Hiker asked for a rescue...via Facebook

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B the Hiker

Well-known member
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Jan 31, 2008
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Location
Middletown, CT
On Saturday, April 9, 2022, at 1:56pm, a hiker posted the following to a Facebook group:

Hello. I need help. Got blown of Madison. 802-505-xxxx [He gave his real last four digits]

Needless to say, by the time a friend had sent me a screen shot of this, it already had 145 comments, including one that said she had called 911 for him.

On Sunday, said hiker posted a follow-up:


Hey everyone,

As some of you may know, I was involved in a scary situation up on Mount Madison in the Presidential Range yesterday. I was asked to share my experience of what happened up there so that it could help someone down the road who might find themselves in a similar situation. Here is what I remember about what happened...

I decided to try and bag both Mount Adams and Mount Madison yesterday. The weather report looked decent with some rain at lower elevations, turning into potential snow above the tree line, nothing that I haven't hiked in before. I started out like any other hike (except seeing a black bear about 1.5 miles up the trail) and summited Adams in just over a couple of hours. It was spitting snow as I started towards the summit, but the visibility was OK. As I was eating lunch at the summit, the weather started to shift a little bit with the wind picking up and the visibility becoming worse. In hindsight, this would have been a great place to call it a day, but I waited it out and headed down and over to Mount Madison once the storm calmed.

As I reached the summit of Madison which is a little under 1.5 miles from the top of Mount Adams, the weather took a dramatic shift. The wind picked up and the snow was blowing sideways (pretty much a snow squall on top of a mountain). I was totally exposed and the storm did not let up even though I tried to wait it out. At this time, visibility was maybe 20-25 feet. Eventually I decided it was time to make an attempt to descend. I hiked down and through the trail junction that was on my map only to never find the trail. I ended up in trees and deep snow. I decided to follow my footprints back up to the junction sign. Unfortunately, the snow had blown over and covered my footprints so I lost that trail. I couldn't locate any cairns to get back on a path, so I re-summited Madison and started over. I descended again, but couldn't find the trail to get on the Watson Path, which was supposed to lead me down the mountain. Instead I ended up in deep snow and trees again. This is where I started to become scared and made the decision to reach out for help. The cold temperatures had pretty much killed my phone. I was worried about trying to call 9-1-1 with my battery level and didn't think I would be able to connect to a call and share my info before my phone died. Instead, I reached out to my hiking group here so at least people knew of my situation. I have since learned that you can text 9-1-1 in cases of emergency, which is helpful information to have.

After reaching out, my phone died and I tried to come up with a different plan to get back on trail. I was still completely exposed and needed to find a way to get below the alpine zone. I hiked partially back up Madison one more time to hopefully find a path. I got lucky and found a trail. It definitely wasn't a trail that I was familiar with, but it was a path that led down so I got on it and hoped it led to some sort of marking that would tell me where I was. The trail led down to a junction where a sign pointed me towards the Madison Hut which was 1.2 miles away. Not the best news...but not the worst since I could get down if I could reach the hut. The only problem was whatever trail this was hadn't been used in quite a long time. I slogged for who knows how long in knee deep snow. I would take two steps and drop in again which was starting to suck the energy out of me. I eventually crawled some of the way to avoid falling in and getting my boots and socks more wet. Eventually, this trail led me back up into the alpine zone, which was really discouraging. Essentially, I had done a giant circle. The silver lining was the trail had led me back to the junction sign that I had lost contact with a few hours before. The junction sign pointed me to the Madison Hut which was a half mile away. The visibility was still terrible (maybe 20-25 feet), but I was able to locate cairns and follow them down to the Hut. All in all I spent about 4 hours on Mount Madison in some not so great conditions.

Once I was at the Hut (closed for the Winter), I thought my best bet was to re-scale to the base of the Adams summit where I could get back onto the Air Line trail and head down the same way I came up. At this point I was pretty zapped, but I knew I couldn't stand around. The visibility was still awful, but I was able to stay on the cairns and get up to the Air Line trail and finally descend back down to my car.

I hope my story is a learning experience for people. Sometimes it is best to not challenge Mother Nature and just save it for another day. I am thankful for the hiking community and my friends who I have received hundreds of messages from since I got down and were organizing ways to find me if I wasn't able to self rescue. I am also thankful for the people who reached out with advice. I am thankful for the lessons my dad taught me when I was younger around staying sharp and not panicking if you were to ever become lost in the woods and every coach/adult I had that preached the importance of mental toughness. I am thankful my mind, my body and my equipment held up for me (thank you North Face and Kahtoola Ice Spikes) and that I was lucky enough to find my way down. I am forever grateful for the cairns and the people that set them up. I am truly lucky to have been able to walk out off the mountain with a few bruises and a good story.
 
