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This section of our web site is dedicated to Seth Lyons who lost his life on Blackhead Mountain on or about March 15, 2010. Seth was a very experienced hiker, who had taken a friend hiking the Blackhead Mountain Range. Two weeks prior the Catskill Mountains had received over 7 feet of snow. Seth and his friend, Alberto Risenberg of Virginia set off on March 13, 2010 for Blackhead, Black Dome and Thomas Cole Mountains. By mid-morning the day a storm intensified and became a blizzard on the top of the mountain. Winds increased to 75-100mph on top of the mountain. Mixed with the hurricane force winds was wet snow. Some tree with diameters of 6-8 inches bowed over to freeze the top of the trees into the ground. Conditions were horrific. Both men make small mistakes and this cost Seth Lyon's his life, while his friend walked away with a very close scrap with death. He will be missed by many in the hiking community.
Here is a brief history of the incident:
This rescue effort involved a large group of people from many agencies, as well as, private individuals. It involved NYS DEC, Greene County Sheriff, NYS Police, SAR from the Adirondacks, SAR from New Jersey. Here is the story:
Two men, Alberto Risenberg, 50, of Virgina, and Seth Lyon, 49, of Poughkeepsie decided to hike Blackhead, Black Dome, and Thomas Cole Mountains. Both men are wise and experienced hikers.
Weather.gov had been forecasting a significant storm for the Catskill Mountains from Friday, March 12, 2010 thru Monday March 15, 2010. They were forecasting up to 5 inches of rain. Towards the end of the week, the forecast changed to a mix of rain, sleet, and snow. It was also fore casted that there would be high winds during this storm. This storm was a Noreaster. It should also be noted that Blackhead Mountain had received up to 7 feet of snow two weeks prior. Trails were difficult to follow due to the snow pack covering signs and trail markers. But, Seth had hiked this route several times before, so this particular situation was not a significant problem.
On Friday, March 12, 2010 both men headed to the Blackhead Parking lot on Big Hollow Road. From there they hiked up to the Batavia Kill Lean-To. Here they setup camp and stayed the night at the lean-to. They used the Lean-to as their base camp.
On Saturday, March 13, 2010 at approximately 7:30 AM the men headed out up the north access of Blackhead Mountain. They left their packs back at the lean-to. But, they did bring a small amount of supplies for the day hike. From the Batavia Kill Lean-to they headed west to Black Dome and Thomas Cole Mountain. During the day the storm came in and heavy snow started to fall, and the winds picked up to hurricane strength. The storm was far more significant then predicted. This reduced the visibility to a very short distance. It is reported that they could only see 15 feet in front of them. With the snow pack so high, and the trail hard to follow, they lost track of the trail. They were slowed down significantly by the wind and snow. They then started back up Blackhead Mountain. Due to a white-out conditions they missed the north access path that would have taken them back to the Batavia Lean-to. They then started to head down the east side of Blackhead Mountain towards Dutchers Notch. The peak of Blackhead Mountain is 3942', and they descended to approximately 3700'. This location was 1/4 to 1/2 mile south of the summit of Blackhead Mountain. By this time they were exhausted, hypothermic, and confused. At approximately 9:30 PM they called 911 and told them that they were in trouble and needed help. Unfortunately, at that time they did not know where they were. Part of this confusion was caused by hypothermia and deep snow pack. This fact would significantly slow down rescue efforts. They tried to tell DEC Forest Rangers where they were, but the DEC could not figure out where they were. That evening they built a snow shelter which was a very wise choice. Both men huddled together in the snow shelter with a blanket they brought with them. The Forest Ranger would return in the morning to start the rescue effort.
A witness who had arrived at the Blackhead Parking lot around 10:30 AM stated that the wind had suddenly picked up from around 30mph to 60mph at the base. They described the howling of the wind has terrifiying and scary. They aborted their hike and returned their car. But, for Seth and Alberto, they had already made it to Black Dome and Thomas Cole Mountains. They couldn't abort the hike.
Alberto was suffering from frostbite and hypothermia. Seth felt guilty for getting his friend into such a difficult situation. So, he decided to break one of the rules of safe hiking, and set out on his own to get help for his good friend. So, at sunrise on Sunday morning, March 14, 2010 Seth Lyon set out on foot to get help for his friend. Due to his frostbite hands and feet, he was unable to put his snowshoes back on. Being hypothermic, this serious clouded his good judgment. He left the snow shelter without his snowshes with a snow pack of 7 feet. Sadly, he didn't get far. Ten DEC forest rangers, Hensonville Fire Department, SAR from New York and New Jersey, State Police, and Sheriff participated in the search. They sweep the trails looking for the men. Very difficult weather conditions seriously hampered the search. Around 8:55 PM rescuers found Alberto Risenberg. Due to the lateness of the day and Alberto's condition, rescuers gave Alberto a change of cloths, and setup a shelter for the night. Alberto legs were too cold to walk, so they setup a tent so that they could get him warmed up.
On Monday Morning, March 15, 2010, rescuers and Alberto Risenberg set out to leave Blackhead Mountain. Alberto Risenberg was able to walk down by himself. He arrived at the trail head that morning. Alberto did not need medical help. Rescuers had a hard time finding Seth. Finally, they used pinging of his cell phone to locate him. When they finally did reach him, had had already died. Later in the afternoon rescuers found Seth Lyon 100' from the original snow shelter. Seth died just south of the summit of Blackhead Mountain, and he died of hypothermia. Rescuers did bring down Seth by snowmobile part of the way, and carried him in the more difficult sections.
According the SAR and the DEC this rescue was exceedingly difficult and prolonged. The conditions were described as horrific.
This Winter hiking guide is dedicated to preventing others from the same fate in the future.