By Liz Klimas
GATLINBURG, Tenn. (TheBlaze/AP) — Although most of the country is focusing its eye on the effects of Hurricane Sandy as seen in New York and New Jersey, several feet of snow were dropped in West Virginia and Tennessee causing their own problems as well.
For one man especially trying to hike the entire 2,180 miles of the Appalachian Trail, the unexpected snow resulting from Sandy left him stranded for three days before he was rescued.
Steven Ainsworth, a 56-year-old from Washington, N.C., was rescued via helicopter Friday after calling 911 to say he didn’t think he’d be able to make it out of a section in Tennessee because he was blocked by snowdrifts up to 5 feet high
Great Smoky Mountains National Park spokeswoman Molly Schroer said Ainsworth started his trip in June, heading south from Maine, determined to hike the trail end-to-end in a single season. The trek is known as a thru-hike. The trail ends in north Georgia, so Ainsworth was nearing the finish.
Some higher elevations of East Tennessee started getting snow from Superstorm Sandy on Monday, and by Thursday, the 6,600-foot Mount LeConte on the Tennessee side of the mountain range had received 32 inches of snow.
Ainsworth told ABC News over the weekend that it had taken him eight hours to hike 1.25 miles in the snow. Ainsworth then took shelter when he felt he couldn’t go any furhter. Schroer said Ainsworth was somewhere on the trail between Pecks Corner and Tricorner Knob shelters when he used his cellphone to call 911 on Thursday afternoon.
But rescue wasn’t that easy either due to weather conditions. The park sent two rangers on foot to try to reach him Thursday. But after a nine-hour hike in steep terrain, high winds and 4- to 5-foot drifts, they had to temporarily take shelter in a cabin to rest.
On Friday morning, Ainsworth again called authorities to say he made it through the night by hunkering down, but park officials did not know if he had any kind of shelter. He told park authorities that he may not be able to walk out.
Tennessee Highway Patrol troopers in a helicopter found him by tracing his footprints in the snow from a shelter he had stayed in overnight and used a hoist to lower a trooper down to recover the hiker in chest-high snow.
In the ABC News clip, video footage shows a rescuer being lowered down to Ainsworth. The hiker was reported at the time to have stuck his head out of his tent to say he had never been so happy to see anyone in his whole life. Ainsworth, wearing only socks at this point was lifted up onto the helicopter.
In this local news report, you can see even after his feet were nearly frozen, Ainsworth walks off the helicopter:
It is not reported that Ainsworth had any serious medical issues after the ordeal.
In the ABC News clip, Ainsworth remembers his rescuers asking if he’d brought along his credit card. He had. To this they responded that he was taking them to a steak dinner. Ainsworth, grateful, agreed.