New Jersey hiker narrowly avoids disaster in winter AT hike

Adequate preparation averted disaster for a New Jersey woman hiking a section of the Appalachian Trail that passed through the Garden State in December 2013.

Worthington State Park officials received a call at around 5:30 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 28, 2013, from a distressed hiker, who said that she was lost somewhere along a section of Appalachian Trail that passes through the park.

The 39-year-old woman of Warren County, New Jersey, had spent the day hiking the Appalachian Trail and exploring many trails and sights off trail, the New Jersey Star-Ledger reported.

News reports never name the lost hiker.

Worthington State Park covers an area of approximately 6,660 acres and is located east of Stroudsurg, Pennsylvania.

The hiker’s cell phone battery ran out of juice and park officials were not able to maintain contact with her. But they were able to get an approximate location from her, the Star-Ledger reported.

The New Jersey State Police dispatched a helicopter to search for her while a team was on standby should it locate her via thermal technology. But police were not able to locate her, leaving the hiker to brave a cold winter night alone in the woods. The Star-Ledger reported that temperatures that night hovered around 30 degrees, just below freezing.

Around 8:30 a.m. the next morning searchers found the lost hiker, not in Worthington State Park but further north in the Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area, after more than 12 hours alone in temperatures hovering around freezing, the Star-Ledger reported.

Michelle Schonzeit, a park ranger and search and rescue coordinator for Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area, said that the hiker was not in the need of medical attention, which Schonzeit attributed to the hiker’s preparation in packing clothing and gear needed to stay safe and warm in the woods in winter.

This hiker’s ordeal was resolved swiftly in no small part to adequate preparation and a bit of luck. The area in which the hiker was visiting was not so remote as to be a dead zone, so she was able to make use of the life-saving cell phone, without which she would have had no way of contacting park officials who could initiate a search. Along many other stretches of trail, especially in the Maine North Woods, reception can be spotty at best and nonexistent at worse. In this case, a hiker is saved by virtue of keeping and sharing an itinerary with others who can call in a missing person report should the hiker not arrive at a predetermined location or call at a set time.

Packing the appropriate gear was also a lifesaver. The hiker packed plenty of warm clothes, food and fire-starting gear so that she would not succumb to the cold.

Bringing the right gear and letting people know your itinerary can be the difference between an enjoyable weekend or long-distance hiker and not making it out of the woods at all and becoming one of the lost and not found.

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