BAXTER STATE PARK, Maine — Any rescue on Mount Katahdin is risky, and Monday’s rescue of an Old Town hiker who had slipped and injured his knee near the top of the mountain was no different for the Maine Forest Service pilots who responded to the call for help.
The call came at noon from the Baxter State Park Authority, which said it had received word that Chip Loring, 61, had slipped and injured his knee near the junction of the Saddle and Baxter Peak Cut-Off trails near Baxter Peak.
Loring was taken down the mountain peak to a waiting forestry helicopter at about 3 p.m. and was airlifted to Millinocket Regional Airport. A waiting ambulance took Loring to Millinocket Regional Hospital, where he was being treated for his injury late Monday afternoon.
Loring had been hiking with two others when he injured himself during his descent on the Saddle Trail after reaching Baxter Peak by way of the Abol Trail, according to Baxter State Park Director Jensen Bissell.
Portions of the steep trails had been closed to hiking for the past three days because of ice and snow accumulation. Baxter staff had been advising all hikers of the cold, slippery and windy conditions on park trails above the tree line, Bissell said. Loring was above 4,500 feet in elevation and almost five miles by steep trail from the most reachable road, he said.
Bissell said a two-person assessment team from Chimney Pond Campground consisting of Baxter Park Alpine Steward Erica Kaufman of Dover-Foxcroft and a volunteer from Wilderness Search and Rescue went to the scene. It was after their assessment that park rangers sought assistance from the Maine Forest Service.
Maine Forest Service pilot Chris Blackey, who was assisted by Chief Pilot John Crowley, landed the helicopter in the Tableland, a flat section just below the peak, Crowley said late Monday.
“You have to find a flat spot — find a spot where you’re not going to stick your tail rotor into the bushes or land on a rock,” he explained.
The assessment team had been worried that Loring would have to spend the night there because it had been cloudy on the mountain peak just a few hours before the helicopter’s arrival, Crowley said.
“Normally it’s awful landing up there,” Crowley said. “It turned out the winds were blowing pretty hard but there wasn’t a lot of turbulence and we were able to get in a little easier than we normally do.”
Bissell complimented the Maine Forest Service and park staff for their effective and efficient action. He said he was thankful that the weather and aircraft availability allowed for a quick rescue.
“A stretch of rainy and windy weather would have been a different story, and given Mr. Loring’s location we might have been two to three days organizing the large crew and transporting him down the steep and rocky trail to an ambulance at a roadside location,” Bissell said.
Crowley said pilots never know what they are going to find for weather on Mount Katahdin because of its high altitude. While the main focus of Maine Forest Service pilots is to fight forest fires, Crowley said they average two to four calls a year to the park for rescues. He said the department works closely with the Maine Warden Service and the Baxter State Park Authority on rescues.
What added to the success of Monday’s rescue was that park officials were very organized; They had all the right people in the right places and the communication was excellent, Crowley noted.
“Anytime you’re flying in the mountains, it’s risky,” Crowley said. “We always go in hoping that we’re going to be able to pull someone off [the mountain] but we don’t always know that we’re going to be able to do that. You don’t know until you get there and sometimes you make several attempts and you can’t pull it off and other days, like today, it was very smooth.”
Information on how to prepare for a Katahdin hike may be found at the park’s website: baxterstateparkauthority.com .