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Outdoors highlights: Busy year for bears and rangers

January 15, 2013
By MIKE LYNCH - Outdoors Writer ( , Adirondack Daily Enterprise

Some of this past year's outdoors-related stories were hopeful, like an 82-year-old becoming a 46er, and some were tragic, such as a rafting death on the Indian River in September.

One of the first big stories of the year came in late February, when Saratoga Springs snowshoer Steve Mastaitis spent an unplanned night in a hand-dug snow cave on Mount Marcy. The triathlete had become separated from his hiking party shortly after starting down from Marcy's summit. Forest rangers tried to locate him in the dark but were turned back. In the morning, however, they found him and helped him get off the mountain in a state police helicopter. Mastaitis suffered some frostbite and was hospitalized, but was otherwise OK.

Less than a week later, forest rangers were back in the woods again, rescuing three more people in the Eastern High Peaks, two of whom spent a chilly night in the woods. All came out alive.

Article Photos

Jerry Levine, 82, reaches the summit of Whiteface Mountain on Aug. 18 to become the oldest man to hike all 46 Adirondack High Peaks.
(Enterprise file photo — Mike Lynch)

In the summer, bears were pretty active in human-inhabited areas. The population of the animals was growing, and it was a bad year for their natural food due to dry conditions. Most of the bear problems were in the Old Forge area, but they surfaced in other places, too, such as Long Lake. By the end of the year, 13 nuisance bears bears had been killed by the state Department of Environmental Conservation, land owners and farmers.

In October, a hunter legally killed a rather famous High Peaks bear known as Yellow-Yellow. The 20-year-old sow, which had two yellow ear tags given to her by the state biologist, was well known in the High Peaks for her ability to steal hikers' food, which she sometimes obtained by opening bear-resistant food canisters.

In August, Cortlandt Manor resident Jerry Levine became the oldest person to complete the traditional 46 High Peaks, which were original surveyed as the ones taller than 4,000 feet. Levine was joined by family members, friends and Pok-O-MacCready Camps alumni at the top of Whiteface Mountain for the finale.

In late September, an Ohio woman drowned while on a guided rafting trip on the Indian and Hudson rivers near North Creek. The guide who led the trip, Rory Fay, pleaded guilty in November to criminally negligent homicide. Fay was drunk when he and client Tamara Blake, 53, were thrown into the rapids of the Indian River. Her boyfriend was also on the boat.

In October, the Hudson River Rafting Co., which organized the trip, had its guiding license suspended by the DEC for the fatal accident and because of its long history of problems. The owner of the company, Patrick Cunningham, is facing reckless endangerment charges for several other rafting incidents in recent years. In a 2010 incident, his company allegedly sent clients down the river in an inflatable kayak without a guide. In another, he allegedly abandoned a couple on the river, causing them to have to navigate rapids without him.

In October, 72-year-old Stonybrook resident Michael Vaughan tested positive for hantavirus, a disease carried by rodents that causes a severe and often fatal illness that affects the respiratory system and prompts flu-like symptoms. Vaughan, who had a full recovery after spending a few days in a hospital, told reporters that he believes he contracted hantavirus while on a camping trip in the High Peaks. He said he a mouse bit his thumb while he was sleeping in a lean-to. While no one will ever know how he contracted the rare disease, scientists said it is possible that he got it in the lean-to because of the many mice living there. The virus can be carried in mice droppings. While the DEC has taken steps to reduce rodent populations in lean-tos, hikers and campers are still encouraged to use lean-tos because it's very rare to contract hantavirus. Only a handful of fatal cases have ever been recorded in New York state.

In mid-December, forest rangers and volunteers completed perhaps the most difficult rescue of the year when they managed to get a badly injured man off of Nippletop Mountain, in the town of Keene, after he fell partway down a slide while ice climbing. Calum Stewart, 41, of Syracuse, suffered serious injuries and could not walk out of the woods himself. He wound up spending the night on the mountain and then was carried out in a litter the next day. More than 30 people helped in the rescue that took 24 hours to complete.


Contact Mike Lynch at 518-891-2600 ext. 28 or



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