Now that an Ohio hiker has been successfully rescued, it’s a good opportunity to thank the people who put together the largest search operation that Mt. Katahdin has seen in 40 years. It’s also a good opportunity to consider the errors that led Michael Hays to spend three days in the woods in the first place.

Hays was found by a ranger in a helicopter about half a mile from the Helon Taylor trail and two miles from the nearest road Sunday morning. He was hobbled with a crushed kneecap, and covered with insect bites, but otherwise not much worse off than could be expected after two nights on the mountain. While it could have been much worse, it also could have been a lot better.

Had Hays stayed on the trail, he would have been found within six hours by the park employees who went up after he failed to sign out at the trailhead register.

Another hiker reported seeing him on the Knife Edge, a rocky bridge between two Katahdin peaks, where he said he was feeling tired and cramping up, and was looking for an easier way down the mountain. If Hays did end up looking for a shortcut, he’s lucky that he wasn’t hurt more seriously.

Although searchers said that Hays was well-equipped and did not appear to be hungry or thirsty when he was rescued, he apparently did make the mistake of trying to use a cell phone to call for help. While cell phones are useful tools in other more developed areas, they are not much help deep in the Maine woods. And they are no substitute for a hiking companion when there is a mishap on the trail.

The response to Hays’ disappearance was extensive and successful. But Hays’s ordeal should be a reminder to everyone who tackles Maine’s wild places this summer — stay on the trail.


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