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Missing hiker safe, reunited with family

7:33 PM, Mar 21, 2011   |    comments
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  • Chad Hunter

Monday afternoon a University of Tennessee student who was missing several days in the Great Smoky Mountains was hoisted to safety.

A Tennessee Highway Patrol helicopter assisted rescue crews by lifting 23 year-old Chad Hunter from the Tricorner Knob Shelter on Monday morning.  Hunter was then flown to the Gatlinburg-Pigeon Forge airport in Sevierville.  His parents, who live in Memphis, were there to meet him.  Hunter was then taken to LeConte Medical Center for a physical exam.

Hunter was supposed to complete a four-day hike last Thursday.  His family reported Hunter missing on Friday.  Hunter eventually made contact with other hikers on Sunday night at a shelter in the backcountry.

"We think Monday of last week probably went according to plan, although it was a rainy," said Bob Miller, spokesperson for the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.  "Tuesday he [Hunter} had a really brutal day planned that involved some of the steepest most dense terrain in the park."

Great Smoky Mountains National Park officials said Hunter was treated for dehydration by a rescue team that met him late Sunday night.  Hunter has not received a complete medical exam, but GSMNP officials said it does not appear that the hiker has any major injuries beyond some bumps, bruises, and scrapes.

"We don't think he had much to eat or drink. He was going to be really weak and dehydrated, so for us to get him out of the backcountry by air instead of having to hike out will save a lot of aggravation," said Miller.

After he was treated and rested, Hunter was able to tell rangers what had happened.

He saidhe had spent Monday night at Campsite 32 as scheduled and set out on Tuesday, when he hiked into Greenbrier up the Ramsey Cascades Road to the Ramsay Cascades Trail all
the way to its end at the falls. He climbed past the falls and hiked cross-country along Ramsay Prong for about half a mile but found the going very steep, rocky, and blocked by obstructions, so he decided to make his way up towards the ridgeline instead.

By Tuesday night he realized that he was off course and he camped that night with his sleeping bag and other gear.

Wednesday he made extremely slow progress due to dense rhododendron and estimated that it had taken him 6-7 hours to cover just over ½ mile.

At that point he decided to abandon his pack because it was continually snagging on the heavy brush, slowing his progress. He hoped that without his pack he could make faster time and reach his goal of Tricorner Shelter more easily.

Wednesday evening he reached a relatively flat and somewhat
open area where he stayed from Wednesday night until Sunday
morning.  During this time he had only the clothes he was wearing plus a fanny pack with a little food, and a headlamp but had no sleeping bag or other overnight gear. He said that he melted snow for water until Sunday when it had melted, but had no other food after his small supply ran out.

Sunday morning he set out first light and, considered going back
down, but chose to continue up to the Appalachian Trail.  He apparently did end up on Mt. Guyot Spur and followed it to where it crosses the AT which he followed south to the Shelter.

"We always want to learn as much as possible from these events.  It can help us potentially predict how people behave in these situations and could help us find missing hikers in the future," said Miller.

Great Smoky Mountains National Park Chief Ranger Clay Jordan said, "We are extremely pleased with the outcome of this search in that the subject was found and suffered only minor injuries, and that no searchers were injured in the effort.  At the same time, we always advise hikers to stay on our established trails, to file a backcountry permit with the Park, and to leave their itinerary with a responsible friend or family member who
can contact the Park in the event that they do not come out as planned."

Previous Story, Sunday, March 30, 8:00 p.m.: 

A spokesperson with the Great Smoky Mountains National Park says contact appears to have been made with an overdue hiker.

In a statement, Bob Miller said a broken cell phone message had been received from Chad Hunter, a 23 year old student at the University of Tennessee, saying he had arrived at Tricorner Knob Shelter.

Miller said more details are expected to be released Monday morning.

Hunter was scheduled to emerge from the park Thursday morning, following a 43 mile backpacking trip along the Appalachian Trail.

Previous Story, Sunday, March 20:

Search crews are scouring the Great Smoky Mountains National Park for a University of Tennessee student who is overdue.

Chad Hunter, 23, was scheduled to return from a backpacking trip on Thursday, March 17th. Hunter entered the park's back-country on Monday, March 14th. He planned a 43 mile trip through the Appalachian Trail, and was scheduled to hike down Rainbow Falls Trail to his car on Thursday.

Hunter is 5' 11", 170 lbs. He has medium-long sandy blond hair and wears glasses.

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