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September 19. 2012 12:48PM

Rescuers in Franconia battled winds, rain in 'Herculean' effort to save hiker

FRANCONIA - Rescuers carried an injured Michigan man nearly four miles out of the White Mountains National Forest overnight Tuesday into Wednesday in whipping winds gusting at 80 mph and in a torrential downpour.

“I want to commend the Herculean efforts of all the participating search teams working through the night in very difficult conditions and rugged terrain to carry this man to safety. Most likely, they saved his life,” said Fish and Game Lt. James Kneeland.

According to a press release issued by state Fish and Game, Edward Bacon, 59, of Northville, Mich., was on the third day of a five-day solo trek at Franconia Notch when he fell Tuesday about 1:30 p.m. and seriously injured his hip. Bacon crawled to an area where he was able to get brief cell phone reception and called both 911 and the Appalachian Mountain Club (AMC) Lodge in Pinkham Notch.

Bacon had backpacking gear with him although his tent had blown away in the fierce winds. He climbed into a sleeping bag to stay warm as he was becoming hypothermic from being rain-soaked and pummeled by winds while awaiting rescuers.

AMC initially sent out a searcher from the Greenleaf Hut to try to find Bacon, but high winds forced that individual to turn back. A second team of two AMC staffers set out and were able to navigate the ridge and reach Bacon, who was between Lincoln and Haystack, about 6:20 p.m. Shortly after, New Hampshire Fish and Game Department conservation officers and the Pemigewasset Valley Search and Rescue Team volunteers reached him.

Fish and Game coordinated the 3.9-mile carryout over rough terrain in 70 mph sustained winds, with gusts over 80 mph.

Bacon was secured on a litter for the nearly nine-hour trip down the mountain. About 10 p.m., the steady rain became a torrential downpour as the rescuers tried to go down the Falling Waters Trail, a route normally recommended only for climbing up the mountain because of its steepness.

As the rescue was taking place overnight, 5.28 inches of rain fell on Pinkham Notch, according to a National Weather Service meteorologist in Gray, Maine.

The heavy rain immediately swelled rivers and streams in the area, and Mountain Rescue Service volunteers arrived to help with several difficult brook crossings, using ropes to help the teams cross safely.

The rescue party reached the trailhead at 3:20 a.m. Wednesday, and Bacon was taken by Franconia ambulance to Littleton Regional Hospital.

Kneeland said hikers should take note that conditions are changing fast in New Hampshire's mountains. Days are rapidly becoming shorter and hikers are advised to carry lights, extra clothing, and appropriate gear for a variety of weather conditions, especially at higher altitudes. It's also critical to check on and heed weather forecasts before heading out.

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