A high-risk rescue effort was conducted for a severely hypothermic hiker on the Gulfside Trail in the vicinity of Mount Clay Saturday night and into Sunday morning by members of NH Fish and Game’s Advanced Search and Rescue Team and the North Conway–based Mountain Rescue Services (MRS). Fish and Game was initially alerted to this situation by the spouse of the hiker at around 6:30 p.m. on June 18. The hiker had sent a text message to his wife telling her that he was cold and wet and could not continue on. He further wrote that he felt he would die without a rescue.
Conservation Officers were already immersed in the carry out of an injured hiker from the Centennial Trail in Shelburne when this call came in. This was not the only call received this day. Beginning at around 2:00 p.m., Fish and Game Officers received multiple calls from hikers who were cold, wet, and calling for rescues, most of whom were on the high elevation summits and ridgelines of the Presidential Range.
However, due to the dire nature of this call, an immediate rescue attempt was initiated, and additional resources had to be called in to respond to include Conservation Officers from around the state and MRS personnel. The conditions in the high peaks were treacherous: freezing temperatures, rain, sleet, snow, and winds gusting over 80 mph. Only those with the experience, training, and adequate gear were utilized for this rescue.
Mt. Washington State Parks personnel were also called up and were instrumental in transporting rescue personnel from the base of the Auto Road to the summit. Chains were placed on the tires of a State Parks truck due to the buildup of ice on the upper section of the road. Rescuers were dropped off near the summit and hiked into ferocious winds in an attempt to locate the stricken hiker.
With the travel time and all the associated preparation to conduct a rescue of this magnitude, the first group of rescuers were dropped off at approximately 9:30 p.m. near the summit with the task of hiking down to location the hiker was thought to be. The second group headed in at around 10:30 p.m.
Rescuers endured driving rain, blowing snow, and sustained 50–60 mph winds with gusts over 80 mph to reach the location that the hiker was believed to be. At 10:38 p.m., the first team found the hiker who was unresponsive and in a highly hypothermic state. They provided immediate care by placing a temporary shelter over him and attempted to warm him up. Failing to elicit a response, but detecting signs of life, the crew jumped into action. They placed him in a litter and immediately started carrying him up towards the summit of Mt. Washington.
The freezing rain continued to fall, and the high winds still buffeted them as they attempted to save his life in this exposed location. The team carried the hiker over a mile up to the summit of Mt. Washington where he was placed in a truck and driven down the Auto Road to the base where the Gorham Ambulance was waiting. They arrived at 1:20 a.m. The hiker was transported by the Gorham Ambulance to Androscoggin Valley Hospital (AVH) in Berlin. His condition remains unknown at the time of this press release. His name is being withheld pending notification of family members.
All in all 9 MRS personnel and 6 Conservation Officers, including 3 who had taken part in the carryout of the injured hiker earlier in the day, responded to this rescue.
The forecasted weather conditions, particularly for the higher summits, was not heeded by many hikers. Several found themselves unprepared for the dangerous conditions above tree line, and instead of turning back or bailing out to safer elevations, they continued on and ultimately called 911 expecting a rescue. Members of Randolph Mountain Club rescued a hiker suffering from hypothermic conditions and managed to carry her down off the elevations to an RMC hut. Another hiker who called 911 for help while hiking on the Tuckerman Ravine Trail was provided warm clothing by Good Samaritan hikers who ultimately assisted him to an AMC hut where he was able to find shelter and warm up. And yet another group of hikers called for a rescue while on the summit of Mt. Eisenhower complaining that they were wet and cold. Sometimes having enough gear is not enough. In weather conditions experienced this weekend, it is better to descend and get out of the wind and cold instead of pushing on until it is too late.
The hiker, identified as Xi Chen, 53, of Andover, MA, was attempting a Presidential Range traverse when he was overcome by severe weather conditions has since died of his injuries.
Chen was taken to Androscoggin Valley Hospital in Berlin (AVH) where life-saving efforts were attempted for several hours. Unfortunately, Chen was unable to be revived and was pronounced deceased.
No other information is available at this time.
According to Wikipedia, Mount Clay is a peak located in Thompson and Meserve’s Purchase in Coos County in the Presidential Range of the White Mountains of New Hampshire. It is a rise about 0.9-mile (1.4 km) long and a few hundred feet tall, with summit elevation of 5,533 feet (1,686 m); it lies on the ridge joining the summits of Mount Washington, about 0.9-mile (1.4 km) to the south-southeast, with that of Mount Jefferson, about 1.3-mile (2.1 km) north.