New Hampshire officials to decide whether to bill family for costs of rescuing 80-year-old hiker

After saving an 80-year-old hiker who was left alone by family members on Mount Washington last week, New Hampshire Fish and Game Department officials might consider billing the family for the costs of the search and rescue operation.

Major David Walsh, the assistant chief of law enforcement for the department, said Monday a decision had not yet been made. Rescuers had found the man curled up in the fetal position, suffering from what appeared to be hypothermia.

“Once we receive the actual mission report from the officers involved in the rescue, we will make a decision of billing for the rescue,” Walsh said in an e-mail. “If we do, the N.H. attorney general’s office has to review and approve before a bill is actually sent. . . . Billing for that [search and rescue] is yet to be determined until our officers submit their reports and we review the facts.” Walsh said officials might also discuss the possibility of criminal charges.

New Hampshire Fish and Game officials were alerted that the elderly hiker was missing last Thursday evening. James Clark, 80, of Dublin, Ohio, had been hiking with two family members. “Shortly after starting the hike, all members of Clark’s hiking group left him behind to hike by himself as they continued to the summit,” officials said in a statement said.


Clark’s hiking group summited without him then hiked down a different trail to the Pinkham Notch Visitors Center. At approximately 7:45 p.m., two family members called rescue personnel, reporting that Clark was overdue, not prepared with overnight gear, and did not have a cellphone or light. Officials said Clark was found in the fetal position on the Lion Head Trail just above the Alpine Garden Trail intersection, at an elevation of about 5,200 feet. He was not moving, could not speak clearly, and appeared to be exhibiting symptoms of hypothermia, according to the statement. The statement did not specify what time he was found.


Officials noted that earlier in the day temperatures on the summit were below freezing with sustained winds of 60 miles per hour and a wind chill of 12 degrees. There was also rain, ice, and dense fog at the top of the mountain.

When rescuers found Clark on the 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.

Rescuers with the litter reached Clark at about 1:15 a.m. Friday. They carried him 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 in Berlin, where he was treated for injuries that were not life-threatening, officials said.

Emily Sweeney can be reached at esweeney@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @emilysweeney.