A pair of cross-country skiers were lost for several hours on Saturday within the confines of Hammond Hill State Forest in Dryden.
As it grew darker, got colder, and the skiers’ situation became more dangerous — 70 volunteers and dozens of local agencies were looking for them. It took nine hours.
One of the skiers and a rescuer both pointed to two things that could have helped the situation: better signage on the trails and better preparedness for weather conditions.
The Dryden Fire Department coordinated the search effort, according to the Ithaca Voice. Agencies from Tompkins and Tioga counties searched the trails and roads in the forest on ATVs, snowmobiles and tracked vehicles, and through pitch darkness and rain at the end.
The 3,618-acre state forest is a popular spot for hiking, cross-country skiing, bicycling, and a number of other outdoor activities with about 16 miles of trails. It spans parts of Dryden, Caroline, and Richford.
How it all unfolded
Three women set out to cross-country ski around 11:30 a.m. on the trails at the forest. At some point during the day — the trio got separated — and one of them was able to call for help.
The Tompkins County Dispatch Center was notified of the separation around 5:37 p.m., and state police were quickly dispatched. The Dryden Fire Department was requested around 6:42 p.m.
One of the women who was lost Saturday, Monica Franciscus, said they were not prepared to be out there for so long. Franciscus told the Ithaca Voice that she was wearing a vest and didn’t have a hat. They also didn’t bring their cell phones, any food, or a source of light. Franciscus also said the snow was over a foot deep. The two friends stayed together and tried to build a shelter under a pine tree, but heavy snow kept falling on them, Franciscus said. She said their voices were also hoarse from calling for help.
The Dryden Fire Department set up a command center and resource staging area at the Dryden Fire Station while the women were in the forest. First responders searched ski trails, seasonal roads, and other surrounding areas.
Around 12:18 a.m. on Sunday the two missing skiers were located. “They were wet, tired, and mildly hypothermic,” the Dryden Fire Department said in the news release.
Bill Ackroyd, public information officer for the Dryden Fire Department, said both of the women were “very, very lucky.”
Both the skiers and emergency responders said one thing that did not help the situation was poor signage in the forest. It’s what led to the women getting lost and also made it more difficult for searchers to navigate, according to reporting by the Ithaca Voice.
Franciscus told them that in the six hours of daylight they did ski in, they never came across a map or a sign. She said they had no idea where they were in relation to anything. That paired with having no reliable cell service in the forest made the search more difficult. He also said when they were out searching and shut off the snowmobiles, the dark was “ink black.”
According to the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation, Hammond Hill State Forest is managed by DEC’s Division of Lands and Forests and DEC is responsible for signage, a spokesperson told the Voice.
Maintaining the trail system is a cooperative effort between the DEC, Cayuga Nordic Ski Club, Cayuga Nature Center, Friends of Hammond Hill and the Town of Dryden.