Stranded Hikers – May 3, 2022

At approximately 5:00pm on Tuesday, May 3rd, two hikers called 911 after descending into Tuckerman Ravine and becoming stranded in the Lip / Sluice area.

The location of hiker #2 is shown with the red dot. The green line is the approximate path of the rescue team above tree line. The location of hiker #1 is shown with the yellow dot. Note that background photo of Tuckerman Ravine is from a previous date.

At approximately 5:00pm on Tuesday, May 3rd, two hikers called 911 after descending into Tuckerman Ravine and becoming stranded in the Lip / Sluice area. 

Incident

Two Mount Washington day hikers estimated that they reached the summit of Mount Washington around 4:00pm via the Lion Head Trail to Tuckerman Ravine Trail and began their descent soon after reaching the summit. Instead of taking the same route down the mountain, the hikers decided to continue down the Tuckerman Ravine Trail towards the Lip area of the Ravine. They noted that they could see the shelters at Hermit Lake and thought that traveling through Tuckerman Ravine may save some time, as it was becoming late in the day. 

The hikers glissaded in a seated position at the top of the lip where the angle remains low. As the angle steepened, and they approached the apex of the convexity, they continued downhill on foot diagonally toward the Sluice. They continued to a point at which they felt it was unsafe / not possible to go either up or down. The hikers were not equipped with mountaineering equipment such as crampons or an ice ax.

The hikers scrambled/slid down to a small rock and vegetation outcropping, where they called 911 for help. While trying to assess the best way to go up or down, hiker #1 began intermittently sliding down the slope, eventually giving into the slide and sliding/falling down, without injury, to the floor of the ravine. Hiker #2 remained underneath the outcropping.

Response

New Hampshire State Police notified USFS Snow Rangers of the incident at 5:15pm. Without rescue resources in the immediate area, calls were made to Mountain Rescue Service and Androscoggin Valley Search and Rescue for additional assistance. 

At approximately 8:00pm, two small rescue teams were dispatched to the scene. The first team consisted of one Snow Ranger and two members of Androscoggin Valley SAR who used the Mount Washington Auto Road to access the Alpine Garden Trail and ultimately the location of hiker #2. This team located and descended the glissade track of the stranded hikers and used verbal cues to locate hiker #2, who was without a headlamp or flashlight. The hiker was found to be scared and cold but uninjured. The team took steps to secure and warm the hiker and equip them with mountaineering equipment. The team belayed the hiker up to the top of the ravine before walking across the Alpine Garden to the Auto Road, where a NH State Parks vehicle was waiting. 

At the same time, the second rescue team, consisting of one Snow Ranger and two members of Mountain Rescue Service, ascended the Tuckerman Ravine Trail from Pinkham Notch. The team located Hiker #1 who was hunkered down inside of a rescue cache at the base of the ravine, prepared to spend the night. After a medical assessment revealing no injuries, the party descended the Tuckerman Ravine Trail back to Pinkham Notch. Both hikers and rescue teams were off the mountain by 12:30am. Heavy rain began falling in the Presidentials slightly after 12:00 midnight. 

Discussion

Incidents like this one are fairly common in the springtime on Mount Washington. Mild, snowless conditions in the valley have yet to translate to the higher elevations and hikers are often misled by the valley weather conditions. Additionally, trails across the Presidentials in steep terrain are still covered in deep snow, effectively turning many trails into mountaineering routes requiring specialized equipment and skill in order to travel safely. Fortunately, this incident had a positive outcome for everyone involved, but other similar historical incidents have not ended with the same positive outcome. 

Hiker #2, belayed from above, climbing back up to the Alpine Garden.

This photo shows the tracklog from the above treeline rescue team. They left the Mount Washington Auto Road, found hiker #2 on a small rock/vegetation outcrop above an area known as The Lip. The team returned to the Auto Road.  

Preparing to move hiker #2 back up to the Alpine Garden, away from steep technical terrain.