The special feature “Footprints in the Snow,” a hiker rescue story with a twist, is one of the most-viewed stories ever on unionleader.com.
Now the story’s author and the courageous, compassionate woman he wrote about are coming to Manchester to talk about what happened on a hike on Mount Washington nearly nine years ago — and what life lessons the rest of us can draw from the tale.
“Footprints in the Snow” is the next event in the Union Leader “Headliners” series. Writer Ty Gagne will moderate a discussion featuring Pam Bales, a veteran hiker and back-country patrol volunteer, and Ken Norton, executive director of NAMI NH (the state chapter of the National Alliance on Mental Illness). The event will be in the Spotlight Room at the Palace Theatre on Sept. 11 from 5 to 7 p.m.
Pam Bales left the firm pavement of the Base Road and stepped onto the snow-covered Jewell Trail to begin her mid-October climb.
Gagne’s story about Bales’ efforts to rescue a despondent man she found after following footprints that led off a hiking trail has been viewed more than 440,000 times on unionleader.com since it was published in the New Hampshire Sunday News on Jan. 5.
Gagne said he never expected his story to become a sensation. But, he said, “In our current environment, I think people just gravitate to stories that have a positive outcome and just show the human side.”
It’s not just another hiker rescue story. There’s a mental health component to it that makes what Bales did that day even more compelling.
“I have always called it an emotional rescue,” Gagne said. “It was as much her rescuing him from those spiraling emotions as it was a physical rescue in an alpine environment.”
And that’s what the Sept. 11 event will focus on, he said: “How can we all be rescuers?”
“And also just recognizing when we’re in need of rescue ourselves, and how important it is not to bury those emotions and to seek help from others when we’re going through a period of darkness,” he said.
Gagne’s story will be republished in Reader’s Digest in its December/January edition, which is sure to bring fresh attention to Bales.
Bales grew up in Lincoln and calls herself a “country mouse.” She is 70 now, but she’s still busy volunteering for back-country patrols in places such as the Grand Canyon and Zion National Park; she was doing just that in Prescott, Ariz., when a reporter reached her last week.
Bales said she thinks she understands why “Footprints in the Snow” resonates with so many readers. “I just think people pull for underdogs,” she said. “They just want good things to happen.”
She’s never seen the hiker she rescued again and doesn’t know his real name. But as Gagne’s story relates, the man later sent a letter expressing gratitude for what Bales did that day.
Bales said she wants to believe that he’s doing well. “I just hope in my heart that he is on the right path,” she said.