Mid-winter conditions with heavy snows and strong, gusting winds, and a few missteps, forced two Virginia men to hunker down in the backcountry of Glacier National Park and wait out the storm with hopes rangers would find them.
Neal Peckens and Jasen Hister, both 32, only planned to spend a couple nights in the backcountry, but wound up spending an additional five due to the early season storm that pushed them off course.
According to a recounting of the incident by park officials, the men intended 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.
However, their hike soon was enveloped by wintry conditions, including snow on the trail, winds gusting to 70 mph, and temperatures in the low 30s as they hiked along a ridge along the Continental Divide, the park explained. As they hiked, one of the men slipped and fell roughly 100 feet down the mountainside.
"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," Glacier spokeswoman Denise Germann wrote in a release. "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."
While they tried to backtrack on Thursday, the weather conditions and steep mountainous terrain convinced them to hunker down and wait for a break in the weather, she added.
"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," the spokeswoman said. "They rationed their food, collected firewood 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 warm at night, and created an SOS message with logs. "
On Monday, October 15, two searchers spotted the colored flagging and found the two men in their tent. Both were cold and wet, but in "fairly good condition with no injuries," she said.
“We are extremely pleased with the outcome of this incident, and perhaps we all can learn from this experience and these two men," said Glacier National Park Chief Ranger Mark Foust. “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.”
The chief ranger said the poor weather conditions were a hardship not only for the two men, but also for the searchers, who were hampered by low visibility, mud, snow, and gusting wind conditions.