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Rangers set up wilderness base camp to continue Stevens search

September 15, 2017
By PETER CROWLEY - For the News ( , Lake Placid News

A 28-year-old New Jersey man still had not been found as of late Friday afternoon, and forest rangers have set up a backcountry base camp from which to continue the search over the weekend if necessary.

Deep in the High Peaks Wilderness, forest rangers from the state Department of Environmental Conservation are poring over the north side of Wallface Mountain for Alex Stevens, who was last seen near the base of that mountain on Sept. 2.

They set up a base camp at Scott Pond, on Wallface's north side. If Stevens was not found Friday, a team of forest rangers plans to work out of that camp Saturday and, if necessary, Sunday. Without having to be flown in and out of the wilderness area by helicopter, they'll be able to conduct longer search operations, DEC spokesman Dave Winchell said Friday.

Article Photos

Alex Stevens, 28, of Hopewell, New Jersey
(Photo provided by New York State Department of Environmental Conservation)

On Thursday searchers found another sign of Stevens - a personal item near the summit of Wallface Mountain. Winchell said rangers decided not to publicly say what the item is, but it belonged to Stevens.

That's one of a few traces that the Hopewell, New Jersey, resident was on Wallface. On Sunday they found his vehicle at the Upper Works trailhead in the town of Newcomb. On Monday, near Wallface's summit, they found two foam ear plugs, believed to be his, and a strap that matched one on his hammock he bought. Then they found a campsite on Wallface's summit area with tracks and other signs leading from it, which they determined were from Stevens.

Rangers weren't certain what equipment Stevens brought with him but said he seemed to be inadequately prepared for overnights in the High Peaks Wilderness. They said he had his cellphone, a blanket or bed roll, a hammock with a tarp that he could use to stay out of the weather, and some food. The people who talked to him Sept. 2 near Wallface said he was wearing open-toed sandals, shorts, a T-shirt and a light backpack.

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The DEC has said Stevens researched Wallface online before coming here for what was planned to be a three-day stay in the wilderness. Wallface, with its gigantic namesake cliff, is a magnet for traditional mountaineers. While Stevens "dabbled in the climbing world," according to forest ranger Lt. Brian Dubay, "there was no indication he was there to climb."

On Friday, 26 forest rangers looked for Stevens on the north side of Wallface and in the drainage where Indian Pass Brook flows off the north side the mountain, according to Winchell. Six of those rangers were from outside the local DEC Region 5. Two state police K-9 dog units also participated in Friday's search, and a state police helicopter continued to shuttle searchers in and out of the remote area.

Forest vegetation is too dense there for searchers to see much of the ground from a helicopter, according to Winchell.

"The helicopter has been mostly just used for transport of searchers, not for search activity," Winchell said.

Winchell also gave an update on search statistics. Between Monday and Thursday, rangers logged 1,152 hours on the search, and volunteers logged 242.

"During that period, searchers covered 271 total miles while searching an estimated 401 acres of rugged mountain terrain," Winchell wrote in an email. "K9 units searched more than 11 miles in this period."

The number of rangers searching over the weekend from the Scott Pond base camp will be smaller than over the last five days, Winchell said, although he didn't know exactly how many. They will continue to focus on Wallface's north side.

That area is trail-less except for a trail to Scott Pond and a trail through Indian Pass on the south side. There is no proper trail to Wallface's summit.



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