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Solo hiker failed to return from day hike on Mt. Moosilauke

Monitor staff
Published: 3/16/2021 4:49:31 PM

On Sunday, the wind above treeline in the White Mountains howled at 60 miles an hour with gusts over 100. Temperatures dropped to 16 degrees below zero, not including the windchill.

Roy Sanford, a 66-year-old man from Plymouth, Massachusetts, was overdue from a solo day hike on Mt. Moosilauke. As day turned to night, his family grew more and more concerned, officials with New Hampshire Fish and Game said. 

Sanford told his family that he was going to go on “an up and back hike” up the Glencliff Trail, a three mile straight shot to the south peak of Moosilauke at 4,500 feet elevation. The north peak, with another 300 feet of elevation gain, sits less than a mile away across a ridge line. Sanford left early in the morning and intended to be back in time for dinner that night. When he didn’t return home, his family called the state police.

On Monday afternoon, his body was discovered in the Gorge Brook drainage area of the the mountain.

New Hampshire Fish & Game officers organized a “hasty search” Sunday afternoon after Sandford’s vehicle was located at the Glencliff trailhead. The conservation officers reached the south peak, but could not complete their search that night “due to high winds, lack of visibility and their own safety.”

Conditions high on the mountain included whipping snow, heavy wind gusts and below freezing temperatures.

“They could no longer follow the trail, they couldn’t see anything,” Lt. James Kneeland said Tuesday.

Throughout the night and early morning, conservation officers checked nearby trail parking areas for any sign of Sanford.

The search restarted the next day, with ground teams made up of conservation officers, volunteers from the Mountain Rescue Service and Pemi Valley Search and Rescue. The New Hampshire Army National Guard also deployed a Blackhawk helicopter to perform an aerial search.

“In a true collaborative effort,” according to Fish & Game, that afternoon, ground teams discovered tracks in the snow that led them to Sanford’s body. The helicopter carriedf him to Dartmouth Hitchcock Medical Center, where he was pronounced dead.

Kneeland said that it is possible that Sanford was unaware of the weather forecast for Sunday. He said that “heeding the weather forecast would’ve been the most appropriate” measure to avoid such an incident, along with “bringing a lot more appropriate clothing and gear for such temperatures.” Earlier in the week, temperatures in the White Mountains were above freezing, but a cold front brought back freezing temperatures and high winds over the weekend.

“It’s not that it’s not doable, it’s that you need to have the proper equipment,” Kneeland said, referring specifically to snowshoes and microspikes.

Kneeland pointed out that hiking alone is extremely dangerous. “Traveling alone in these conditions obviously proved fatal, when there’s not someone with you to help if you have a problem,” he said.

Kneeland noted that hiking has become a more popular pastime with COVID-19 restricting activities. “As a whole, people want to spend time in the outdoors,” he said. 

Amid this heightened activity, Kneeland said that it is important to be careful.

“This time of year always offers a challenging time for enjoying the wilds of the state,” according to Fish & Game. To do so safely, Fish & Game recommends reviewing information on their website www.hikesafe.com ahead of time and paying attention to weather forecasts.

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