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January 20. 2014 7:29PM

Team effort rescues hikers on Mount Washington

MOUNT WASHINGTON — Four Pennsylvania hikers attempting to descend Mount Washington got separated Sunday from their larger party and ran into serious trouble in extreme weather conditions, according to the U.S. Forest Service's Snow Rangers.

A tremendous, multi-agency effort in zero degree temperatures and 95 mph wind gusts into the early-morning hours Monday was required to save them, according to the rangers.

"This was a colossal team effort from many groups in the New Hampshire Search and Rescue community," Snow Ranger Christopher Joosen said in a new release issued Monday.

"This rescue effort, in some of Mount Washington's worst weather, was an enormous success that saved lives within the missing group," he said.

A party of 15 from Bloomsburg University in Bloomsburg, Pa., attempted to hike Mt. Washington's summit, setting out early Sunday morning, according to Joosen. But a smaller group later decided to separate and head back down to Pinkham Notch while the larger group continued to the summit, he said.

Pennsylvania residents Wayne Ebling 59, from Cressona, Rhea Mitchell, 22, from Danville, Andrew Snyder, 22, from York and Kelly Sloan, 33 from Bloomsburg missed a critical trail junction above tree line on their descent and became disoriented, according to Joosen.

"Winds were building to 65 mph which created very low visibility and ground blizzards." The four tried to dig into snow for shelter, called 911, and activated their emergency signaling devices.

Meanwhile, the larger party had reached the summit and started back down in what Joosen described as deteriorating weather conditions

The emergency signals reached New Hampshire State Police and the New Hampshire Fish and Game Department, he said.

"Members from Mountain Rescue Service, the New Hampshire Fish and Game and U.S. Forest Service Snow Rangers made up three mixed teams," Joosen said.

"Teams hiked up the Lion Head Trail and were shuttled up the Auto Road to move across the Alpine Garden. New Hampshire State Parks played a critical role with Snowcat support.

"Two snow vehicles moved rescuers up and down the mountain, and finally, the lost group on the descent. Additional support, equipment and rescuers from the Appalachian Mountain Club, The Harvard Mountaineering Club, the Mount Washington Observatory, Friends of the Mount Washington Avalanche Center and the Mount Washington Auto Road helped tremendously," Joosen said, before the operation was completed at about 3:30 a.m. Monday.

The White Mountain National Forest operates the Mount Washington Avalanche Center to provide daily safety information and search and rescue services to the public. Mountain weather forecasts and other information can be obtained at the website: www.mountwashingtonavalanchecenter.org.

bhookway@newstote.com


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