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Hiker clung to small tree in freezing temperatures after falling hundreds of feet at night

By Brammhi Balarajan and Sara Smart, CNN

(CNN) — A single tree can take much of the credit for a woman surviving in frigid nighttime temperatures after falling hundreds of feet down a mountain in New York State.

The 46-year-old woman fell down through steep snowfall on December 26 while hiking the Adirondack Mountains in northern New York, according to the state Department of Environmental Conservation’s forest rangers.

“She quite honestly thought she was going to die up there,” Forest Ranger J.M. Martin said in a video shared in a news release. Martin said the temperature was in the low 30s and it was raining and snowing on and off, which he said rangers call “hypothermia weather.”

When the woman fell down the steep, snowy slope while hiking on South Dix mountain, she landed on a rock slab. She wasn’t able to hike back up to the trail. To keep from slipping off the rock slab, she clung to a small spruce tree, which prevented her from going over a cliff, according to the rangers.

The rangers were contacted about the hiker in need of rescue around 5:30 p.m. The rangers instructed the hiker to call 911 so they could locate her exact coordinates.

But the rangers knew it would be a while before they’d be able to reach her, and the hiker needed to figure out how to stay warm for the night.

Martin said the hiker was “petrified to move in any direction” and used all her energy to hold onto the tree. She had an emergency blanket that she used to stay as warm as she could. After being told to do her best to move around, she wiggled back and forth throughout the night.

Forest rangers finally reached the woman around 1:30 a.m. and gave her warm liquids, food, and dry clothing, according to the rangers. They guided her back to the trail and made it to her vehicle around 6:30 a.m.

According to Martin, the woman is an experienced hiker who has hiked mountains in the Adirondacks many times, completing the challenge of scaling all of the 46 Adirondack High Peaks twice.

“She came to the realization that night that she had been lucky those other times,” Martin said. “It’s no joke out there – it’ll kill you.”

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