Blizzard of 1993 produced rescue of young park hiker

Dec. 19, 2012 @ 11:14 PM


I served six years as a Great Smoky Mountains Ridgerunner. It was my duty to traverse the Appalachian Trail from Fontana Dam to Davenport Gap, a distance of 69 miles.

Do you remember the blizzard of ’93? Overnight, everything was blanketed with ice and snow.

Shortly after the blizzard hit the park service put me in a Jeep and we headed for Newfound Gap (elevation 5,409 feet). I was to hike south along the A.T. to Fontana Dam, a distance of about 30 miles. The first day I slowly and miserably fought my way through snow any bitterly cold weather to Mt. Collins shelter (elevation 5,870 feet).

I had to guess at where the trail was and hope that I was on the right path. Snow was everywhere. In places there were drifts up to five feet deep.

The next day I headed on up towards Clingmans Dome. As I crested I heard something behind me. I turned to see a young hiker approaching up the trail. It amazed me that anyone would be out in this weather. They boy was cold. He was shivering. He was inadequately dressed for these frigid conditions. I talked with him and sensed that he was on the verge of hypothermia.

I called communications at Park Headquarters and informed them of the situation. I told Como that I would get the hiker to Double Springs Gap shelter about 3 miles down the A.T. I would try to warm him up and tomorrow, I would walk him down the Goshen Prong trail to Elkmont.

We made it to the shelter. I started a fire and gave the young man warm food and hot liquids. The next day we headed down the Goshen Prong trail toward Elkmont, a distance of 11.7 miles. This route has four hazardous creek crossings, but it is the shortest and most direct route off this ridge.

We made it safely across the first three creeks. The last water crossing would be Little River, a wide, cold and very swift stream. On the way down Como called and asked if we were going to cross Little River. They said to stay on the other side and they would pitch us a tent. I told them we were going to cross Little River, and get to Elkmont as soon as possible.

When we arrived at the river, there was a park ranger on the other side waiting for us in a park service pickup truck. He had driven the truck 4 miles up the the Little River trail through the winter wonderland, and was there if we needed him.

We made it across the cold, turbulent stream. The ranger took us to Gatlinburg, where we left the boy.  I never knew the ranger’s name or the boy’s name, but I like to think that everything turned out fine.

Morgan Briggs

Pigeon Forge