As a life hung in the balance, South Egremont teen went out on a limb to help
GREAT BARRINGTON — Henry Grant was hiking on Monument Mountain with his mother last weekend when he heard someone falling off a cliff.
First, there was a scuffing sound, like someone tripping on a sidewalk, Grant said, followed by a series of horrible thuds.
"Her husband was calling her name, and there was no response," Grant told The Eagle. "You just heard nothing. Then her rolling, then nothing again, then a hit."
He wasn't sure whether the woman could have survived the fall from the east-facing drop off the boulder field on Squaw Peak.
As Grant, 18, and his mother headed down off the peak, Grant saw other hikers also searching the area around where the woman might have fallen, and went to join them. He told his mother he would meet her later, at the bottom of the mountain.
"My young dumb brain was like, 'I can do it,' " he said.
He climbed around on his own, then spotted the woman pinned on a ledge about 25 feet above him, with her legs curled under her in a kneeling position. He said that every time she tried to move, she would slip a little more. He called 911 and reported his location.
The woman, Paula Reiss, 59, had survived what firefighters estimate was a 75-foot fall Aug. 10, suffering a broken leg and a concussion. As of Monday, the New Brunswick, N.J., resident was listed in fair condition at Albany Medical Center in New York, where she was flown after a complicated rescue by town firefighters and other responders who had to rappel down the steep cliff.
While awaiting rescuers, Grant, of South Egremont, decided that he needed to try to get closer to help Reiss.
"She just kept trying to move," he said.
"I saw a tight, narrow path with some trees spread out. I thought I could make it on all fours and get up there. I climbed up about halfway holding on to the rocks."
Grant kept digging in the dirt with his hands and feet for traction and got to where Reiss was pinned.
When he reached Reiss, he said, she was moaning in pain and wasn't able to talk well. Her head was bleeding and she said her legs hurt. She had scrapes on both arms and legs.
A man visiting from Boston joined Grant and brought water, and the two continued to talk to Reiss and comfort her until rescuers got there. The man's fiance had stayed on the peak to show rescuers where Reiss had fallen.
About 45 minutes later, rescuers and paramedics rappelled down and began to secure Reiss so she could be lowered to a place that was less steep.
As she was being treated by medics, Grant said, it was clear that she was in terrible pain.
After Reiss was lifted to safety, Grant and the other hiker had to wait to be hauled back up the peak in a harness — rescuers said it was too dangerous to try to climb back down the way they had come. The whole ordeal lasted about four hours.
Town Fire Chief Charles Burger said it isn't uncommon for people to get injured on the mountain while trying to help others.
"We've had other people get injured up there trying to find people and dogs who've gone over the cliff in what is a treacherous area," he said.
"Sometimes they can dramatically complicate things and injure themselves. They have to make sure they don't become victims rather than helpers."
But Burger said that good Samaritans often are the "true first responders."
"There's always somebody there prior to us who can make a situation much better or much worse, depending on what they do," he said.
At the bottom of the mountain, Grant's mother, Margaret Cherin, was waiting with Reiss' husband, who knew she was in touch with Grant.
"I suddenly realized that my son was stuck up on the mountain," said Cherin, of South Egremont. She and Grant have hiked Monument every year since he was 3, she said. Usually, they take a photo of themselves at the top. But not that day.
Cherin and Reiss' husband talked about how much his wife loved to hike and how often she did.
"She just slipped on a rock," Cherin said the man told her.
It was an emotional day, she said. "The worst part was hearing the husband call her name and not hearing a response."
For Grant, the worst part was not knowing what condition Reiss would be in if he did locate her. He said there was a dangerous-looking pine tree with sharp branches that she easily could have landed on.
"Seeing her alive was the most incredible thing," said Grant, who is leaving Tuesday for his first year at Ithaca College, where he'll major in business. "Falling that distance and getting pinned in that position — she just happened to land in the softest area."
Heather Bellow can be reached at email@example.com or on Twitter @BE_hbellow and 413-329-6871.
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