Analysis of Last Summer’s Accidents in the White Mountains of New Hampshire, Next Appalachia

The steep pitch of Mount Washington’s Tuckerman Ravine Trail, approximately at the center of this photo, as seen from Lion’s Head. Last September, a hiker fell to his death trying to fill a water bottle. Jerry and Marcy Monkman

Coming in the Summer/Fall issue of Appalachia journal, available June 15:

Accidents Editor Sandy Stott on Imagining Ourselves in Danger: “Part of what brings many of us to the Accidents report is our absence from it,” Stott writes. “Most often, this is true literally, but it is also true figuratively. We don’t see ourselves in such straits, even as we walk the same trails and cross the same slopes. ... Increasingly, as I offer comments on others’ missteps and endings, I see myself.

“Perhaps that is this column’s intended effect: Having imagined ourselves in various difficulties, we will be prudent in our risk-taking,” Stott, a longtime hiker and former Appalachia editor, writes. “But, even as I see myself in incidents of possible peril, that’s not the way it’s working. Rational response might have seen me tighten the safety belt on my armchair. But a love of the hills and trails has swept away such a pinning of self in a safe place. As answer, I have set myself in motion, choosing first a long, local trail run and taking steps toward a next, longer, imagined one in the Whites. So it is, I think, with most of us when we contemplate mountain difficulty. The face or faces that rise from each incident in this column remind me finally how fortunate we all are to lace on our boots or running shoes and aim out and up on a trail. Whether we come back or not.”

Hiker reaches to fill his water bottle, slips, and dies. Last September 19, Luc P., age 25, climbed Mount Washington for the first time, driving to the Pinkham Notch side from Montreal, Quebec with four friends. They left late, shared some wine at the summit, and started down in the chilly, clear weather. On the way down, Luc left the Tuckerman Ravine Trail to check out a waterfall. Trying to refill his water bottle in the stream, he slipped and fell to a small, wet ledge 150 feet below. Rescuers who included a nurse out hiking, an Appalachian Mountain Club caretaker, and staffers of the Mount Washington State Park and the Mount Washington Observatory, all managed to reach Luc, who was still conscious and attended by one of his friends. After sunset, the New Hampshire National Guard made a difficult rescue using a Blackhawk helicopter. Luc was pronounced dead at the hospital. What went wrong? Stott’s analysis considers many factors: The group started late on a trail they’d never attempted before. Waterfalls and new views lure hikers off official trails. Wet rock often leads to slips and death. Read the full story of this all-too-common tragedy in the full Accidents report, available in the next Appalachia.

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