RANGELEY – In a heavy downpour, with lightning, heavy winds and under a tornado watch, it took more than a dozen emergency crew members five hours to negotiate the mud-slicked trail and cross two raging rivers and successfully rescue 15 stranded Appalachian Trail hikers Thursday.
NorthStar Backcountry Medical Response team, with several members of Rangeley Fire and Rescue Department, two game wardens and a member of the high-angle rescue team, responded to a 2:30 p.m. call for help when a member of a group hiking had become dehydrated.
The hikers were forced to stop at the height of the storm about 3/4 of a mile in from the parking area on Route 4, just south of Rangeley near South Bog Pond.
After several inches of rain fell in the last week, the trails were extremely muddy and slick, said Harold Schaetzle, the base supervisor at the NorthStar Emergency Medical Services in Rangeley. The rivers were running hard too.
“The two brooks we had to cross to get to them were waist deep and raging,” Schaetzle said. “It was a tough trail.” A resident who lives nearby lent his ATV for the rescue.
Once reaching the hikers, the rescuers realized the trail they had just taken was too treacherous and was no longer an option for going back. Two game wardens knew of an alternative route – a tote road back to Route 4 and Rangeley. It did mean a longer hike back, but Schaetzle said it was worth it.
The ailing hiker was put in a basket carrier and was driven out on the ATV. Everyone else marched through the heavy downpour of the thunderstorm to where rescue vehicles could get them back to town.
“We saw all kinds of weather,” he said. “The sheer volume of rain over the last week made the trails very difficult. The group of hikers were three days into a 10-day hike and their equipment and clothing were completely soaked. They stayed overnight at the Rangeley Fire Station, which served as a shelter, and spent Friday going back and picking up equipment for drying.