Frostbite, Hypothermia, Bad Weather, Exposure, Lost, Inadequate Equipment — New Hampshire, Mount Washington

Publication Year: 1983.


New Hampshire, Mount Washington

On January 22, 1982, Jeffrey Batzer (20) and Hugh Herr (17) arrived at Pinkham Notch; immediately after checking in, they started up the steep, three-mile trail to Harvard Cabin, a two-room structure of logs chinked with oakum just below Huntington Ravine. Batzer, an apprentice in tool-and-die making, and Herr, a high school junior, were ardent ice climbers.

The young men practiced constantly on the frozen falls around Lancaster (Pennsylvania) and Batzer, a wiry 123 pounds, worked out every day with weights. They had been to Mount Washington before. This time they came to climb Odell’s Gully in Huntington Ravine.

They started early the next morning, virtually scampering 310 meters up the frozen gully, and reached the top in about 90 minutes. Then, although it was snowing heavily and the plan they had left behind called for them to descend by way of a ridge called the Lion’s Head, which separates the two ravines as a nose does the eyes, they decided to leave behind the weight of their overnight bivouac gear and make a dash for the summit, about 500 meters above them. Meanwhile, the snowfall grew heavier.

For the next three days, as the cold deepened and the winds lifted above 225 kph, neither they nor anyone else knew where they were. They had stopped short of the summit and had begun to descend, but the wind had blown them off course. They had left their compass behind with their overnight gear. As they tried to follow a winding and partly hidden stream downhill, Herr fell in twice. Although Batzer managed to pull him out and gave him a pair of his own dry wool pants, Herr’s lower legs began to freeze. They spent that night and the next two nights in a cocoon of cut spruce branches in the shelter of a large rock, legs locked together, hugging each other for warmth.

When the two did not return to the cabin that night, Matt Pierce, Harvard Cabin’s caretaker, radioed the Mountain Rescue Service (MRS). On Sunday morning, (January 24) members of the MRS began to make their way up the mountain. However, they could not see their feet in the blinding snow and withdrew.

On Monday (January 25) the air was clearer. Albert Dow and Michael Hartrick, members of the MRS, made their way up the left side of Odell’s Gully, found some kick marks in the snow leading over the rim and decided to search the missing climbers’ planned descent route down Lion’s Head.

Fifteen minutes later, Bill Kane, the team leader, heard Hartrick on the radio. “He’s screaming, I thought. “Why is he screaming on the mike?”

There had been an avalanche. (See following report.)

The same day, Cam Bradshaw, a young woman who works at Pinkham Notch Camp, was out snowshoeing. She saw some floundering tracks in the snow, followed them, and found the two missing young men. When Misha Kirk, a 31-year-old paramedic on the rescue team reached them, Herr was near death from the bitter cold and his legs were solidly frozen into the mid-calf; Batzer was badly frostbitten. A New Hampshire National Guard helicopter braved the winds to lift them out, leaving Kirk to walk back down the mountain. (Source: Dudley Clendinen, The New York Times, March 2, 1982)