SARGENT’S PURCHASE — It was a rough 24 hours for search and rescue personnel who responded to two hiking fatalities as well as the rescue of an 80-year-old last Thursday and Friday.
N.H. Fish and Game said the first call came at 2:25 p.m. Thursday, reporting a woman was showing signs of hypothermia and could not long move under her own power.
Sandra Lee, 63, of Mount Tabor, N.J., was hiking with two family members up the Tuckerman Ravine Trail from the Appalachian Mountain Club’s Pinkham Notch Visitors Center. The group’s goal was to summit Mount Washington. The three were just above the junction of the Lion Head Trail and the Tuckerman Ravine Trail when they called for help.
Fish and Game contacted N.H. State Parks staff at the summit of Mount Washington for assistance. Parks staff arrived at the scene and provided warm and dry clothing to all three hikers. Conditions on the summit were below freezing with a wind child of 12 degrees, 60 mile-per-hour sustained winds along with rain and dense fog that created ice. One staff member stayed with Lee, who was alive but not mobile. The other staffer assisted the other two hikers to the Sherman Adams summit building.
Fish and Game arrived at the summit and hiked down to Lee and quickly carried her “piggy back” about two tenths of a mile up the Tuckerman Trail to its junction with the Mount Washington Auto Road. Lee was then transported down the auto road and into a waiting Gorham ambulance. She was taken to Androscoggin Valley Hospital in Berlin but did not survive and was declared dead at the hospital. The cause of death is described as an unknown medical condition.
Later that night, Fish and Game was notified of an overdue hiker who was also attempting to climb Mount Washington from Pinkham Notch. Fish and Game reported that James Clark, 80, of Dublin, Ohio, was hiking the Lion Head Trail with two grandsons when the two teenagers left him to continue on their own. The Union Leader newspaper reported that Clark said he was hiking slowly and demanded his grandsons continue and he would meet up later. Clark reportedly told the newspaper the three were on the third leg of a five-day hiking trip and had previously climbed Mount Marcy in the Adirondacks. He said he planned to catch a ride down on the Auto Road or on the Mount Washington Cog Railway.
When his grandsons reached Pinkham Notch and Clark had not arrived, they called for help. They noted their grandfather did not have overnight gear, a cell phone or a flashlight.
An AMC staffer at Hermit Lake Shelters started up the Lion Head Trail and found Clark just above the intersection with the Alpine Garden Trail. Clark was in a fetal position, not moving, and exhibiting signs of hypothermia. In the meantime, Fish and Game conservation officers drove up the Auto Road and then hiked down the Tuckerman Ravine Trail to arrive at the scene.
The rescuers stripped Clark and dressed him in warm dry clothes. They then placed him in a sleeping bag to keep him warm until additional volunteer rescuers could arrive to help carry Clark out by litter. AMC staff, Androscoggin Valley Search and Rescue and additional Fish and Game officers responded, reaching Clark at 1:15 a.m.
He was carried across the Alpine Garden and approximately 1.7 miles to the Auto Road, arriving at 5 a.m. Once down the Auto Road, he was placed in a waiting Gorham ambulance and transported to AVH for treatment of non-life-threatening injuries.
A Lancaster man suffered a medical emergency Friday morning while climbing the Blue Trail in Shelburne and died.
Fish and Game said William Whittenaur, 69, was hiking with a family friend when he experienced an unknown medical emergency. His friend performed CPR for an extended period of time. With no cell phone coverage, his friend eventually ran out to the nearest phone, calling 911 at about 10:15 and then ran back to Whittenaur.
First responders from Gorham Ambulance, Shelburne Volunteer Fire Department, and Fish and Game officers responded to the scene with a litter, oxygen, and an AED. But despite the efforts of responders, Whittenaur did not survive.
Fish and Game Conservation Officer Matt Holmes said hikers need to be prepared for winter-like weather on the higher peaks of the White Mountains year-around. He said weather might be summer-like on the bottom but it can turn winter-like above treeline any month of the year. He said hikers should carry water, high-calorie food, hat and gloves, a flashlight or two, extra batteries, and a bivy sack or tarp. Holmes said it is important to have warm clothing and to dress in layers.
“It’s difficult to get warm if you can’t get dry,” he noted.
Holmes also noted that cell phone coverage is limited in the White Mountains and the cold weather zaps batteries. Hikers should not rely on their cell phone to call for help.
His last piece of advice is for hikers to stay together and avoid splitting up once on the trail.
“If they start as a group, they should stay together,” he said, explaining that there is strength in numbers if something goes wrong.