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Glacier National Park rangers say hikers were well-prepared

One of two hikers fell 100 feet down a steep area of trail on ridge along Continental Divide

October 16, 2012

Rangers at Glacier National Park said Tuesday that the two hikers with ties to Western Maryland, including former Boonsboro resident Neal Peckens, were well-prepared for their unexpected situation in the Montana wilderness.

Peckens, 32, who now lives in Herndon, Va., and Jason Hiser, 32, of Richmond, Va., were found safe Monday — although very cold and wet — after spending almost a week in the park’s rugged backcountry, park rangers said.

“We are extremely pleased with the outcome of this incident, and perhaps we all can learn from this experience and these two men,” Glacier National Park Chief Ranger Mark Foust said in a news release posted on the park’s website. “These hikers were prepared with appropriate equipment and they used their situational skills to determine how to respond to the unexpected in the backcountry.”

According to park rangers, Peckens and Hiser were planning to hike from the North Shore Trailhead in the Two Medicine region of the park and camp overnight Tuesday, Oct. 9 before continuing their 17-mike trek on Wednesday, Oct. 10.

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But along their hike, the harsh wintry conditions and gusty winds, which are common in the mountainous park, caused one of the hikers to slip and fall approximately 100 feet down a steep area of trail on a ridge along the Continental Divide, rangers said.

The hikers tried to parallel each other — one walking the trail above and one below — for a distance until they determined it would be best to stick together, so they tried to backtrack and find another route to get back on course, rangers said.

Peckens and Hiser had a quality map of the area, but it was blown away by a strong wind gust, rangers said.

After setting up camp and spending Wednesday night near Nyack Lakes, rangers said Peckens and Hiser started to hike back up the mountain Thursday to try to get back on track.

The unrelenting weather conditions and rugged terrain posed serious challenges for the hikers, who decided to sit tight near the Nyack Drainage part of the park at approximately 6,000 feet above sea level for the next four nights and wait for help to arrive, rangers said.

They rationed their food, collected fire wood and materials to create a smoky fire to try to alert search crews, rangers said.

On Monday at approximately 3 p.m. Mountain Standard Time, two Glacier National Park employees who were searching for the men on foot spotted colored flagging that led them to a tent, where they found Peckens and Hiser, rangers said.

“Weather conditions certainly played a role in this incident, both for the hikers and for the search personnel,” Foust said.

Peckens and Hiser returned home Tuesday afternoon, landing at Richmond International Airport where they were greeted by numerous family members, according to a report posted by Richmond television station WTVR.

Family members have said both men are experienced hikers, visiting several western national parks for hiking trips in the past. Both practicing veterinarians in Virginia, they met during medical school in Blacksburg, Va. Hiser is originally from La Vale, Md.

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