After three deaths were reported in a span of six days on hiking trails and climbing rocks in the White Mountains, New Hampshire wildlife officials are urging people to be better prepared to avoid running into trouble outdoors.
Two of the victims were men from Massachusetts who died scaling rocks in the last week. A third victim died when he fell from Arethusa Falls, which has an average height of 70 feet, around 7 p.m. Saturday, the New Hampshire Fish and Game Department said in a statement.
The man had been hiking with two friends and had gone ahead of them on the trail to the top of the falls, officials said in a statement. When they arrived at the falls, the pair found their friend’s body.
The fatality came after two Massachusetts men died in climbing accidents.
On Sept. 20, 34-year-old Benjamin Kessel of Somerville died on Cannon Cliff in Franconia Notch State Park. An avid climber who had scaled peaks around the world, Kessel fell after a large rock dislodged and severed his climbing rope. He plunged 150 feet to his death.
Kessel, 34, was an engineer who graduated from Natick High School in 2004, according to his obituary. He led expeditions with the MIT Outing Club. A virtual remembrance is scheduled for Tuesday at 6 p.m. on Zoom, the obituary said.
On Sept. 25, another Massachusetts man, 68-year-old Michael Hubert of Woburn, died in a climbing accident at the Rumney Rocks on Buffalo Road in the White Mountain National Forest.
Officials said Hubert was climbing a route known as the “Dead Sea Equestrian” and told his climbing partner that he was coming down when he suffered a “catastrophic equipment malfunction” that caused him to fall about 55 feet to the base of the cliff.
Hubert’s family could not be reached for comment.
A climbing team from the Holderness School was training nearby when Hubert fell. Coaches rushed over to help, but Hubert’s injuries were too severe, a school official said.
“He was probably in the worst spot along that cliff to fall,” Erik Thatcher, director of outdoor and climbing programs at the boarding school, said in an interview Monday evening. “The base is jagged and ledgy . . . and he fell off the base into a more precarious area. It was an unlucky route for that to happen on.”
Thatcher, a volunteer with a handful of local search-and-rescue groups, said the Rumney Rocks are generally safe. He’s been training his climbers at the site for 11 years.
“People have fallen at Rumney from the same height and survived,” he said. “The odds didn’t stack in his favor.”
Saturday’s fatality at the waterfalls came in an area where there is no cellphone service.
The victim’s two friends ran to a home near the trailhead and called 911 from there. Conservation officers and local emergency crews responded to the scene and carried the man out in a litter and arrived at the trailhead shortly before 11 p.m., officials said.
Officials said the trail to the falls is nearly 2 miles long. As of Monday afternoon, the victim’s identity had not been released.
The fatalities come as wildlife officers have had an increase in calls for help as the fall climbing/hiking season gets underway.
“Every night our lieutenant is up there, and sergeants are getting calls for either people lost off the trails or minor injuries or some medical," Lieutenant Adam Cheney of New Hampshire Fish and Game told WMUR-TV in Manchester.
Officials are urging people to be prepared and plan accordingly before venturing out.
“I wouldn’t suggest people out of shape to be starting with Mount Lafayette right off the bat for the first hike with the family,” Cheney said. “There’s plenty of other smaller mountains within the state.”
Lieutenant James Kneeland of the New Hampshire Fish and Game Department said there appears to be more people out and about.
“It seems to me like there is,” he said in an interview with the Globe. “There’s people everywhere. I think people are traveling and staying close to home, and the foliage is beautiful right now, so more people are coming.”
Labor Day weekend marked the start of the fall hiking season in New Hampshire, and state officials have been reminding the public to practice safe social distancing and to exercise caution when exploring the outdoors.
New Hampshire Fish and Game officials recommend hikers pack the following 10 essential items — map, compass, warm clothing, extra food and water, headlamp, fire starter, first aid kit, whistle, rain/wind jackets and pants, and a knife — and to be prepared for unexpected emergencies.
“This is not the time for challenging hikes or dangerous backcountry adventures in ever-changing weather conditions," Fish and Game Law Enforcement Chief Colonel Kevin Jordan said in a recent press release. “It is imperative that people enjoying New Hampshire’s natural resources exercise a high degree of caution.”
Material from the Associated Press was used in this report.