Two separate sets of hikers had to be rescued on Mount Washington Friday night, with one of the hikers suffering from life-threatening hypothermia. And New Hampshire Fish and Game officials say neither group of hikers was prepared for the terrain or the cold, windy conditions on the mountain.
The busy day for rescuers began Friday afternoon when two hikers called 911 around 3 p.m. after they became stranded on the Huntington Ravine Trail. According to Fish and Game officials, hikers Abby Finis, 35, and Julia Eagles, 35, both from Minneapolis, had been hiking up the Tuckerman Ravine Trail when they decided to take a detour up Huntington Ravine Trail instead. This trail is commonly referred to as “the most difficult trail in the White Mountains.”
There is a sign at the beginning of Huntington Ravine trail that warns hikers of the difficult trail ahead and to seek an alternate route if they are not prepared or have the experience necessary to complete this hike. Officials say both Finis and Eagles read the sign and decided to attempt the hike anyway.
After the call to 911 was made, two Fish and Game officers responded with ropes and technical gear to assist the stranded hikers. In addition to not being able to negotiate the steep terrain, officials say both Finis and Eagles failed to have the proper gear for a hike to the summit of Mount Washington, dressed in shorts and with little else in their packs except water. The winds were sustained at the higher elevations at 40+ mph with occasional gusts reaching 60-70 mph. The temperature at the base of the mountain was in the 70s, but the temperature at the summit was in the lower 40s.
The officers reached the stranded hikers at 5:52 pm. After providing them with warm clothing, they guided the pair up the steepest section of the trail and hiked the remaining way up to the Mt. Washington Auto Road arriving at 6:40 pm. Finis and Eagles were driven off the mountain and back to Pinkham AMC where they had started from earlier in the day.
Later that evening, shortly before 9 p.m., Fish and Game officers were alerted to a 911 call made by a man in California who was reporting that his 77-year-old father and his father’s 71-year-old hiking companion had called him reporting that they were exhausted and cold and were requesting a rescue. The only other information received before the call was dropped was that they were approximately a mile down from the summit of Mt. Washington on the Tuckerman Ravine Trail. Attempts to contact the distressed hikers were unsuccessful and a search effort was initiated.
Searchers from the Appalachian Mountain Club (AMC), Androscoggin Valley Search and Rescue (AVSAR) and Fish and Game Conservation Officers responded to the call and searched the trails in the vicinity of where the distressed hikers were last reported. AMC personnel hiked in from the Hermit Lake shelter and Lakes in the Clouds shelter, while the AVSAR volunteers and conservation officers took the Auto Road to the summit and searched from the top down.
The searchers endured falling temperatures and 50-60 mph winds in an attempt to locate the hikers. At 11:20 p.m. the hikers were located off the Tuckerman Ravine trail by a team of AVSAR members and conservation officers. Officials said both hikers were woefully unprepared for the conditions, dressed in shorts and light hiking apparel and suffering from various stages of hypothermia.
The female hiker, identified as Alice Rubenstein, 71, of Pittsford, New York was reportedly in a serious hypothermic condition and required a carryout. The male hiker, Arthur Stern, 77, of Ponte Vedra Beach, Florida was initially able to walk, but later required a litter carry out as well.
A request for rescuers was initiated for the demanding, one mile, up-hill carry to the summit. Over twenty volunteers from AVSAR, AMC and Mountain Rescue Services (MRS) answered the call and worked through the night and into the early morning hours in an attempt to save the life of the stricken hiker.
The rescue crew was able to successfully carry Rubenstein all the way up to the Auto Road, arriving at 2:45 a.m. She was placed in a private vehicle and driven down to the entrance of the Auto Road where she was then transferred over to the Gorham EMS ambulance. She was then transported to Androscoggin Valley Hospital (AVH) in Berlin.
While Rubenstein was being driven down the Auto Road, the rescue crew returned back down the Tuckerman Ravine trail and proceeded to package Stern in a litter and carry him up to the Auto Road arriving at 3:35 a.m. He was also driven down to the base of the Auto Road and evaluated by medical personnel from Gorham EMS. He ultimately refused further medical treatment.
In a press release, Fish and Game officials said the extraordinary dedication and teamwork displayed by the group of volunteers from AMC, AVSAR, and MRS, who were woken in the middle of the night to go out in difficult conditions to the top of a mountain, for the sole purpose to help a fellow human being in need is the only reason Alice Rubenstein and Arthur Stern are alive today.