La Salle hikers lose way on Kentucky trail

La Salle University hikers and their rescuers gathered near a bus that took them to a Kentucky hospital early Friday. PAUL WHITAKER / Letcher County (Ky.) Community News-Press
La Salle University hikers and their rescuers gathered near a bus that took them to a Kentucky hospital early Friday. PAUL WHITAKER / Letcher County (Ky.) Community News-Press
Posted: March 09, 2013

After helping to build and rehabilitate homes in Kentucky during spring break, 37 La Salle University students began a traditional hike up Pine Mountain to a place called High Rock about 1 p.m. Thursday.

What should have been a fun excursion turned into a frightening ordeal when they got lost as darkness fell. The students and three university staffers endured subfreezing temperatures until they were rescued by authorities early Friday.

The hikers were taken to a local hospital to be treated for hypothermia and dehydration, and one was kept for observation, said La Salle spokesman Jon Caroulis.

Sgt. Randy Surber and another trooper from the Kentucky State Police got a call about 6:30 p.m. Thursday about hikers missing on Pine Mountain, near Harlan, where the students were on an annual trip to work with a group called Christian Outreach With Appalachian People.

Surber said the hikers took a trail that splits into a loop reaching High Rock, a sandstone cliff with spectacular views of the mountains and valleys of southeastern Kentucky.

The hikers got stuck on the loop and could not find the return trail just as it got dark, Surber said. At that elevation, there was about three inches of snow on the ground.

They called 911 and were told to stay put and build fires while search-and-rescue teams set out to find them, said Gary Rogers, director of Letcher County Fire and Rescue Ambulance Service.

"That mountain is very rough terrain," Rogers said.

Surber and Trooper Michael Burton followed tracks in the snow for 5.6 miles until they found the hikers about 11 p.m. huddled around three small fires.

Tony Fugate of the Mayking Volunteer Fire Department led 37 members of the group down the mountain.

A 23-year-old woman who could barely walk and had a preexisting condition needed help, Surber said.

Fugate's son Andrew, an emergency medical technician with the fire department, made a stretcher using a wool blanket and two sticks to carry the woman down the mountain.

Two remaining members of the original hiking party accompanied the woman, Surber said. It was nearly 5 a.m. by the time all of the hikers were back down from the mountain.

Caroulis, who thanked the rescuers, said La Salle had hired a bus to return the group to Philadelphia on Saturday.


Contact Robert Moran at 215-854-5983 or bmoran@phillynews.com, or follow @RobertMoran215 on Twitter.

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