By MIKE LYNCH
The cause of death for the missing Great Range hiker is accidental drowning, Essex County Coroner Frank Whitelaw said this afternoon.
Ralph “Skip” Baker was found Tuesday by searchers in the East Branch of the Ausable River near the base of the Wolfjaw Mountains in the Great Range near Keene Valley. He had gone missing after hiking High Peaks in the Great Range on Sunday.
An autopsy was performed this afternoon. Whitelaw said that a preliminary state police investigation showed that Baker slid down a 350-foot embankment to the river. But results from the autopsy performed Tuesday afternoon didn’t show any signs of significant trauma that would be consistent with sliding down a hill. It appears that Baker went down to the river under his own power and may have suffered a medical incident that caused him to fall in the water and drown.
“We did identify some medical issues during the autopsy and those could have been the cause of his disorientation and not feeling well,” Whitelaw said. “And that could have precipitated him ending up in the water. He could have staggered into or stumbled into the water while walking by the river.”
Witnesses also said a witness reported to investigators that “sometime during the hike, (Baker) was disoriented and actually one time had to lay down along the trail to rest,” Whitelaw said.
Whitelaw said Baker’s backpack and hiking poles were found alongside the river and appeared to have been placed there.
Baker, 50, of Webster, had been the subject of a large-scale search that started Monday and continued until he was found Tuesday at about 11 a.m. The search for Baker started Monday morning after he was reported missing to a state Department of Environmental Conservation dispatcher at 6:12 a.m. Baker was reported missing when he didn’t return from a dayhike in the Great Range near Keene Valley Sunday.
After Baker was reported missing Monday, two forest rangers immediately responded to the Adirondack Mountain Reserve, the entry point the hiker reportedly took to climb the mountain, according to DEC spokesman David Winchell.
After the initial assessment by DEC two more forest rangers, an assistant forest ranger, and staff from AMR joined the search. A fourth forest ranger was on board a state police helicopter.
No sign of the hiker was found during the first day of searching. On Tuesday, the search included 17 forest rangers, an assistant forest ranger, and a state police helicopter.
The Great Range includes several High Peaks and can be accessed from several trailheads, including one through the AMR property, which is home to the Ausable Club.