THURMONT, Md. (WJZ)— Lost on a mountain. That’s how one Maryland hiker nearly rang in the New Year.

Derek Valcourt explains how simple technology helped save his life.

It may just look like a blank white screen, but it’s actually an app that turns your iPhone into a flashlight, and it kept one Mount Airy man from ringing in the New Year lost on Catoctin Mountain.

With miles and miles of trails, Gambrill State Park is an ideal place for avid hikers like Christopher Tkacik.

On New Year’s Eve Day, Tkacik and his dog Boo set out for their first ever hike in Gambrills. He started on the black trail, moved to the yellow trail but somehow ended up on a blue trail.  

Hours later, darkness began to set in and so did his worry.

“I still argue with my wife that I wasn’t lost, but I guess I was,” he said.

His cell phone’s GPS wasn’t helping him. But Tkacik still had a cell phone signal and half the battery charge.

And “911 said ‘Stay where you are. We are sending a helicopter,’” Tkacik recalled.

Here’s where that flashlight app came in. When the rescue helicopters flew overhead, Tkacik waived his phone flashlight. Rescuers spotted him and sent in the help.

The helicopter dropped two rescuers who then guided Tkacik and his dog out of the park eight hours after he first got there.

When asked what lessons did he take away from this, Tkacik responded, “You always gotta be ready.”

Tkacik’s thankful for the help and still got to celebrate New Year’s with his family.

“I got home around 9:30. We still went to the party.  When I showed up the guy hosting the party had a flashlight to show me, to guide me in,” he said.

The ordeal hasn’t stopped Tkacik from hiking. He got in a four-mile hike Monday morning and plans to come back out to hike Catoctin Mountain someday.   

Authorities say this is a perfect example of why it’s always important to take a cell phone with you on long hikes and make sure someone knows where you will be hiking.

Comments (11)
  1. venomseo says:


    1. William Trexler says:

      soon to appear on letterman in stupid people tricks he’ll never be able to go in the woods by himself again..the jokes won’t stop for years

  2. Joey Demembo says:

    You have to admit that is pretty slick dude. WOw.

  3. William Trexler says:

    no the guy that invented the app..a monkey will use a flashlite to find a banana…lol

  4. MSizzle says:

    If he had service…and a smart phone…why not use the GPS function/Maps app and walk to the nearest road instead of drawing attention to the fact that all he could think of to use was his flashlight app? This just goes to show how far people have come in not being able to take care of themselves or think on their own.

    1. Liberal Soldier says:

      I was thinking the same thing. The GPS maps was the easy way out and could save the taxpayers a few thousand dollars for the chopper. I hope he gets a bill.

  5. William Trexler says:

    wait till he get’s the bill for the chopper… don’t think they send them up for free do you….esp when your the one that calls 911…lol

  6. Chris Watson says:

    Seriously? This guy got lost? In a MD park? Wow, I wonder if this Darwin award nominee ran into to Blair Witch out there. How does one get lost in the “backcountry” of MD? Is Gerber and Bear Grylls going to contact him to repackage his phone in an orange case for Wal-Mart and market it as a survival phone? People if you need to be “rescued” from a walk in the MD woods, stick to the paved bike paths in Columbia and leave the woods for more competent people, like maybe a half-baked cub scout. The fact that the news is lauding this man’s story is ludicrous. Millions of people west of Kansas are rolling their eyes and laughing at this specimen of humanity.

  7. justin o says:

    “gotta be ready” It doesn’t seem to me he was ready at all. Rescue services I’m sure have nothing better to do than save this guy..Too bad a bear didn’t eat him, and his phone.

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