Two hikers were stranded on Mount Washington Thursday when temperatures at the summit were below freezing and the wind chill plunged to 12 degrees. One hiker was carried off the mountain and rushed to a hospital where she was pronounced dead. The other was found in the fetal position on a trail, unable to walk or speak.
The first call for help came in at approximately 2:25 p.m. Thursday, according to a statement from the New Hampshire Fish and Game Department.
Officials said Sandra Lee, 63, of Mount Tabor, N.J., was hiking with two of her relatives when she began to show signs of hypothermia and could no longer continue. They were above the junction of Lion Head Trail and Tuckerman Ravine Trail when they called 911.
Fish and Game conservation officers responded to the call, along with New Hampshire State Parks staff based on the summit of Mount Washington.
“When Park staff arrived on the scene, they gave warm and dry clothing to all three members of the hiking party,” officials said in the statement. “This was necessary due to conditions on the summit being below freezing with a wind-chill of 12 degrees Fahrenheit, 60 mph sustaining winds while rain and dense fog created ice.”
Officials said one Parks staff member helped Lee’s family up the trail to a summit building to get warm, while the other staff member stayed with Lee, who was no longer mobile.
Conservation Officers then carried Lee by piggyback to the Auto Road, and she was driven to an ambulance that took her to Androscoggin Valley Hospital in Berlin.
“Unfortunately, despite all efforts Lee did not survive and was pronounced deceased at the hospital,” the statement said.
Less than six hours after receiving the 911 call for Lee, authorities learned that another hiker needed to be rescued from Mount Washington.
Officials said James Clark, 80, of Dublin, Ohio, was in a fetal position when he was found on the Lion Head Trail. He was not moving, could not speak clearly, and appeared to be exhibiting symptoms of hypothermia, according to the statement.
Officials said Clark’s family had left him behind to hike by himself while they continued toward the summit.
“At approximately 7:45 p.m. the two family members made a call to rescue personnel, reporting that Clark was overdue, not prepared with overnight gear and did not have a cell phone or light,” the statement said.
Fish and Game conservation officers responded to the call. They also requested assistance from the Appalachian Mountain Club, the statement said.
“This was the second rescue call on Mount Washington within six hours and due to the timeline and location, it was noted that Clark would have suffered the same conditions that had potentially just played a role in a hiking fatality just hours before,” the statement said. “Below freezing with a wind-chill of 12 degrees Fahrenheit, 60 mph sustaining winds and rain with dense fog creating ice were noted on the summit earlier in the day.”
When rescuers located Clark on the Lion Head Trail, they stripped off his wet clothes, dressed him in dry clothes, and put him in a sleeping bag to warm him up. Given his condition and the distance to the trailhead, they determined that Clark needed to be carried out in a litter, the statement said.
Appalachian Mountain Club staff, Androscoggin Valley Search and Rescue team members, and additional conservation officers were called to bring a litter and gear to Lion Head Trail. They reached Clark at approximately 1:15 a.m. and the rescue crew then carried Clark approximately 1.7 miles to the Auto Road, arriving there at 5 a.m., the statement said.
Clark was driven to an ambulance and taken to Androscoggin Valley Hospital, where he was treated for non-life-threatening injuries, officials said.