After skiing the Upper Snowfields, a party of three decided to split their group at the intersection of the Alpine Garden and Lion Head trails. Two were planning to ski Right Gully and the other was going to hike down the Lion Head Winter Route. The plan was to reunite at the intersection of the Huntington Ravine Winter Access Trail and the Tuckerman Ravine Trail. When the group of two arrived at the rendezvous point, their friend was not there. Based on a report from another party who had hiked down the Winter Route, they decided to ascend the Winter Route to meet their friend. As they approached treeline and had not yet found their friend, so they began shouting his name. A Snow Ranger descending the Tuckerman Ravine Trail at the end of the day heard this shouting and decided to investigate. Around this same time, the party of two had decided to turn around based on the time of day. They encountered the Snow Ranger at the lower section of the Lion Head Winter Route. The Snow Rangers interviewed the party and began the preliminary phase of a search mission. Before the search progressed beyond early stages, the missing friend arrived at Pinkham Notch Visitor Center under his own power and uninjured. He had missed the Winter Route and hiked down the Lion Head Summer Trail, which was closed at the time. The hike down took place at the same time the Snow Ranger was collecting information from the other two friends on the Winter Route. The party was reunited at Pinkham Notch Visitor Center.
Although in this case the party reunited without incident, we are posting this report based on the frequency of this type of incident. Splitting up a group is one of the most common and preventable causes of “missing” people in the White Mountains. More often than not, groups that split up reunite without any problems at all. However, all it takes is a missed trail sign, a twisted ankle, or any number of other issues that can prevent a happy reunion. We recommend keeping your group together and choosing routes that are acceptable to, and within the ability level of, all members of the group. This incident involved four Snow Rangers over two hours.