American Alpine Jounrna and Accidents in North American Climbing

Failure to Turn Back, Failure to Follow Route, Inadequate Clothing and Equipment, Weather, New Hampshire, Mount Lafayette

  • Accident Reports
  • Accident Year:
  • Publication Year: 2005

FAILURE TO TURN BACK, FAILURE TO FOLLOW ROUTE, INADEQUATE CLOTHING AND EQUIPMENT, WEATHER

New Hampshire, Mount Lafayette

Russel and Brenda Cox went for a hike to the summit of Mt. Lafayette early Sunday morning, March 21. They had planned to follow the Bridle Path and return the same way, often a ten hour round trip. They started hiking around 8:30 a.m. and reached the Greenleaf Hut, just at timberline, around 11:00 a.m. There they met a party who had been on the summit. They advised the couple that the weather was deteriorating and suggested that they turn around. The Coxes decided to continue to the summit. When they started down, they got lost in the worsening conditions, heading down the wrong trail. By the time they realized their error, they were in a whiteout with winds gusting to 75 mph. They had no clothing or gear for a night out. They built a snow cave and hunkered down. When they awoke on Monday, the weather had not improved.

When they didn’t return by Monday morning, their son called authorities. Their car was found in the Falling Waters parking lot on Monday. Rescuers were called out but were unable to find the couple’s tracks due to a very large snowfall the previous night. Conditions on Monday deteriorated, and around midnight the rescue was suspended.

Monday morning the Coxes continued on the trail, but by this time they and their clothing were wet. Unable to continue or to find their snow cave, they huddled together in a niche between several rocks. Sometime during the night, Mrs. Cox slipped into hypothermia and died.

The rescue resumed on Tuesday morning. The weather had dramatically improved, allowing for the use of a N.H. National Guard Blackhawk helicopter. Members of the local Mountain Rescue Service were ferried to the top of the ridge and started searching at the same time as volunteers started up the surrounding trails. Sometime in mid-morning Mr. Cox crawled from his niche and spotted the helicopter and managed to attract its attention. Mr. Cox and his wife’s body were airlifted out.

Analysis

The Franconia Notch area is known for its volatile weather, especially above timberline, and it was known that a large storm was on its way.

Mountain Rescue Service President Rick Wilcox pointed out that most of their rescues are the result of the following issues or some combination thereof: The party 1) started late; 2) didn’t check the weather; 3) were unprepared to stay out—no bivouac gear; 4) had no preset turnaround time—i.e. pressed on when they should have retreated; 5) had little or no knowledge of the descent route; and 6) exceeded their abilities.

Incidents like this, while not entered in the data because they are not climbing accidents, are reported because they illustrate how a hiking situation can turn into the need for mountaineering skills. (Source: Edited from a report by Al Hospers)

This ANAM article has been reformatted into HTML. Please contact us if you spot an error.