It was quite nasty both days this weekend up north, generic NH forecasts did not reflect local conditions on the summits. It went from brief sun to rain to sleet to snow in the course of a half hour during most of the day at my house 5 miles from the summit. I was trying to get some outdoor work done and everytime the weather started to look better it would start raining again. Given I can see the Madison and Adams summits from my driveway, I am quite surprised that the hiker could claim that the conditions were good for a solo summit attempt on Saturday. Local and summit forecasts were for a front coming through mid day and pretty nasty weather so the hiker had not checked or understood the local forecasts. My guess was the hiker was using his phone in regular mode instead of airplane mode as unless the battery was not charged or lacked capacity, a cell battery using Gaia (or equivalent) should not have run out of battery on a day hike. The hiker did not cover if the map being used was electronic or hardcopy. The Madison and Adams summit area has been quite stable with respect to hiking trails for at least 30 years. The last trail to be closed is probably Adams Slide in 1969. I am not aware of any trails that have been abandoned since. AMC has attempted to brush in bootleg paths near the hut but only within the lower "bowl" area. My speculation is the hiker was confused on what they saw on the map (be it electronic or hardcopy). Watson Path does have some stretches above treeline that are difficult to traverse in windy low vis conditions. Winds were from the NW so heading down Watson Path would have been fully exposed until treeline. Watson Path also has some odd routing down in the drainage which makes it easy to miss the climb up to Valley Way. I have been caught with two others in low vis one day above treeline on this path and it was quite difficult to stay on route. One person would go forward while two held back until the first person found a sure sign of trail and then wave back to the other two. It took us an hour to traverse what normally would be 5 or 10 minutes of trail. My guess is the hiker was not following old trails as much as just random gaps and leads in the krummholz. In winter conditions hiking especially in the "old days" with less usage, finding the actual trail route could be very difficult above treeline in mixed scrub as the trail bed would fill in level with the surrounding scrub. What looks to be clear trail just is an oddity in local wind conditions. Pre GPS, iI have burned up more time than I would like trying to find the real trail that heads back into the woods.

If the hiker was on the north side of Madison, they may have encountered Pine Link, Its the foul weather bypass on the north side of the summit. Unless its been recently cleared, it is a path hacked through dense krummholz and tends to fill in with snow. Its been years since I have hiked it but its on my list of one of nastier hikes in the whites even on a good day due to treacherous footing and narrow width. I guess I have chalk it up on mild hypothermia of the hiker to decide to take Airline back down instead of Valley Way which calls into question the hikers preparation for the hike. Airline is far more exposed for far longer to NW winds. Within 200 feet of the hut Valley Way is out of the NW wind and once it drops into the sidehill section it generally is a sidewalk this time of year.

Its great the hiker learned something and that the echo chamber of facebook is somehow supportive of the effort. Multiple mistakes do not make a right and in this case multiple mistakes were made. I expect the proverb applies God helps three sorts of people: fools, children and drunkards
 
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Interesting tact to get himself out of the jam. Going back and up to Adams to find a route you know, vs. going down (which I know he tried multiple times without success). I'd guess one could say it worked, so it was the correct action to take?
 
Interesting tact to get himself out of the jam. Going back and up to Adams to find a route you know, vs. going down (which I know he tried multiple times without success). I'd guess one could say it worked, so it was the correct action to take?

We have to be quite cautious with that reasoning. As Peakbagger suggested, I suspect this hiker lacked a paper map and had been using his phone for navigation, so I think we can safely say that at that point, he lacked a map.

I think one could say that: if one lacks a map and has no other knowledge of the area, returning to a route one knows is not a bad option.

He never mentions Valley Way, and he certainly hiked right past it. I suspect he only knew Airline, and bizarrely, made his task much harder by going right past a far better option to return to one he knew.

The problem is, that by his own account, if conditions were as bad as he described, going back up to Adams was a pretty risky venture in its own right. But if that was the only route he knew, I am not sure what other choice he had.
 
The problem is, that by his own account, if conditions were as bad as he described, going back up to Adams was a pretty risky venture in its own right. But if that was the only route he knew, I am not sure what other choice he had.

