Spencer Geary kept the engagement ring in his pocket for two months, waiting for just the right moment to propose to his girlfriend and college sweetheart Michaela McCarthy.
The couple, both 24, had hiked together often, and an impromptu weekend trip to New Hampshire’s Mount Washington seemed the perfect opportunity.
As the Providence couple ascended the Jewell Trail early Saturday morning, they came up against the mountain’s famously mercurial weather, carrying them through what felt like “three different seasons.” At the summit of the 6,288-foot peak, it started to hail, and against a backdrop of swirling fog, Geary dropped to one knee on a boulder. He pulled out a ring, yellow gold with a diamond from his grandmother’s engagement ring, and proposed. Thrilled, McCarthy said yes.
McCarthy’s sister had taken the Cog Railway to the top and was there to photograph the happy couple. They took shelter from the cold in the nearby gift shop and FaceTimed their family members with the exciting news.
“We told everybody,” Geary recalled Monday.
But on Mount Washington, a rugged climb in the best of circumstances, fast-changing weather can create treacherous conditions.
About two miles into their descent, the couple and McCarthy’s sister, Kelli, came across a harrowing and ultimately heartbreaking scene — a group of hikers trying to revive a man lying unconscious on the ground near the junction of the Jewell and Gulfside trails.
Two groups of hikers, four adults and three children in all, said they had found the man, later identified as John R. Quick Jr., 65, of Missouri, with a broken arm and a gash on his head, Geary said. He did not seem to have a pulse. His dog, a German shepherd mix, was lying next to him, refusing to leave his side.
Two men had immediately begun CPR — one performing chest compressions and another giving mouth-to-mouth resuscitation — while the two younger children huddled together to stay warm, far enough away so they could not see.
“The couple from Canada had told us they saw him on the way up and talked to him and said he looked perfectly healthy, like nothing was wrong with him,” Geary said. “He was in chipper spirits. He was coming down the mountain.”
The hikers found Quick around 1:15 p.m. and immediately called 911, according to the New Hampshire Fish and Game Department, which put out a search-and-rescue call.
At that point, temperatures had fallen into the 30s, winds were whipping at about 50 miles per hour, and hail was continuing to fall, Geary said. Though both he and his fiancée were prepared, decked out in layers and boots with tread, Kelli McCarthy was not, forced to make the hike unexpectedly after missing the train down.
Yet McCarthy, who was recently certified in CPR for her job at Salem State University, immediately jumped into the rotation in hopes of saving Quick.
“Having just taken the course I knew that I couldn’t pass by without trying to do everything I could to help,” McCarthy, 22, said by text message. “The decision to jump in and perform CPR wasn’t a decision for me, I knew in that moment I had to try.”
Officials said the “Good Samaritan hikers performed CPR for 40 minutes” before it became clear Quick had died. They placed a blanket over him, Geary said, but made sure his lime green shirt was exposed so recovery personnel might find him easier.
So far this year at least three people have died in the woods while hiking or driving an off-road vehicle, according to state records.
With conditions growing more perilous, Geary and the McCarthys decided “it didn’t make sense” for them to stay longer. With treats given to them by the Canadian couple, who had a large German shepherd of their own, the three were able to coax the dog from Quick’s side. As Geary walked him down the path, the dog at first pulled on the leash, trying to return to his owner.
“The hike got significantly harder on the way down, mostly because I think the mood kind of dropped in general,” Geary said. “Michaela’s sister Kelli was definitely a bit still kind of processing that we had to leave somebody that she was trying to save.”
Two groups of search-and-rescue volunteers used different tactics to reach Quick and the hikers who came to his aid. One took the Cog Railway up and hiked across the mountain, while another used the auto road and hiked down, officials said.
The volunteers then carried Quick’s body about a mile to the Cog Railway, where he was placed on a train car and brought to the base. An empty train was used to bring the search members up the mountain, just above the treeline. It then went to the top and later carried his body down the mountain to a parking lot where the group was met by someone from a local funeral home.
By the time Geary and the McCarthys reached the bottom, it didn’t feel “right to smile or take pictures” to celebrate the engagement, Geary said. Geary gave the dog, which he described as kind and gentle, to a ranger. It was brought to an animal shelter until it can be reunited with family members, officials said.
They paused for some time to rest their legs, removed their heavy gear, and drove back to their hotel. The strangeness of the day, moving from deep joy to tragedy within a matter of hours, weighed on their minds. So, too, did the hikers’ unquestioned kindness.
“I can’t really say how crazy it was to see a group of people — three groups of people who don’t even know each other and are from different corners of the world — help somebody they have no idea who it is and what the status of his health was, but did it anyway,” Geary said.