Two trail runners were airlifted off Mount Lafayette Saturday, after one man lost his running sneakers and attempted to finish a popular loop by running barefoot through several feet of snow, officials said.
Around 12:45 p.m. Saturday, New Hampshire Fish and Game Department was notified of two hikers who had lost the Greenleaf Trail as they descended from Mount Lafayette.
The two hikers, identified as Michael Burleson, 35, of Gorham, Maine, and Nicholas Drouin, 34, of North Hampton told conservation officers they headed out at 9 a.m. to complete the 9 mile Falling Waters/Bridle Path Loop, hoping to complete the loop in four hours.
Officials said the pair reported as they summited Mount Lafayette they lost the trail in 40 mph winds, single digit temperatures and blowing snow, and while trudging through deep snow one of the men lost his trail running sneakers, then continued on barefoot.
The men headed downhill and eventually were drawn into the Lafayette Drainage until they could no longer continue “due to frozen extremities,” officials said in a release.
The men were eventually able to thaw out a cell phone and call 911 for help, then placed their feet into a pack and waited for rescuers.
Coordinates placed the men off the Greenleaf Trail in the headwaters of Lafayette Brook, and conservation officers along with volunteers from the Pemi Valley Search and Rescue Team responded while a call was placed to the NH Army National Guard to determine the feasibility of a helicopter rescue.
As rescuers on the ground approached the vicinity of the two hikers, an Army National Guard Blackhawk helicopter arrived on scene at 3:08 p.m. and located the pair. A medic was lowered in by hoist to assess the men, and at 3:40 p.m. both hikers had been lifted by hoist along with the medic into the helicopter.
Both Burleson and Drouin were flown directly to Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center for evaluation of cold weather injuries. Shortly after departing the area the mountain was enveloped in cloud cover “that most certainly would have prohibited an air rescue,” officials said.
Both hikers were being evaluated at Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center on Saturday, and no update on their condition was available Sunday.
“If not for the swift response of the NH Army National Guard, this rescue effort most likely would have had a much different outcome,” said Conservation Lt. James Kneeland in a statement. “It also saved ground rescuers from a grueling effort in waist-deep snow on steep terrain.”