It was nearing 1 p.m. on an impossibly beautiful Saturday in August when Henry Grant neared the top of Monument Mountain in Great Barrington.
All around him on Squaw Peak, fellow hikers were enjoying the scene. About 15 people milled about, snapping photos and taking in the gorgeous panoramic views. Grant, 18, and just a week from starting college, was leaning against a boulder, waiting for his mother, when he heard what sounded like something tumbling down a nearby cliff — followed immediately by a man’s screams: “Paula! Paula!”
“Oh, my God,” Grant recalled thinking. “Somebody fell.”
It was a woman who had been standing no more than 10 feet from him, near a sheer drop. Now, she was nowhere to be seen.
In the frantic moments that followed, Grant and other hikers helplessly peered over the edge to try to spot her, but trees blocked the view. Some hikers dialed 911. It was a long way down, and Grant had little hope the woman could have survived.
“I hate to say this,” Grant recalled telling his mother as the two eventually departed the summit and began their descent, unsure what else they could do. “But . . . they’re probably going to find a body.”
Still, as he made the trek down the path, something nagged him.
Finally, he stopped and told his mother he was going back. Maybe, at the very least, he could help figure out where the woman had ended up. He’d be careful, he assured her. If he couldn’t find the woman quickly, he’d give up.
“It won’t be more than half an hour,” he promised, and began working his way through the brush and rocky slope off the trail.
Grant had grown up in Great Barrington and was familiar with the terrain. He’d been hiking since he was 3 and made a point to hike this particular mountain a couple times each year. He had a general idea of where the woman might be.
The mountainside made for hard progress, a combination of rocky cliff and slippery patches of loose dirt. But he figured that by moving up the mountain off the trail, he’d have a better chance of reaching her.
He battled through the brush, and after about 15 minutes of sometimes precarious climbing, he saw a figure in the distance — dressed in pink and crumpled in a kneeling position.
“Paula!” he shouted. “Paula! Is that you?”
There was no response, but as Grant worked his way closer, he could tell that she was conscious — and clearly in pain. Though he didn’t know it at the time, the woman — a 59-year-old psychologist from New Jersey named Paula Kaplan-Reiss — was suffering from a compound leg fracture, 10 broken ribs, and a broken clavicle. She’d also suffered a serious concussion, after falling what authorities would later say was around 75 feet.
She had come to a stop in a perilous spot. If she slipped a few feet farther, Grant thought, she almost certainly would go tumbling another 20 feet down the cliff.
From his perch on the steep mountainside, Grant phoned police, relaying his location. Then he called his mother — who by that time had made it to the bottom — hoping she could inform Paula’s husband, Rick Reiss, that his wife was alive.
Securing himself against a tree, he stayed close to Kaplan-Reiss and did his best to keep her conscious. After about 10 minutes, he was joined by another Good Samaritan — a British man named Simon — and together, the two men peppered Paula with questions. “Where are you from?’’ “What do you do for a living?” “Do you have kids?”
At the bottom of the trail authorities were busy devising a rescue plan.
They were very familiar with this mountain. Though not a particularly daunting walk — the mountain’s peak stands at less than 2,000 feet — hikers have frequently slipped and fallen from the steep cliffs. A number of times over the past decade, such falls had resulted in deaths, said Great Barrington Fire Chief Charlie Burger.
The place where Kaplan-Reiss had fallen posed significant problems for rescuers — tight quarters with poor footing. To get to her, a rescuer rappeled down the cliff, securing a rope around her body and through her backpack to ensure she wouldn’t fall further.
From there, workers managed to raise her by stretcher back to the top of the mountain. They carried her to a waiting ATV, which took her to an ambulance. A helicopter took her and her husband to Albany Medical Center.
The first few days were dicey, but Kaplan-Reiss slowly regained strength in the weeks after the accident — first at the hospital, then at an in-patient rehab center, and now at home. She has graduated from a wheelchair to a walker and, more recently, to a cane — though she tries her best to use it only when necessary.
She is expected to make a full recovery.
She says she has no memory of the fall. She doesn’t remember her lengthy rescue or speaking to the surgeon who would piece together her broken leg.
But she does know Grant.
Since the incident, she has spoken twice on the phone to the young man she credits with helping to save her life — thanking him profusely and listening intently as he filled in the blanks of her ordeal.
“Henry is my hero,” she wrote in a letter to the Globe. “At 18, Henry has already participated in building the rest of my life.”
It was a sentiment echoed by Paula’s husband, Rick Reiss. “God bless Henry,” he said in an interview.
Burger, of the Great Barrington Fire Department, also praised Grant — and the handful of other hikers who helped rescuers get to Paula quickly. “We knew we were fighting time right from the beginning,” he said.
Grant, now a freshman at Ithaca College in New York, said the attention he’s gotten for his role in the rescue makes him a little uncomfortable. When his mother sent him a link to a story in a the local Berkshire Eagle, he couldn’t bring himself to read it.
He says any praise is undeserved.
“It was just one of those things,” he said this week. “I’m just glad I was able to find her, and glad she was OK.”