RILEY TOWNSHIP – Just as Maine Warden Sgt. Rick Mills was calling off Friday’s second-day search for two lost hikers due to heavy rain and fog at 12:30 p.m., state police dispatchers honed in on a 911 cell phone call, pinpointing the young men’s location.

“They’re alive and well,” a relieved Mills said in the Appalachian Trail parking lot of Grafton Notch State Park on Route 26 in Grafton Township, shortly after a dispatcher radioed coordinates to him for the two inexperienced day-hikers, Ryan Weeks and Michael Hawkins.

Both 21 and of Augusta, Weeks and Hawkins had stumbled onto the gravel end of a gated driveway off Sunday River Road about 5:15 a.m. Friday. After breaking into a remote camp in this western Oxford County township, which is south of Grafton Township, they scavenged Ramen noodles and old cereal, started a fire to dry out, then called for help a second time in two days.

“When we went in that camp, it was like Christmas, the most joyous experience. I was praying to God to keep us safe and get us down,” Weeks said after being found.

Both uninjured, Weeks was wearing a garbage-bag poncho over a long-sleeved shirt, denim pants and tattered black sneakers. Trying to dry his clothes out, he’d burned the lower left leg off his pants and duct-taped them back together. Hawkins was wearing hiking boots, his feet wrapped in plastic Hannaford grocery bags to keep them dry.

“There’s a lot of comedy in this drama,” Weeks said.

Had their second call with a dying phone battery not reached authorities, they were going to try to walk out in the rain.

Dressed inappropriately for the rugged terrain and deteriorating weather conditions, they had been lost since about 4 p.m. Thursday after hiking south at 10:45 a.m. on the Appalachian Trail up Old Speck mountain, elevation 4,180 feet. The AT crosses Route 26 in Grafton Township.

“These guys are the classic example of what not to wear,” Mills said, estimating they’d hiked about 10 miles overall.

He had feared the worst – as did Weeks and Hawkins – and was going to call for a massive air search today.

“I had horrors of them being out there another night. We figure 48 hours and they would have gone the other way (into mental despair),” Mills said.

Not realizing that rescuers had searched through the night on trails in the rugged terrain, Hawkins said they decided to try another 911 call Friday.

“I’m sorry we had to put you through that,” Weeks told Mills, while four other wardens made their way out of the backcountry miles away.

“I can’t imagine getting called out to search for a couple of ignorant hikers. I’m sorry to put them through that, because of our stupid mistakes. It was just dumb luck finding the road that led to the camp,” he said.

Still, Mills said they did the right thing, following a brook off the mountain and holing up in a camp, staying put and calling for help again.

Until that second call, no one knew where they were.

Searchers hiked every trail in the area because Hawkins told state police Thursday they were at the base of two mountains on a blue-blazed side trail.

Not a walk in the park

Mills believes they descended the new, not-yet-opened Grafton Loop Trail, lost their way, and headed down either Sargent or Miles Notch brook drainages on either Sunday River White Cap, Stowe or Sargent mountains.

“It’s not a walk in the park, it’s very rough walking,” Mills said.

In the rain at night, it’s even worse.

Hawkins said they wandered back and forth after losing the trail.

“We did so much second guessing, we lost any sense of where we should go,” Weeks said.

“I made the first call on the blue trail, then we started going back up the mountain, but it seemed too difficult to get through in the dark to get close to Speck,” Hawkins said.

They tried signaling with flashlights to passing planes high overhead, and again toward search lights they’d seen going back and forth atop Old Speck.

Those lights were from a search team that climbed the mountain then descended Grafton Loop Trail to Slide Mountain without realizing Hawkins and Weeks had taken that route.

At first, Hawkins said they tried going to sleep huddled together against some trees, but, at 10:30 p.m., rain began to fall heavily and they got soaked.

“We found we were getting too cold, so we had to keep moving,” he added.

“It was getting real bad,” Weeks said.

Trying to conserve water, both experienced painful cramps in their legs, and took wild chances jumping from rock to rock when crossing streams as bank slopes became very steep.

“I got poked in the eye by sticks about a thousand times,” Weeks said.

After a second failed attempt to sleep, they followed a brook, trying to reach a lower elevation. Their only food, sandwiches and granola bars, they’d eaten earlier.

Neither was anxious to go hiking again any time soon. It was their second trip in two years up Old Speck; the first time they didn’t make it to the summit because they got lost but found their way out.

“We’re not coming back,” Weeks vowed.



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