Three hikers rescued from Porcupine Mountains Wildnerness State Park

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The quick thinking and persistence of Michigan Department of Natural Resources staff workers at Porcupine Mountains Wilderness State Park were central to efforts this week to aid three hikers lost in Michigan’s largest state park. 

“This rescue is another excellent example of the dedication and professionalism of our employees,” said DNR Parks and Recreation Chief Ron Olson. “Our staff conducted the search in challenging conditions, working into the early morning hours in sometimes heavy rainfall. Because of these efforts, these hikers were able to return home safely.” 

Bob Wild, an interpreter at the park, said the incident was reported at about 3:30 p.m. Wednesday. One person who had not gone on the intended day hike with the group reported the trio as overdue in its return.

Park staff assembled a crew to begin the search for the hiking party, which included a couple from the northern Lower Peninsula in their 40s and the woman’s teenage daughter.

The hikers had planned to head from Lake of the Clouds down the Big Carp River Trail, but missed a turn and headed farther east, rather than looping back to their starting point.

Two teams of park staff initially began checking the trails, heading down both ends of the trail loop. “We knew where they had gone in and we knew where they were supposed to come out,” Wild said.

Other staff made phone calls, gathered supplies and checked trailheads. An incident commander stayed at Lake of the Clouds. Park Supervisor Dave Merk worked from his home as a communications link between the park and emergency dispatch operators. The searchers looked for a couple of hours without finding anyone. 

Meanwhile, the hikers had been trying to use their cell phone to call for help, but were unable to get reception. They sought higher ground for a better signal, a smart move, Wild said. Last winter, a group of snowmobilers lost in a storm at the park was able to get a text message out to searchers, which led to their rescue. 

“Around 8 p.m., the lost party was able to make a cell call to 911 and we were then able to pinpoint their location at Government Peak, about 6 miles from the nearest trailhead,” Wild said. The 1,850-foot peak is located roughly in the center of the 59,020-acre park, which encompasses parts of Ontonagon and Gogebic counties. Merk credited Marquette County Central Dispatch with greatly aiding the search effort by determining the location the hikers had called from.

“It made all the difference in the world knowing where they were because we probably would not have checked that location until the next day,” Merk said. “Once we had that, all we needed to do was to go and get them.”

The hikers were told to remain where they were, while searchers began heading to the location. “They had been out for over 10 hours at that point, with no food, no water, battling the insects, it was getting dark and it was pouring rain,” said Wild. “Yet they did as instructed and that made our job finding them much easier. That’s a good lesson for all of us.”

Searchers reached the hikers at about 9:30 p.m. They were taken to one of the park’s rustic cabins at Mirror Lake where park staff had a fire waiting, along with some much-needed food and water. By about 1:30 a.m. Thursday, searchers had gotten the hiking party out of the woods. Park staff had returned to headquarters by 3:30 a.m. 

Merk acknowledged the additional park staff involved, including Ellis Fryer, Travis Ceballos, Paul Squires, Kurt Thomas, Alex Taeger, Tyler Behrendt and Morgan Travis. “They all went above and beyond to ensure a positive outcome,” Merk said. 

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