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Contact: Denise Germann, 406 888 5838
Missing hikers Neal Peckens and Jason Hiser spent an additional five nights in the backcountry of Glacier National Park than they anticipated. The successful rescue of the hikers is credited to dedicated search and rescue personnel and Peckens and Hiser's preparation and sense of situational awareness.
Glacier National Park Chief Ranger Mark Foust said, "We are extremely pleased with the outcome of this incident, and perhaps we all can learn from this experience and these two men."
Foust said, "These hikers were prepared with appropriate equipment and they used their situational awareness skills to determine how to respond to the unexpected in the backcountry." A standard recommendation for anyone that may be lost is to "STOP" and that is exactly what they did; Stop, Think, Observe and Plan.
Glacier National Park is identified as one of the most beautiful places on earth, and can also be one of the most unforgiving places. Changing weather, steep/difficult terrain, and wildlife all contribute to the unique environment of the park. Without planning and awareness of an individual's surroundings, accidents can happen. Visitors are strongly encouraged to plan for and enjoy all that Glacier National Park has to offer. This includes learning about the area you plan to visit, especially when traveling in the backcountry, and having the items you may need if the situation changes.
"We are fortunate to have some very experienced and talented staff at Glacier National Park, as well as with our cooperators," said Foust. Much appreciation goes to Flathead County Sheriff's Office, Flathead County Search and Rescue, North Valley Search and Rescue, Flathead Emergency Aviation Resources, US Border Patrol and the pilots at Minuteman Aviation for their assistance.
According to park rangers, Peckens and Hiser were planning to hike from the North Shore Trailhead at Two Medicine and camp at the Oldman Backcountry Campground on Tuesday, October 9. After spending the night in a backcountry campground as planned, they continued on their 17-mile hike on the east side of the park. They encountered winter conditions, including snow on the trail and very high gusts of winds as they hiked a section of trail on a ridge along the Continental Divide.
One of the hikers slipped and fell approximately 100 feet down a steep area. The hikers tried to parallel their hike for a bit, one above and one below. They determined the best approach would be for both hikers to be together, to go down the mountain and perhaps try another route back up.
They had a quality map of the area and when looking at it, extreme wind gusts blew it out of their hands. They continued down the mountain side and spent Wednesday evening in the Nyack Lakes area. They set up camp, including a fire.
On Thursday they started to hike back up the mountain by another route hoping to get back in the direction that they began. Weather conditions and mountainous terrain were challenging. They put considerable thought into what their best options would be. They decided to travel back down the wet and slippery terrain and wait for a break in the weather. The break in the weather did not come and they camped in this spot, near the headwaters of the Nyack Drainage at approximately 6,000 feet for the next four nights. They rationed their food, collected fire wood and materials to create a fire and smoke, turned their cell phones on during the day, displayed their space blanket for possible reflection during the day and used it to stay warn at night, and created a SOS message with logs.
On Monday, October 15, approximately 3 p.m. (MST) two Glacier National Park employees were searching on foot when one of the searchers saw colored flagging that led him to a tent, and the missing hikers. Peckens and Hiser were cold and wet, but in fairly good condition with no injuries.
Foust said, "Weather conditions certainly played a role in this incident, both for the hikers and for the search personnel." The hikers were challenged to travel, stay warm and dry, and to maintain a fire. The search operation was hampered by low visibility and cloud cover, mud, snow and very windy conditions. Many of the searchers were still in the backcountry today and had to hike out in miserable conditions; rain, sleet, hail, snow and wind.
Peckens and Hiser communicated their appreciation to the searchers and were ready to travel home with family and friends.