Carter County Rescue Squad brings back stranded hikers

John Thompson • Updated Oct 28, 2019 at 8:13 PM

ELIZABETHTON — The Carter County Rescue Squad brought two injured hikers to safety from the Appalachian Trail on Monday morning. The two were evacuated before noon.

John Burleson, leader of the rescue team, said he got a phone call from 911 at 6 a.m. informing him that there were two injured hikers on the trail at Vandeventer Shelter, which is on Iron Mountain, about five miles north of Watauga Dam.

Burleson said the rescue team has made several rescues from Vandeventer Shelter over the years, and there are several ways to get to the shelter from the Stoney Creek side of the mountain, but none of them are easy.

Burleson chose to set up his command post at Nave Hollow Loop. The elevation at that point is 2,079 feet. From there, the rescuers took an unnamed old logging road, which climbs 1,500 feet up the sides of Iron Mountain to the long ridge on its top.

The Appalachian Trail follows this relatively level ridge line for about 20 miles, a section the hiker community calls the Tennessee Turnpike.

The elevation at Vandeventer Shelter is 3,529 feet, which meant the elevation gain from Nave Hollow Loop to the Appalachian Trail at this point is about 1,500 feet. The rescuers used all-terrain vehicles to get to the injured hikers and bring them back down.

Carter County Rescue Squad Director Terry Arnold said one of the hikers was treated at the scene for an unspecified medical emergency. He was also treated for hypothermia. The hiker was transported to a local hospital by ambulance for further treatment. The hikers’ identities were not released.

Arnold said about 25 to 30 rescues are made each year from the mountainous county, which has more miles of the Appalachian Trail than any other county in the nation.

There is another national trail in the county, the Overmountain Victory National Historic Trail, which intersects the Appalachian Trail. Arnold said the fall is usually a peak time for hiker and hunter rescues for the department.


Two hikers are on their way down from a Carter County mountain ridge after a couple of nights stuck on the Appalachian Trail.

According to county Rescue Squad Director Terry Arnold, one of the hikers had a medical issue while hiking the trail on Iron Mountain.

Rescue Squad members left this morning from Nave Hollow Loop in Stoney Creek to reach them, and brought them down a few hours later.

The hiker who had the medical issue was being treated for hypothermia after spending at least one October night on the ridge.

Arnold said the hikers were from Nashville.

The county Rescue Squad performs 20 to 25 such rescues each year, with their peak frequency in the fall.

Previously reported:

ELIZABETHTON — The rescue team from the Carter County Rescue Squad was activated Monday morning to rescue two injured hikers on the Appalachian Trail. The extent of the injures was not known at the time the operation began at Nave Hollow Loop in Stoney Creek.

John Burleson is leading the rescue team. Rescue Squad Director Terry Arnold is also on the scene. 

The section of the trail where the rescue is taking pace is on the ridgeline of Iron Mountain, which rises to nearly 4,000 feet in elevation, but the trail is mostly level along the ridge.

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