How an 18-Year-Old Helped Save a Hiker Who Fell 75 Feet Off a Mountain Cliff
An 18-year-old went on a hike with his mom—and returned home a hero. Here's how his quick actions saved a hiker in need.
As mountains go, 1,642-foot Squaw Peak isn’t particularly imposing. But its inviting views of western Massachusetts have tricked hikers into becoming complacent amid its steep, slippery cliffs, resulting in countless injuries and even deaths.
Henry Grant, a week shy of starting his freshman year at Ithaca College, respected Squaw Peak’s record. As such, he stayed a good ten feet from the edge while waiting for his mother to catch up to him one day in August 2019. He watched 15 or so other hikers enjoy the vista; one hiker, around 60 and dressed in pink, was peeking over the lip of the precipice with her husband.
When Grant’s mother rejoined him, the two turned to continue on their way. Suddenly, he heard a “tumbling, a thump, and another thump,” he told the Cornell Daily Sun. Then he heard something chilling: “Paula! Paula!” a man yelled frantically. Grant wheeled around. The woman in pink was nowhere to be seen. She’d fallen off the side of the mountain.
Several hikers immediately started looking for her, but their view was obstructed by trees. Grant told his mother, “I hate to say this, but they’re probably going to find a body.”
Uncertain they could help, Grant and his mother headed down the trail. But when he saw hikers still searching, he decided to lend a hand. “My young dumb brain was like, ‘I can do it,’ ” he says. After assuring his mother that he would be safe, he trekked off the trail alone, hoping he wasn’t too late.
After 15 minutes of scrambling over boulders, pushing past prickly brush, and slipping down patches of loose dirt, Grant spotted a figure about 25 feet above him. She was dressed in pink and crumpled in a kneeling position on a small rocky outcropping. The woman had fallen about 75 feet. Miraculously, she was alive.
“Paula!” Grant shouted. “Paula. Is that you?”
The woman barely responded. She was clearly hurt and delirious. Grant called 911 to report her location. He waited where he was for a bit, but she kept trying to move, and every time she moved, she slipped a little more. Afraid that in her muddled state of mind she might tumble off the outcropping to her death, Grant crawled on all fours up a tight, narrow path, gaining traction by digging into the dirt with his fingers and feet until he reached Paula.
She was moaning and barely making sense. Her head, arms, and legs were bleeding. Though he didn’t know it then, she had suffered a compound leg fracture, ten broken ribs, a broken clavicle, and a serious concussion.
Securing himself against a tree, Grant gently put her hand in his and tried to keep her mind off the pain by peppering her with questions: “Where are you from? What do you do for a living? Do you have kids?” Soon, they were joined on their perch by another hiker named Simon.
About 45 minutes later, first responders arrived on the summit. To reach them, a rescuer rappelled down and secured Paula to a stretcher. Rescuers at the summit lifted the stretcher to the top and then carried her to a waiting ATV. Eventually, Paula and her husband would be flown by helicopter to a hospital.
Meanwhile, Grant and Simon were now the ones in a tricky spot. The rescuers attached harnesses and pulleys to help them climb the 75 feet to the trail above. Five hours after the woman in pink had fallen, Grant was back on top of Squaw Peak.
Paula, who has fully recovered, is Paula Kaplan-Reiss, a New Jersey psychologist who had traveled to the Berkshire mountains of Massachusetts for some R and R following her mother’s death. Instead, she met a young man who, as she stated in a letter to the Boston Globe, was her new hero.
“At 18,” she wrote, “Henry has already participated in building the rest of my life.”
Next, learn about how a new wife had to single-handedly rescue her injured husband when their honeymoon hike took a dangerous turn.