Extreme skier's handgun found, returned to him
CONWAY — Extreme skier Patrick Luk's luck still holds.
Just days after tumbling hundreds of feet down Great Gully on Mount Adams and crawling seven hours through snow to safety, the 22-year-old Weare man learned a Maine man had found one of his missing skis — and his pistol.
Scott Berk, 47, said he had read about Luk's April 7 mishap in Great Gully. An extreme skier, ice climber and hiker who is familiar with most of Mount Adams, Berk, owner of the Nomad Café in Norway, Maine, said he and a friend decided to hike up Great Gully.
"It was sort of a trip that we've been planning all winter long," said Berk, who met Luk on Wednesday at the Saco River Ranger Station on the Kancamagus Highway.
Berk and his friend took the trip on April 11. About 200 yards into the gully, Berk said he observed a black-colored object sticking out of the snow and thought that it might be something that Luk had lost. Upon closer examination, Berk realized the object was a semi-automatic pistol; he said he secured it. A short while later, he also found Luk's right ski.
Luk had lost both skis when an ice slab broke and he fell to the gully floor, a distance he estimated was up to 1,000 feet.
Back home in Maine, Berk contacted New Hampshire State Police — which sent a trooper over to the Saco Ranger station on Wednesday to oversee the return of the handgun to Luk. Berk later contacted the New Hampshire Union Leader, which on his behalf, contacted Luk.
Berk recalled that in an e-mail exchange with Luk, the John Stark Regional High School graduate was glad to hear that his ski had been found, but was literally "two-thumbs up" thrilled that Berk also found his gun and knew how to deal with it responsibly.
Luk said he brought the gun because "I've been up there (on Mount Adams) enough in the summer to see mangled moose," which he believes may have been preyed upon by gray wolves.
The gun should have stayed in the holster, said Luk, just as his boots should have remained in their bindings, but didn't. He thanked Berk for returning the gun and ski — into whose face Luk carved the dates of when he had more successfully skied both Great Gully and Tuckerman Ravine.
Luk and Berk promised to stay in touch. Berk also defended Luk from criticism — voiced in comments on the New Hampshire Union Leader's website — about Luk's decision to hike and ski alone. Berk pointed out that Luk was experienced and dressed properly.
"It's not a stupid risk," said Berk, "It's a calculated risk."
Luk had told New Hampshire Fish and Game Sgt. Mark Ober that he intended to go back to Great Gully to search for his pistol.
Asked about back-country skiers and hikers carrying firearms, Ober said it was "rare, but not illegal." He said his department notified federal and state agencies as well as its search-and-rescue partners to be aware that a gun was reported missing in Great Gully. They did not inform the public about the missing gun to prevent a potentially dangerous situation of many people scrambling over tricky terrain.
What concerned him most about Luk's experience, Ober said, was that other skiers or hikers might repeat it.
"We spoke and I gave him (Luk) some hints that if he's going to do it again, don't do it alone," Ober said.
Ober also gave Luk credit for wearing a helmet — which he said most certainly saved his life — and for getting out of the gully without assistance.
Luk said he is not sure what he will do with the Volkl ski Berk returned to him.
"I'm probably going to put it up on the mantle," Luk said.
If its partner can be found, then there could be a couple "Tuckerman turns," he added, before the ski is retired permanently.