Unprepared Hikers May Have to Pay for Mt. Washington Rescue

8 Hikers from Connecticut got lost during a poorly planned trip up Mt. Washington. Now they could be footing the bill for their rescue...

A member of the US Forest Service's Snow Rangers at the base of Tuckerman's Ravine

A member of the US Forest Service's Snow Rangers at the base of Tuckerman's Ravine

This is a cautionary tale of exactly what NOT to do when hiking in the Whites. 8 Hikers from Connecticut, ages 19 to 21 set out to hike Mt. Washington, the highest peak in the Northeast. They managed to successfully summit. However, as any seasoned hiker knows, the trip up is not the whole battle. This is where our hikers day turns into a Grade-A misadventure. 

 
 

This is a story that is sure to be told and retold by Outdoor Safety Instructors in their classes from here on out.

 
The Cog Railway does not run from November to May

The Cog Railway does not run from November to May

The ill-fated hiking party made there way to the top Mt. Washington and had planned to take the Cog Railway down to the base. However, the Cog was not running, as it doesn't until May when the tracks are cleared. Mistake #1 is right there. Always do your research ahead of time. Even if the train was running the group had set out from Pinkham Notch and the Cog runs to and from Crawford Notch... the opposite side of the Presidential Range. 

Finding that they were not going to to make it down in a nice train car, as they intended to when they set out they decided to take the Boot Spur trail down. The Boot Spur does lead back to Pinkham Notch, however it is also "The most exposed route" on Mt. Washington. Not a great choice when you are not prepared and hiking in the spring.

On the way down they lost the trail and called for search and rescue services. Their call set into action National Forest Service's Snow Rangers. After placing the call the hiking party found another group of much better equipped hikers that led them down. They did not notify the NFS Rangers that they were back on the trail and ran into them at the base of the mountain. It is lucky that they ran into one another before a full scale search and rescue operation was underway.

That isn't the only place luck was involved. Considering spring conditions on Mt. Washington, which have resulted in multiple Avalanche warnings on the Tuckerman's Ravine this past week, these gentlemen are lucky to have their lives. Not to mention they were hiking in cotton sweatpants, jeans, shorts and cotton t-shirts: a good formula for getting hypothermia in the Whites. Not to mention cellphone service lapses which are common when in between mountains and in the backcountry. These men were wholly unprepared for the conditions and highly underestimated the trek they were taking on.

Search and Rescue operating on Mt. Lafayette, Winter 2007. Source

Search and Rescue operating on Mt. Lafayette, Winter 2007. Source

The party was without Hike Safe Cards and thus could be held accountable for the cost of their rescue. NH Fish & Game points out that these cases are reviewed case by case by the NH Attorney General. At the moment there is no way of knowing whether or not they will be held partially or fully responsible for the cost of their rescue or how much that rescue cost the state. Some hikers have said they will stop purchasing voluntary Hike Safe Cards if the men are not held accountable for costs. Other hikers have pointed out that if you have the presence of mind to get a Hike Safe Card you are likely not going to end up in a scenario where you are in need of one to avoid being charged for rescue, making the Hike Safe Card a Catch-22.