LINCOLN — It may be spring in the valleys, but there are still some remnants of winter in the mountains, a point that the New Hampshire Fish and Game Department is emphasizing after earlier this week having to use a helicopter to rescue a hiker who encountered severe conditions.
On Monday, Fish and Game — with assistance from a U.S. Army National Guard crew and chopper — helped to bring down David Humphrey, 75, of Falmouth, Maine, from the summit of Bond Cliff.
According to Fish and Game, Humphrey set out at 5 a.m. Sunday from the Appalachian Mountain Club hostel at Crawford Notch on Route 302 with the intent of covering the 21 miles to the Lincoln Woods Trailhead in one day.
Although prepared for a day hike, Humphrey — who was not injured — didn’t bring any overnight gear and he had to contend with snow up to 2-feet deep as well as ice and rain.
Humphrey called 911 at 9:30 p.m. Sunday and again at 1:30 a.m. Monday, saying he was in distress. Rescuers set out 90 minutes after the second call to find him and located Humphrey almost nine miles from the nearest trailhead.
Assisted by two conservation officers, Humphrey was led down below the inclement weather ceiling, where the helicopter crew was able to hover and extract both he and the officers. The trio was flown to the Lincoln Woods Trailhead where Humphrey, who suffered some symptoms of hypothermia due to prolonged exposure, was picked up by a relative.
The incident prompted a warning from Fish and Game Captain John Wimsatt, who said it was the third time in less than a week that “hikers have ventured onto high elevation trails, where significant snow and ice conditions prevail, and gotten into trouble.”
Wimsatt said spring hikers should be “fully prepared with sufficient food, equipment, clothing and overnight gear” and that they should also “heed weather reports” and check conditions with the Appalachian Mountain Club and the Mount Washington Observatory.
Fish and Game Lt. Heidi Murphy on Tuesday said additional information is available at www.hikesafe.com, which is a joint effort between her department and the White Mountain National Forest.
Murphy said hikers have to be prepared for more than just the prospect of good exercise and should consider and plan for worst-case scenarios.
“It’s a whole different scenario” at higher elevations than at the base of a trail, Murphy said, “and that’s why every year we do have people who go up and need assistance because they didn’t think that at the top it would be so severe.”
Hikers should be self-sufficient and be able to “get yourself out if in a dire situation,” Murphy said, although Fish and Game rescuers will always come when called. Hikers may not be able to control the weather, she added, “but you can control how many miles per day you travel and what you bring with you.”
Part of what hikers should bring is a healthy respect for Mother Nature, said Murphy, noting that even though Lincoln Woods is relatively flat, it is crossed by numerous water courses that, especially in the spring, “are going to be rising heavily and very quickly.”
“We don’t want to scare people,” she said, “but at the same time we do want people to think about what could happen.”
In addition to Tuesday’s rescue of Humphrey, Fish and Game conservation officers on May 2 had to guide down by telephone five southern New Hampshire teenagers who attempted to traverse the Flume Slide Trail up to Franconia Ridge, cross the ridge, and come down the Liberty Spring Trail.
Like Humphrey, the group encountered what Fish and Game officials described as “significant snow and ice along the way” and they, too, had inadequate footwear and clothing for the conditions. The group called for help and, with direction from conservation officers, were able to descend the Flume Slide Trail without additional assistance and with no injuries.
A day earlier, on May 1, in the area of Franconia Ridge, a 22-year old man from Acton, Mass., had to be rescued after he accidentally stabbed himself the evening before while cutting evergreen branches to be used for bedding and insulation for himself and a companion.