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Search team rescues Appalachian Trail hiker

J. Arcenda Gaines’ through hike on the Appalachian Trail was thwarted on Wednesday morning with the onset of severe cold and snowy conditions in Unicoi County.
Jimmy Erwin, an officer in charge of rescue with the Unicoi County Sheriff’s Department, said 59-year-old Gaines, who is a Virginia Beach native, was attempting to hike the more than 2,000 miles from Georgia to Maine when the weather became unfavorable.
“She was a through hiker and started down in Georgia, I believe, and she came off the trail at Uncle Johnny’s Hostel to spend the night,” Erwin said.
“She got back on the trail Tuesday morning and was hiking to try to make it to Cherry Gap shelter, which is a place where hikers go to camp and get out of the wind and weather.”
On Unaka Mountain late Tuesday afternoon, Gaines began to encounter freezing temperatures and chilling rain, Erwin said.
“As it got dark, the rain had turned to snow and it started getting pretty deep,” Erwin said.
“She couldn’t continue. Her legs started to get weak.”
Erwin said Gaines had nearly made it to the shelter, but stopped about a mile before reaching it.
“She covered up, put a tarp over her and kind of rested there,” Erwin said.
“At 4:30 a.m. when she normally got up to start her daily hike, she was unable to move. Her legs were still numb and sore. She couldn’t get any feeling in them to get up and start walking.”
Erwin said Gaines called her mother-in-law to tell her she was stranded on Wednesday.
“She called her mother-in-law to tell her what her condition was,” Erwin said.
“At that point she thought she was probably going to die right there because she knew the weather was so bad around her outside that no one could get to her.
“She told her mother-in-law where she was trying to get to and that’s when the mother-in-law was able to get our number at the sheriff’s department.”
Erwin said a rescue team, which included Unicoi County residents Bart Ray and Jerry Byrd, was assembled after they made contact with Gaines to confirm she was in distress.

For the remainder of this article please see the March 12, 2013 edition of The Erwin Record.