Student hikers rescued in New Hampshire mountains
Published: Wednesday, January 16, 2013
Updated: Wednesday, January 16, 2013 03:01
Six members of Tufts Mountain Club (TMC) were rescued early Saturday morning after taking a wrong trail during their return hike down Mount Pierce in New Hampshire’s White Mountain National Forest.
The New Hampshire Fish and Game Department dispatched a four-person rescue team after receiving a 911 call from the hikers at around 6 p.m. on Friday. Rescuers found the students at 2:30 a.m. on Saturday and guided them to safety.
The hikers reached their car at 5:15 a.m. and returned uninjured to the Loj, TMC’s base camp in Woodstock, N.H., according to sophomore trip leaders Emily Melick and Glen Zinck.
“It’s a wake-up call in terms of no matter how many times you go out into the woods to enjoy the outdoors, to go on these hikes, to go on these adventures, it doesn’t matter how experienced you are because you’re always going out into nature,” Melick said.
The group’s excursion was one of many hiking trips that TMC oversees every weekend, according to TMC President Julia Ouimet, a junior. The club has nearly 580 members and regularly sends out hiking, kayaking and rock-climbing trips from the Loj.
Ouimet said the incident was an anomaly.
“As far as I know, no one has had to be rescued by an outside source,” she said. “Everything’s sort of been taken care of by the club. It’s not something that happens very often in TMC.”
Although the university is working with TMC to debrief the incident, the students seemed to have properly implemented emergency protocol, according to Tufts Director of Public Relations Kim Thurler.
“They were well equipped with a compass, extra food and headlamps, and they had the supplies to build a fire,” Thurler said. “When they became unsure of their location, they knew to call 911. It seems that the planning and the preparedness that we try to instill in Mountain Club members paid off.”
Melick and Zinck said that the group adhered to all TMC policies before setting out on Friday morning, including filling out a trips form with everyone’s contact information, reviewing the route, checking gear and preparing food.
While descending Mount Pierce in the mid-afternoon, the hikers mistakenly took a left instead of right turn, Zinck said, putting them on a different trail that had been washed out by Hurricane Irene.
The group, equipped with snowshoes, hiked through snow four feet deep on the damaged trail until realizing at 3:30 p.m. that they were not on the correct path.
“Since there was so much snow at times, we didn’t see a lot of the signs,” Zinck said.
The map indicated that the trail they accidentally took would have also led back to Route 302, their intended destination, Melick noted.
“We knew which direction we needed to go [in],” she said. “The only thing we weren’t sure about, simply because we didn’t have a GPS, was how much mileage we had until the road.”
Knowing it would get dark outside, the students stopped hiking at 5:45 p.m. to call for help, according to Melick.
The Fish and Game Department responded to the call and said that the volunteer rescue team would hike out to them using GPS coordinates and arrive at around 1 or 2 a.m. on Saturday, Melick explained.
“Because [the rescue team] knew roughly where we were and what trail we had been following and where we had come from and where we were headed, it was a lot easier for them to locate us,” she said.
After starting a fire and keeping it ablaze for the next seven to eight hours while they waited, as Zinck said, the students heard a whistle and saw headlamps at 2:30 a.m., according to Melick. They signaled back with their whistle, cleaned up the area and hiked to the rescue team.
Melick and Zinck emphasized that group collaboration, proactive thinking and awareness of everyone’s capabilities contributed to their safety when the unpredictable happened.
“I think one of the most amazing things was not, ‘Oh, as leaders, we were prepared,’ but that as a group we worked together,” Melick said. “We knew when to ask for help. Everyone was phenomenal. When we needed to lean on each other, we did. When we needed to take charge, we did.”
TMC leadership over the past two years has worked with the university to develop a comprehensive emergency response plan that is currently posted at the Loj and available to all club members, Ouimet said.
“That protocol was followed,” she explained. “From a planning and preparedness standpoint, these students did nothing wrong. So we’re kind of counting it as a success of all the planning that previous [TMC] boards have put into this kind of thing.”
Ouimet hopes to continue to stress preparedness, awareness and communication among TMC members in light of the incident.
“It isn’t so much a matter of preventing future TMC members from accidentally taking the wrong trail,” she said. “It is a matter of ensuring that they are prepared to handle the situation when they do.”