Last week, Park Ranger Bruce White and Chief Ranger Ben Woodard spent twelve hours and all night helping a hiker down the Abol Slide and back to his vehicle. The hiker eventually, with assistance from Rangers White and Woodard, hiked out on his own power, but very, very slowly as the previous days hike up the Hunt Trail to Baxter Peak was well outside the limits of his strength and capability. In and of itself, this type of assisted walk down is not uncommon for Park staff - particularly Rangers working at Katahdin-access trailheads of Katahdin Stream, Abol, Roaring Brook and Chimney Pond Campgrounds. What is troubling and all too familiar about this incident is that the individual would not have needed assistance if it were not for the influence of a "Helpful Hiker". Ranger White submitted a report of the incident and his words tell the story. The names have been changed to protect the privacy of the hikers involved.
"Abol Trail 8/14/201257 yr. old man suffering from fatigue / exhaustion
At 6:00 p.m. Ms.Helper ran into the Abol Office and reported that her husband, Hiker Helper was helping Hiker K. down the slide. Hiker K. was having a lot of trouble and she was requesting help. She said that Hiker K. had medical issues requiring a brace on his foot. She said he was extremely tired and was shaking with every step. I contacted Chief Ranger Woodard and started up the trail. When I got to the pair they were about ½ way up the slide. Both had lights but were out of water. Hiker K. was alert and oriented, sweating, respiration 14 and pulse 70 had no medical problems but had had back surgery several years ago and a foot condition as a result. He was suffering from fatigue, dehydration and was exhausted. He was given Gatorade, water and a snack. Hiker Helper introduced himself said “I hate to be an #@$@#$, but I need to leave” and he did. Hiker K. had two poles for support and after talking over options we started down. Ranger Woodard was at Abol and around midnight I asked for more water to be brought up. Woodard responded. Hiker K. was very discouraged but with a lot of encouragement he continued down. When Woodard arrived Hiker K. took more Gatorade. Each shot gave him another boost. Eventually Hiker K. needed constant support to move and encouragement. We made it out at 6:30 a.m.. I went to Katahdin Stream to pick up Hiker K.'s car and 51 took him to the Big Moose Inn where he and his wife had a cabin.
As Paul Harvey would of said “Now for the rest of the story”. Hiker K’s dream was to do the AT and he had done 250 miles of the trail but his back operation had put an end to that. So he trained the last several month to do the end of the trail Mt. Katahdin. He got a parking pass for Katahdin Stream and studied the trails. Hunt Trail / AT up and down. All info said don’t go down the Abol. So up he went, slow going but he reached the iron bars. Thinking this is too much he decided to turn around. Then he met Hiker Helper and Ms. Helper. Hiker Helper told him he could do it, he himself had climbed Katahdin over 20 times. They helped Hiker K. up over the bars and then climbed and waited for Hiker K. to catch up, as soon as he did they would climb again. The pace was to much for Hiker K. but he kept going with their encouragement. When they reached the gateway they took off but waited for Hiker K. at the peak. When he arrived, he was told it was getting late and they all had to leave. Couple pictures and down they went again with not much of a break for Hiker K. At the Abol Junction Hiker K. was told Abol was the best choice and with all of Hiker Helpers’s experience out went everything Hiker K. had read because there is no substitute for experience. Hiker K. said he now knows that most of his decisions from the bar on were bad. Even though the Hiker Helpers meant no harm, they did Hiker K. no favors by helping him continue up Katahdin, way past his physical abilities. When it got to be more then they could handle, down the mountain to turn it over to the rangers. Unfortunately this happens alot on the mountain, making the hike into a disastrous trail paved with the best intentions."
We continuously try and educate hikers so the decisions that only they can make on the trail end up being the appropriate decisions for their safety and the protection of Park resources on that particular day. We do not want to discourage people from helping each other, but we do hope that all hikers, including those many of you who are always ready to lend a helping hand, will remember that the final destination for every day hike is is not to reach Baxter Peak or the Knife Edge, but is to safely reach your car or campsite at the end of the day. If your strength isn't up to a full round trip to the top of Katahdin, then you will need to turn back and try again another day. Only you can make that decision. Don't let others make if for you. I guarantee, Katahdin will be there when you are ready to try again.
The Park affiliates with HikeSafe. It is a simple code that says it all. I've posted the link to HikeSafe on our website below. It's great when all of us recognize our shared bond with the mountains and the fun and food for the soul found in hiking them. We should always help each other, but our best help is when we help with a listening ear to the limits of others.