Lost hikers at Linville Falls

The church group and the emergency responders pose after a successful extraction from the Linville Falls trails.

LINVILLE FALLS — Linville Central Rescue Squad joined the region’s Mountain Rescue Team and the Burke County Emergency Management to evacuate a 23-person church group that became lost on Saturday, Oct. 23, at Linville Falls.

According to Kyle Kitchin with Linville Rescue, the group had become separated and two members were able to hike out and call for help. Burke County EMS responded around 7:30 p.m. and the Linville Rescue Squad and Mountain Rescue Team 1, which serves northwestern North Carolina, were called in around 10:30 p.m.

None of the hikers were injured, but Kitchin reported they were cold and hungry by the late evening when help arrived. All the hikers were able to hike out, which was a “very good outcome” Kitchin said.

Linville Central Rescue Squad, Kitchin said, is like a base agency and has volunteers from departments around the High Country including Watauga County Rescue Squad, Banner Elk Fire Department, Crossnore Fire Department and Linville Fire Department. To rescue the church group, members of the Banner Elk and Linville fire departments were present as well as members of the parks service.

“It’s been a busy season in general,” Kitchin said.

With record numbers of visitors to the High Country and to Grandfather Mountain specifically, he said that Linville Rescue has broken records for the number of calls it has responded to this season.

Kitchin said that preparedness before hiking is key. In the case of the church group which had gotten turned around at the bottom of the Linville Gorge Kitchin said nice daytime temperatures dropped to the 40s and 30s during the evening, and the group was not equipped with jackets.

Responders reached the group by the river and immediately set up a fire, warmed the hikers and gave them some food. Kitchin stated that when the body gets cold, it begins to take glucose from the brain to keep the body warm. In turn, decision-making tends to worsen when hikers get cold and it is best to feed them before making the ascent out of the forest.

Throughout the season, Kitchin said that Linville Rescue has sometimes stationed volunteers at the bottom of the Profile Trail to advise hikers to bring adequate water, correct shoes and rain gear or jackets they may need to stay safe on the trail.

“If you ever get to a point where you feel like you’ve gone far enough, then you need to turn around and not push yourself,” Kitchin said.

Kitchin said many visitors are not used to the ruggedness of the mountain trails in the High Country, overestimating their hiking abilities or underestimating the terrain. Some in higher elevation areas, like Mount Mitchell, can even suffer from mild mountain sickness.

A silver lining of these extractions, according to Kitchin, is that other hikers are always prepared to help. Sometimes, and in cases when there are large groups of people in need of aid, Kitchin said the rescue squad will ask other hikers if they can lend a hand.

“We’ve found many of our volunteers that way,” he said.

Linville Central Rescue Squad and its volunteers are gearing up for the winter season. Kitchin said that the team has personnel with ice, snow and alpine rescue training and have all the gear necessary to extract those in need of help from any situation.

“Volunteering is something we love to do. The last thing we want is for anybody to come here to our home, and get hurt or lost, and have a real dire mishap,” Kitchin said.

Marisa Mecke is a Report for America corps member for Mountain Times Publications. Report for America is a national nonprofit service program which places journalists in local newsrooms to report on undercovered issues.

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