Hiker who was rescued in winter-like weather on Presidential Range dies; multiple others had to be helped

  • Winter weather at the Mt. Washington Observatory on June 19. Courtesy of Mt. Washington Observatory

Monitor staff
Published: 6/20/2022 11:12:52 AM

The winter-like weather that swept through the White Mountains this weekend led to at least a half-dozen rescues of unprepared hikers, one of whom died Monday – a sobering reminder about the need to be ready for anything at any time when heading above treeline in New Hampshire.

“It wasn’t like June, it was a winter event. Unless you had winter gear, you were not prepared for the conditions,” said Lt. Bob Mancini of New Hampshire Fish & Game. “You were stumbling and staggering, just trying to stay upright in the wind. You couldn’t see more than one cairn at a time.”

Mancini was a member of the advance search and rescue team that rescued Xi Chen, 53, of Andover, Mass., late Saturday night.

Chen was attempting a solo Presidential Traverse, hiking over several peaks named for presidents in the White Mountains, when he was overcome by cold and wind on the Gulfside Trail on Mt. Clay. He sent a text to his wife at 6:30 p.m. saying he was wet and cold and “could not continue on,” and she contacted 911.

Chen was unresponsive by the time rescuers answered his emergency call, and was pronounced dead at Androscoggin Valley Hospital in Berlin after “life-saving efforts were attempted for several hours” but proved unsuccessful, according to New Hampshire Fish & Game.

Fish & Game officials were alerted by Chen’s wife, who said she received a text from her husband saying he was cold and wet and couldn’t continue hiking.

“He further wrote that he felt he would die without a rescue,” the Fish & Game said in a news release.

Once rescuers reached Chen, he was carried one mile up to the summit of Mount Washington, where he was driven down in a truck via the mountain’s auto road.

On Saturday and Sunday, rescue teams from Fish & Game, New Hampshire State Parks and the Randolph Mountain Club responded to at least six calls to help hikers on high elevation summits and ridgelines of the Presidential Range who were unprepared for cold temperatures, freezing rain and high winds.

While extreme, the weekend weather was not unexpected. Forecasters had been talking for days about very cold and dangerous conditions to the point that Saturday’s annual Mt. Washington Auto Road footrace was truncated in advance – runners only went halfway up.

“It was totally avoidable,” Mancini said of the rescues. “They forecast 80 mph winds on Mt. Washington a couple days in advance, talked about snow and sleet. It wasn’t a surprise.”

The lesson is obvious, he said: “Do your preparation and planning, and look at the forecast. People didn’t heed the warning.”

Chen isn’t the first person to die of the cold on Mt. Clay in summer. On June 2, 1962, a 42-year-old hiker died of exposure near that mountain’s summit, according to Not Without Peril by Nicholas Howe, a book detailing 150 years of deaths and accidents in the mountains.

David Brooks bio photo

David Brooks is a reporter and the writer of the sci/tech column Granite Geek and blog granitegeek.org, as well as moderator of Science Cafe Concord events. After obtaining a bachelor’s degree in mathematics he became a newspaperman, working in Virginia and Tennessee before spending 28 years at the Nashua Telegraph . He joined the Monitor in 2015.

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