Conservation Officer Matthew Holmes
August 21, 2023
Mt. Washington, NH – On the evening of Saturday, August 19, 2023, search and rescue crews responded to multiple, back-to-back hiker emergency calls in and around Mt. Washington.
At approximately 5:30 p.m., staff from Mt. Washington State Park were notified by a group of hikers that two of their party had slowed down significantly and may be in need of assistance on the Tuckerman Ravine Trail. At the time, steady rain was falling, blown by winds gusting to 58 m.p.h. The wind chill was 29 degrees, and weather conditions were continuing to deteriorate.
A staff member from the State Park subsequently hiked down the trail and encountered the two hikers approximately .5 miles below the summit. Phaneendra Uppalapati, 44, and Shirisha Mallala, 41, both of Nashua, NH, were located just below the Lion Head Trail junction and found to be extremely wet and cold. The rescuer provided both hikers with warm, dry clothing and attempted to keep them moving. With progress going extremely slowly, the rescuer reached out for additional assistance at approximately 6:30 p.m.
Upon receiving the call for assistance, New Hampshire Fish and Game Department Conservation Officers contacted members of the Androscoggin Valley Search and Rescue Team (AVSAR) and began a response to Mt. Washington. A rescue team comprised of a Conservation Officer, AVSAR members and New Hampshire State Parks personnel descended from the summit to the hikers and provided additional assistance. The rescue team was able to assist both patients to the summit, where they were loaded into vehicles and driven back down the mountain. Everyone involved arrived safely at the bottom of the Mt. Washington Auto Road at approximately 9:00 p.m. Once roadside, both patients were evaluated by personnel from Gorham Ambulance. Following these evaluations, Mallala was transported by ambulance to Androscoggin Valley Hospital in Berlin for further evaluation and treatment of cold-weather injuries.
Prior to the completion of the aforementioned rescue, Conservation Officers were notified of two additional hiker emergency calls. One was for another possibly hypothermic hiker on the Ammonoosuc Ravine Trail (Mt. Washington) and another was for a fallen hiker with a head injury on the Lost Pond Trail in Pinkham Notch. The two Conservation Officers that had been responding to Mt. Washington were diverted to Ammonoosuc Ravine while rescuers that had just come from the Tuckerman Ravine trail were sent to the Lost Pond trail incident.
Upon getting to the Ammonoosuc Ravine Trail, Conservation Officers met with hikers who had encountered a young woman struggling to make it down a steep section of the Ammonoosuc Ravine Trail below the Lake of the Clouds AMC Hut. One of the members of the hiking group had remained with the woman while others had hiked out to get assistance.
A Conservation Officer subsequently hiked up the Ammonoosuc Ravine Trail from the Base Station of the Cog Railway. At approximately 11:00 p.m, the officer made contact with Alejandra Ivonne, 32, of Derwood, MD, and the Samaritan hiker who had stayed with her. Ivonne was hiking Mt. Washington for the first time and had become separated from her hiking companions. While attempting to descend the mountain, she had been battered by the weather and became very wet and cold. Ivonne was able to walk out with assistance, and arrived safely at the trailhead at approximately 11:30 p.m. Ivonne’s hiking companions had reunited with her just prior to reaching the trailhead, and were able to assist her into a warm vehicle and take care of her following the rescue.
Once this rescue was complete, the two involved Conservation Officers responded back to Pinkham Notch to assist a rescue crew of Conservation Officers, AVSAR personnel, and Appalachian Mountain Club (AMC) personnel that were engaged in carrying an injured hiker out of the Lost Pond Trail. In that instance, Robert Ash, 83, of Townshend, MD, slipped and fell while descending the Wildcat Ridge Trail and again on the Lost Pond Trail. After sustaining multiple injuries, Ash was unable to complete his hike without assistance.
Over the course of several hours, rescuers arrived from all over the region and assisted in carrying Ash over a mile of rough trail to a trailhead along Route 16 in Pinkham Notch. At approximately 1:15 a.m., Ash arrived roadside to a waiting Gorham Ambulance. Ash was evaluated by ambulance staff and then taken by ambulance to Androscoggin Valley Hospital in Berlin for further evaluation and treatment.
Prior to these rescues, Mt. Washington and the surrounding areas were experiencing weather seasonally common to the region but unexpected by many outdoor enthusiasts. The area received over 1.5 inches of rain, driven by high winds and fall-like temperatures. These conditions caught people off-guard, and resulted in the ensuing volume of calls. People venturing out into the backcountry, even in August, are reminded to pack for survival situations, thoroughly research the weather and trail conditions, and be prepared with gear and knowledge to self-rescue if things get bad.