At that point, getting down is probably more important than getting down to where you want to be. Had they followed that reasoning, they would have been pleasantly surprised to find all the trails going down from Madison Hut go to the same place. Nevermind that the Watson Path sign that told them Madison Hut was 1.5 mi away also told them that Valley Way takes him to Appalachia.
 
Sigh..... Glad he is fine. hopefully he learned something. He certainly is in very shape to keep going back up to summits and is either very hardy and/or also had all the gear needed to keep warm enough to keep going.

So he apparently knew the Watson Path and the Airline Trail as those seemed to be what he kept aiming for. I believe they are the shortest trails to the summits of Adams and Madison from Appalachia. I can only assume that online mapping software doesn't mention anything about a trail description. The WMG for years has described that the cairns on the Watson Path as being small and hard to see in bad weather. I've done it just a bit after sunrise on a good day and they weren't all that obvious then. To get from Adams to Madison, he had to go very close to the hut and go up Osgood unless he went around the cone on Parapet to get to the top from the other direction on Osgood to go up some other way. Knowing that signs and maps don't always match, looking at the map, the junction that would be 1.2 miles from Madison Hut, he'd be at the junction with Pine Link and Howker Ridge. He then went back up Adams, going past the hut once again.

So, whatever he was using as a guide, it didn't have Valley Way on it or he was unaware that it's the most protected and busiest trail from where he was to get back to his car. He lacked a map and any knowledge of trail descriptions.

Some of the adults he thanks in the ending paragraph should have taught him to gather and read more information. He wasn't lost in the woods, he was lost where there were no trees and markings would be painted on rocks, likely covered in snow (& useless) and cairns of various heights. He walked past the safest way down twice. As often is said, the most important gear you have is between your ears. It should be the best gear you have too.

PS. As a pessimist, if we later learned that the whole thing was made up, I'd be saddened to learn that but not shocked.
 
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The hiker did not state how they got down to Madison Col from Adams, Its a pretty obvious choice Airline or Star Lake Trail. Airline is extremely exposed to NW winds while Star Lake is sheltered but steep and has a couple of steep snowfields to cross. Hopefully they skipped Star Lake Trail or they would have ended up in the head wall of Madison Gulf. ( a very bad place to be) Coming down from on the Gulfside there are older brushed in paths that go directly to the hut rather than the actual trail route that turns north and intersects Valley Way just before it crosses the drainage. My guess is their reference to going back up Adams was taking the Gulfside (AT) up from the hut (walking right past the Valley Way sign with distance to RT2) and climbing up out of the col to the intersection with Airline. They would have missed that sign if they took one of the shortcut up to Airline. Upper Bruin trail is the traditional foul weather route to bypass the exposed portion of the Airline which would have required going down Valley Way to catch the junction. Valley Way and the Airline start at Appalachia so anyone with the ability to read a hard copy map would have seen options. Therefore my speculation on hypothermia, my guess is once they were on Madison, their higher level mental functions were impaired.

My speculation is that they had seen an All Trails or equivalent trail description https://www.alltrails.com/trail/us/new-hampshire/mount-adams-via-air-line-trail which is just a recipe for how to get in trouble in April on a Solo hike in marginal weather.
 
On Saturday, April 9, 2022, at 1:56pm, a hiker posted the following to a Facebook group:

Hello. I need help. Got blown of Madison. 802-505-xxxx [He gave his real last four digits]

Needless to say, by the time a friend had sent me a screen shot of this, it already had 145 comments, including one that said she had called 911 for him.

On Sunday, said hiker posted a follow-up:

If someone called 911, would that have prompted a NHF&G response? He made no mention of seeing people gathering at the trailhead. Would expect we would see something in the next few days on the F&G website soon.
 
Would expect we would see something in the next few days on the F&G website soon.

Glad he made it out unscathed. Sounded like a looong day.

We know few details of his navigation tools. But in phone app he could have easily dropped way points into a saved route and the been able to nav back to one (eg: the Mad hut). It's a short 0.4 mile hop from summit to hut!

Also, simply walking a generally West heading off Madison summit would have brought him into the col and general area of the hut. Easier said than done I suppose and might require snowshoes.

IMHO a soloist venturing above tree-line in winter ought to have a zero viz navigation plan: either written compass bearings on a paper map, dropped way points in an app or above tree line run tracking (in Airplane mode) to ID current location and the way home.

