rule in effect. If due to stupidity the state has to come to rescue you, they will send you a bill.
anon on Dec 19, 2014
A for profit rescue system? People are ignorant and get their selves into trouble. We do good deeds such as rescue the people because we have the means and a system in place to do so that is funded by the citizens of the state (the tax payers).

If the new standard is to fund them twice. Once through our taxes and again when they actually have to use the system, they might as well just disband and allow private contractors to do the rescue work. At least those who use it are the only ones paying for it.