Peterborough siblings rescue hikers in White Mountains

  • Peterborough natives Schuyler, Sydney, and Caleb Michalak were hiking the Presidential Traverse in the White Mountains when they helped three distressed hikers off Mount Jackson on June 10, 2020. Courtesy image—

  • Peterborough natives (from left) Schuyler, Sydney, and Caleb Michalak were hiking the Presidential Traverse in the White Mountains when they helped three distressed hikers off Mount Jackson on June 10. Courtesy

Monadnock Ledger-Transcript
Published: 6/17/2020 1:13:40 PM

The Michalak siblings had already been hiking for ten hours on the Presidential Traverse in the White Mountains last Wednesday when they realized something was terribly wrong. The Peterborough natives had just started their final descent when they ran into three hikers off the trail.

“One of the hikers was having some kind of seizure,” Schuyler Michalak said. “Her eyes were rolled back,” she said, and wasn’t responding to any form of communication. Another, a teenage boy, appeared extremely dehydrated and wasn’t making coherent sentences. The third member of the party was on the phone with 911. The NH Fish and Game commission identified the caller as Brendan Leddy, 18, from Michigan, and the victims as an 18-year-old woman  from Michigan and a 16-year-old boy from Massachusetts in a press release.

The Michalak siblings, Schuyler, 19, Sydney, 24, and Caleb, 22, sprang into action. “It was getting pretty cold out,” Schuyler said, estimating they found the hikers around 7:30 p.m. just below the summit of Mount Jackson and more than two miles from the road. Their mother, Doreen, works for New England K-9 Search and Rescue, Schuyler said, and Caleb got her on the phone as Schuyler and Sydney tried to put a coat on the woman, wrapped the boy in a bivy sack, and gave them the last of their extra food and water.

Leddy’s party had left from the AMC Highland Center without any provisions or equipment besides their phones and half a bottle of sports drink, according to the Fish and Game commission. They were wearing jeans and cotton shirts, Schuyler said, and had last eaten at nine that morning. Leddy was the only one with any previous hiking experience.

“We probably spent like an hour and a half at that location to make sure they were OK and to get them responsive again,” Schuyler said. Meanwhile, Emergency Medical Services were telling Leddy that it might take three or four hours to get a rescue squad up to them and they’d have to foot the bill, she said. “There was a point when I’m like, oh my God, how can we get these people down from here. We can’t just leave them up here,” she said, knowing that EMS might not come in time to save them. The Michalaks wondered how they could carry the two victims down the mountain, Schuyler said. “I was really scared that especially the girl was just not going to be OK.”

As night fell, the two victims’ conditions appeared to improve and the parties decided to try hiking back down the rocky trail to the road, Schuyler said. The Michalaks distributed their headlamps and hiked with Leddy’s group until they were met by two Fish and Game officers about 15 minutes from the trailhead with more fluids, food, and extra layers around 10 p.m. “They were safe, and we drove home, it was crazy!” Schuyler said.

“My mom has always taught us from a very young age that the most important thing is to be prepared,” Schuyler said, to be able to spend the night outside with extra layers, water, food, and a flashlight. “I’ve always done it and rolled my eyes and been like “Ugh, this is so stupid,”” she said. “It was very eye-opening for me to be like, wow, there’s actually a reason my mom’s been pushing this on me,” she said. “It was crazy being out there, and we had everything.”

Neither Schuyler nor her siblings have had any wilderness medial training, but they all had a general sense of what to do, she said. The three of them have been hiking for their whole lives, sometimes on extended overnights, Schuyler said, and the trio had attempted the Presidential Traverse in honor of her birthday. They had encountered snow on the trail earlier in the day, she said, and had already taken a little longer than they expected after a turn around. “I definitely learned that being prepared… it can save lives, basically,” she said. “Always bring… extra stuff even if you don’t think you need it.”

The Fish and Game commission reported that Leddy’s party declined further medical treatment and conservation officers returned them to their vehicle. All three conceded they had overestimated their abilities and underestimated the trail difficulty, according to a press release. “With all of the circumstances, poor planning and decisions made by Leddy and his group it is Fish and Games intention to bill the group for the cost of the rescue,” the statement read.

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