Lieutenant James Kneeland
January 25, 2021
Franconia, NH – On Saturday January 23, at 12:45 p.m., the New Hampshire Fish and Game Department was notified of two hikers who had lost the trail as they descended Mount Lafayette. One of the individuals had lost his footwear and was now barefoot as they wallowed thru several feet of snow in an effort to make it to the road. They were eventually overcome by cold and fatigue. Unable to continue they called for help. In an attempt to keep warm, the hikers placed their feet into a pack and waited for rescuers. Coordinates placed the pair well off the Greenleaf Trail in the headwaters of Lafayette Brook. Conservation Officers along with volunteers from the Pemi Valley Search and Rescue Team responded to the Greenleaf Trail while a call was placed to the New Hampshire Army National Guard to determine the feasibility of a helicopter rescue. By 1:50 p.m. a flight crew had been assembled at the hanger in Concord. As ground crews approached the vicinity of the two hikers the Army National Guard Blackhawk helicopter arrived on the scene at 3:08 p.m. They quickly located the pair and lowered a medic via a hoist to assess. By 3:40 p.m. both hikers had been lifted into the helicopter. The hikers were taken directly to Dartmouth Hitchcock Medical Center for evaluation of cold-weather related injuries. Shortly after the helicopter departed the area the mountain was enveloped in cloud cover that most certainly would have prohibited an air rescue at that time.
The two hikers were identified as 35-year-old Michael Burleson of Gorham, ME, and 34-year-old Nicholas Drouin of North Hampton, NH. They explained that they had departed at 9:00 a.m. in an effort to complete the 9-mile Falling Waters/Bridle Path Loop. They had hoped to do the entire loop in 4 hours but as they summited Mount Lafayette they lost the trail in the wind gusts and blowing snow. As they were floundering through the deep snow, one of the pair lost their trail running sneakers and continued on barefoot. Realizing they needed to get out of the wind they headed downhill and eventually were drawn into the Lafayette drainage until they could no longer continue due to frozen extremities. Eventually they were able to thaw out a cell phone and call 911 for help.
If not for the swift response of the NH Army National Guard, this rescue effort may have had a much different outcome. Their efforts also saved ground rescuers from a grueling mission in waist-deep snow on steep terrain. Both hikers are being evaluated at Dartmouth Hitchcock Medical Center and no update on their condition is available at this time.