Henry F.F. Grant has hiked to the rocky, 1,642-foot summit of Squaw Peak, just miles from his Great Barrington, Massachusetts, home dozens of times since he was 3.
But the 19-year-old Carnegie hero had never made the climb for the reason he did Dec. 13, when he received the Carnegie Medal at the summit after reuniting with the woman he helped rescue to earn the medal, Paula Kaplan-Reiss, 61, of East Brunswick, New Jersey.
“She was really impacted by the whole event, and I wanted to make (the mountaintop medal presentation) happen and celebrate that she’s still here,” Grant said. “I didn’t — until I saw them — realize how deeply it impacted her family and friends.”
Kaplan-Reiss was joined by her husband, Rick Reiss, and two of their three sons, Ethan and Elijah, and others when Grant was presented with the Carnegie Medal by Hero Fund President Eric Zahren. They and others, including Grant, his mother Margaret Cherin and Grant’s stepfather, Gregory Cherin, made the 1.5-mile hike together to the rocky summit of Monument Mountain for the presentation.
Kaplan-Reiss, a psychologist, and her 63-year-old husband were visiting southern Massachusetts and hiking the peak Aug. 10, 2019, when she fell from the summit. Barely a week after her mother’s death, Kaplan-Reiss was taking solace in the sunny hike and had just posed so Rick could take a cellphone photo of her, before he turned his back to begin their trip down the mountain.
Kaplan-Reiss, apparently, took one wayward step on the narrow trail covered in pine needles at the top of the peak and fell 30 feet straight down over a densely wooded ledge, before she tumbled at least 30 feet farther down a steep slope. There she came to rest, on a 5-foot-wide ledge, about 30 feet above a boulder field below. Kaplan-Reiss suffered a concussion, 10 broken ribs, a broken right clavicle, and a compound fracture of her lower left leg. She remembers none of it, which was part of the reason she was eager to return to the summit with Grant.
Squaw peak medal presentation
“I’m incredibly grateful to be up here alive and kicking,” she said.
“I am well aware of how I so easily could have died, and going up there again made me that much more aware,” Kaplan-Reiss told Impulse after the medal presentation. “How many people get to come back from that kind of death-defying experience — and thank the person that was there?”
Not only does Kaplan-Reiss not remember her fall, her husband didn’t see it, either. Nor did Grant, who was elsewhere on the peak with his mother.
The brush was so thick that Grant couldn’t see where Kaplan-Reiss had landed, and the drop — straight down — was so steep he didn’t dare try to follow her path. After briefly peering for clues about her whereabouts, Grant and his mother, Margaret Cherin, thought it best to leave the fallen woman’s fate to the expert first responders who were being summoned almost immediately by hikers calling 911.
As they hiked back down the mountain, Grant came to a point on the trail where he thought he might be able to cut through some woods to a point directly below where he suspected Kaplan-Reiss had fallen. Trudging a few hundred feet through the brush, Grant heard Reiss still calling for his wife about 70 feet directly above him.
Using a crevice to take some of the steepness out of the climb — Grant estimates he shimmied his way up a sheer granite wall — he was about 18 feet above ground when he saw Kaplan-Reiss about 12 feet above him. She was teetering on a ledge and somewhat dazed with her legs curled beneath her, in danger of falling onto the boulders below her and Grant.
Calling 911, Grant was able to direct rescue crews to her precise location then he resumed climbing – without equipment, straight up — while waiting for them to arrive. Grant would climb to a spot just beneath Kaplan-Reiss where he grasped her hand and attempted to steady and comfort the semi-conscious woman. Another hiker, whose identity remains a mystery, climbed up behind Grant by following his directions, and took Grant’s place while he climbed up behind her and further steadied Kaplan-Reiss.
Hours later — and only after crews used ropes to lift a medic to Kaplan-Reiss, whose vital signs were crashing — rescuers used ropes and a metal basket to bring Kaplan-Reiss to safety. Grant and the other hiker were also hauled to the summit by the rescuers.
Kaplan-Reiss wanted to hike the peak, again, this time with Grant to honor him and because she’s grateful she can. But she also believes, based on conversations and text messages they’ve had since, that the mountaintop medal presentation also helped Grant — a quiet, unassuming college student — understand the enormity of his deed.
“He’s young, so I don’t think he ‘got’ it. He was just doing what came so naturally for him and now he realizes he enabled me to live the rest of my life. I think it’s finally kicking in,” Kaplan-Reiss said. “It was truly one of the peak experiences of my life.”
— Joe Mandak, Case Investigator