This same scenario occasionally plays out on the summit of Lafayette as folks get turned around and miss the hut when viz drops.
 
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This is why you should always bring snowshoes when hiking the high peaks this time of year - even if there's little to no snow above treeline, the snow in the woods is still deep and will require snowshoes to make an emergency exit.
 
Why do people rely solely on phones? I always have my GPS (sometimes two), a compass and a map, and then phone as last resort to attempt a text for help if you are out of options. None of those nav aids materially adds to the weight you are carrying, yet gives you redundancy. GPS is easy to have additional batteries for, and map and compass are just pretty basic. Save the phone batteries. Definitely snow shoes with you this time of year. I've turned back due to deep snow and snow squalls in April (and in the winter as well). Finally, know your escape routes. I, too, am interested in why he missed Valley Way. I don't think I'd be proud of myself. This seemed more like luck than anything else.

edit: I see he also had a map.

Further edit: where would he have been on the north side on a trail w/a sign but 1.2 miles from the hut? Pine Link/Watson is less than 1.2 miles from the hut, no?
 
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Why do people rely solely on phones? I always have my GPS (sometimes two), a compass and a map, and then phone as last resort to attempt a text for help if you are out of options. None of those nav aids materially adds to the weight you are carrying, yet gives you redundancy. GPS is easy to have additional batteries for, and map and compass are just pretty basic. Save the phone batteries. Definitely snow shoes with you this time of year. I've turned back due to deep snow and snow squalls in April (and in the winter as well). Finally, know your escape routes. I, too, am interested in why he missed Valley Way. I don't think I'd be proud of myself. This seemed more like luck than anything else.

edit: I see he also had a map.

Further edit: where would he have been on the north side on a trail w/a sign but 1.2 miles from the hut? Pine Link/Watson is less than 1.2 miles from the hut, no?

Pine Link & Howker Ridge is 1.2 to the hut if the map and sign are in agreement.
 
Why do people rely solely on phones? I always have my GPS (sometimes two), a compass and a map, and then phone as last resort to attempt a text for help if you are out of options. None of those nav aids materially adds to the weight you are carrying, yet gives you redundancy. GPS is easy to have additional batteries for, and map and compass are just pretty basic.

edit: I see he also had a map.

People tend to tell a story in the light most favorable to them. Okay f someone is using only a phone and a map from AllTrails [say], that becomes a “map.” If he had a paper map, one suspects he would have gone down Valley Way. Since his phone had died by that point, I suspect it’s safe to say he had no map whatsoever.

I was up the weekend prior doing Madison, Adams, and Jefferson. People kept asking me if I was camping, and I explained that I had to be prepared to be out for an extended time in f something went wrong. I had multiple replies of traveling “fast and light.” Tiny backpacks and cellphones for guidance I think is the new norm among new hikers.
 
People tend to tell a story in the light most favorable to them. Okay f someone is using only a phone and a map from AllTrails [say], that becomes a “map.” If he had a paper map, one suspects he would have gone down Valley Way. Since his phone had died by that point, I suspect it’s safe to say he had no map whatsoever.

I was up the weekend prior doing Madison, Adams, and Jefferson. People kept asking me if I was camping, and I explained that I had to be prepared to be out for an extended time in f something went wrong. I had multiple replies of traveling “fast and light.” Tiny backpacks and cellphones for guidance I think is the new norm among new hikers.

Yes, I should have been clearer -- I meant one should always carry a paper map (and compass). Pretty basic. I agree that fast and light is probably the new norm, though I am not convinced people give that much thought to "fast and light" vs. packing for an overnight situation with extra water, food, clothing and a bivy sack.
 
I think this is a fine example of why it might be a good idea to use hand-held GPS for navigation and save the phone for emergency calls, but NHClimber has already beat me to this punchline.
 
I think this is a fine example of why it might be a good idea to use hand-held GPS for navigation and save the phone for emergency calls, but NHClimber has already beat me to this punchline.

Learn to properly use whatever technology you choose and have redundancy. A mobile device properly setup for navigation will last days on a single charge.
 
Learn to properly use whatever technology you choose and have redundancy. A mobile device properly setup for navigation will last days on a single charge.

I've never had that experience with an iPhone. Plus, they do not hold up well in cold, adverse conditions, and touch screens do not work well when wet. Compass, paper map, rugged GPS for serious endeavors. Keep the phone for Starbucks orders and Tik Tok.
 
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