Conservation Officer Matthew Holmes
May 13, 2019
Sargent’s Purchase, NH – On the afternoon of Sunday, May 12, 2019, two hikers were located safely following an unplanned night out near Mt. Isolation in Pinkham Notch.
Kyle Wallace, 26, of Newbury, New Hampshire, along with Kenneth Barker, 27, of Contoocook, New Hampshire, had embarked on an ambitious day hike on the morning of May 11, 2019. After a full day of attempting to navigate remote trails ravaged by weather and still mostly buried in snow, the two became disoriented and pinned down by high winds along the Mt. Isolation trail. Running out of options and still many miles from the trailhead, the two made a 911 call for assistance.
The call for help was received by New Hampshire Fish and Game Department Conservation Officers shortly after 9:00 PM. A Conservation Officer was able to speak directly with the hikers via cell phone, and a GPS coordinate was derived for their location. Based upon all available information, coupled with the fact that the hikers had sufficient gear with them to spend the night, the decision was made to have the hikers shelter in place for the evening and await sun up the following day.
On the morning of Sunday, May 12, Conservation Officers and volunteer rescuers responded to Pinkham Notch to help ensure that the hikers made it out of the woods safely. With very little information to work with, a rescue team was dispatched to hike to the area where Wallace and Barker were believed to have spent the night. Rescuers subsequently spent the vast majority of the day just trying to reach the main search area, arriving there at approximately 3:00 PM.
A search of highest probability areas turned up few clues, and by 4:00 PM search managers were making calls for additional resources and trying to figure out how to most effectively cover the many possible areas that the hikers may have inadvertently gone.
At approximately 4:15 PM, Conservation Officers were notified that the hikers had called 911 again. Following up on this new lead, Conservation Officers were subsequently able to speak with the hikers and learned that the two had made their way through the woods to a network of cross country ski trails. Using a mapping program, a new location was identified for the hikers and they were given directions on how to navigate the trail system to the road. As a result of this final communication, the hikers utilized the directions that they were given and arrived at the Rocky Branch trailhead in the town of Jackson at 4:40 PM. Once roadside, the hikers were united with concerned family members and rescue personnel. Although tired and hungry, the hikers were found to be uninjured and in good spirits.
As a result of this incident, Conservation Officers would like to highlight a couple of points for people who might venture into the backcountry of northern New Hampshire:
- Even though it is not plainly visible from the road, a lot of snow still exists in the woods between 2,500 and 4,500 feet of elevation. This snow is mealy, difficult to traverse even with snowshoes, and is still present in depths that may exceed six feet. This spring snow limits forward progress and obscures trail beds that won’t be discernable for a month or more in many locations.
- Due to deep snow and unrecognizable trail corridors, many hikers have recently been finding themselves lost off trail. Whether they call for help or identify their own locations on a map, a physical compass (not one found on a phone) has repeatedly been the key tool needed to get people back to the trail and out of the woods. All outdoor enthusiasts are encouraged to carry a compass at all times and have a basic understanding of how to use it.