FALL ON ICE, WEATHER
New Hampshire, Mount Adams
High winds and ice-covered trails brought a January Presidential Range traverse to a sudden stop when a climber fell and broke her leg. On the second day of what would have been a three-day guided range traverse, Chris Schilig, a 47-year-old mountaineer, fell and shattered her leg at Thunderstorm Junction, a trail intersection near the summit of Mount Adams.
Members of the AMC’s Pinkham Notch Crew, the Mountain Rescue Service (MRS), and the US Department of Fish and Game responded to the emergency call of traverse leader and long-time mountaineer Bill Aughton.
Aughton, the AMC’s retail manager at Pinkham Notch Camp and a 17-year veteran of the New Hampshire mountaineering community, and an MRS member, was leading three participants of the International Mountain Climbing School’s (IMCS) trek with co-leader Dan Dougherty, when powerful, 70-mile-per-hour winds, combined with layers of ice on rock underfoot, toppled Schilig, trapping her leg in a pocket between two boulders.
“Those are the worst conditions to be up there in; it’s neither safe for crampons, which add to instability in the high wind, nor is it safe without them,” Aughton explained.
Acting quickly, Aughton and Dougherty straightened and splinted Schilig’s leg using a splint that Aughton had packed as part of his emergency gear for the trip. The two then rigged a carry-litter with ski poles. “I’ve waited for years to use that splint; it’s just this sort of accident that I wanted to be prepared for,” said Aughton, who also teaches Rescue and First Aid courses.
The weather deteriorated rapidly, eliminating the option of an emergency bivouac. The two leaders decided that they and the two other range-traverse participants would carry Schilig, who was training for a climbing expedition to Ecuador, in the make-shift litter 1.2 miles to the Randolph Mountain Club (RMC) cabin at Grey Knob, where a caretaker was waiting. Walking on the ice-encrusted, boulder-strewn trail, with wind and rain threatening their balance and footing, it took two hours to cover less than half the distance to the shelter.
Fortunately, the team of four climbers met up with two hikers, who volunteered to take shifts carrying Schilig in the litter to the shelter. “It would’ve been hell without them,” Aughton said.
Upon reaching the shelter, they radioed for assistance. Six AMC crew members were joined by 20 volunteer members of the Mountain Rescue Service, Inc. After midnight, close to 13 hours after the accident, rescuers delivered Schilig safely from the forest to an arranged site where a vehicle was waiting to take her to the local hospital.
After the rescue, while Schilig rested in a local hospital, Aughton said, “I felt very warmed by the response to our emergency from everyone. It would have been hell without the two volunteers and the teamwork with Dougherty. And Chris was brilliant.” (Source: Appalachia Bulletin, March 1991, Barbara Steffens)