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Teen Hiker Missing on Mount Washington

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Search Under Way for Teen Hiker Missing in New Hampshire Mountains

Tuesday, April 28, 2009 (AP)


CONCORD, N.H. Crews soon will resume their search on the ground and by helicopter for a 17-year-old hiker in the White Mountains who has been missing since Saturday.


WMUR reports the search is scheduled to resume at about 8 a.m. Tuesday for Scott Mason, an Eagle Scout and high school junior from Halifax, Mass., who headed up Mount Washington early Saturday planning to hike 17 challenging miles in one day.


Lt. Douglas Gralenski of the state Fish and Game Department said Monday Mason's chances of surviving were good even if he spent another night outdoors.


Gralenski said searchers followed boot tracks Monday consistent with someone who was disoriented or lost.


The search was focused on the Great Gulf Wilderness north of Tuckerman Ravine on Mount Washington.



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Glad to see he made it. I remember seeing signs here and there (Obsidian Cliffs area in Oregon, for example) where persons have just vanished without a trace. That stuff does happen...much more tragically for young persons who have most of life ahead than for cantankerous old guys like me who just go alone for the thrill of the risk.


I took one of my classes on a field trip recently and we were near the AT when one of the students announced his interest in a throughhike of the AT. I went along with him until he announced that the thought he could do it in a couple of months or less. I noted the overall length and how many days that was and how many miles per day he'd have to do. He seemed cocky until I hiked his butt up a short section to the top of one of the higher peaks on the trail. When we got to the top he was singing a quite different song. Thought maybe he'd take it a little piece at at time. ;) I said, "good idea".

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According to the AP story on the scout being found (http://news.yahoo.com/s/ap/20090428/ap_on_re_us/us_missing_hiker;_ylt=AhyZ.SDOf9g8RWq2Kb5LbyxG2ocA)it says that he teaches hiking and backpacking in his troop. Wonder how may times he has taught the buddy system? How many times do we adults say to ourselves, oh that doesn't apply to me?


Glad he survived, hope he learned a lesson, hope others learn from it as well.

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One of Dirty Harry's greatest lines was, " A man's got to know his limitations." I'm thinking young Scott is rethinking his.


I' sure he's a very knowledgable outdoorsman and could hike circles around me. But I honestly don't know anyone...and I mean anyone who could expect to hike those 17 miles through some of the toughest terrain in the US, in several feet of soft snow, in a day.


Glad he's OK. Probably a good kid who stretched himself a little too far.



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"How many times do we adults say to ourselves, oh that doesn't apply to me?"

Hal, it's different for young people and adults with children. Back when my children hadn't fledged, I put lots of things off to avoid risk. They're out of the nest now and for people like me, who want to go out with their boots on, it still applies - but there is less cost to society when we take one risk too many. (actually, for some of us it might be of benefit, but that's another topic) Until that fateful time, the thrill is just sublime.

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Buddy system doesnt always work.

Two stories An Eagle Scout and his girl friend, a neighbor of my kids' grandparents, went for a day hike up Mt Pilchuck. They were crossing a snow field. They took off their shoes to get a better grip in snow with bare feet. They were found dead a few hundred feet below the snow with the shoes on the snow.


In August, just before my sons senior year, the cross country team from his high school was up at the school districts eco camp for a team retreat. They decided to hike up to the top of Mt. Dickerman. A boy and girl arrived at the top well behind the group. The leader told them to rest no more than 15 minutes and then head down as he took the rest down the trail. The couple did not show up back at camp. The weather got bad, rain, mist and low clouds for days till they could a helicopter search, the ground search turned up nothing. The found them dead 1000 feet down in the underbrush where they had fallen. The conclusion of the search and rescue experts. They had been running down the trail in the gathering gloom and mistook a side trail to a lookout over the valley for the main trail and ran right off it.


Buddy system plus smart decisions is what gets you out safety, with out the buddy system it is smart decisions plus luck that gets you out alone.


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The buddy system does not always save lives. Two can sometimes be as stupid or just unlucky as one.


I know you are not arguing against the buddy system but it seems a little like the argument I've heard about seat belts. Everyone who opposes seat belts (or seat belt laws) can tell you about someone that was either saved by being thrown clear or died in spite of wearing their seat belts (sometimes told as "trapped by their seat belts in the burning car"). These things do happen I am sure but on the whole seat belts save lives.


My FIL was a ground crew chief on Saipan in WW2. He didn't like to wear a seat belt and told me about how they had to carry big knives to cut crew members out of the seat belts in B-29s that had crash landed. When he finished telling me this I asked, "what would have happened to those guys if they weren't belted in?" "Oh", he said sheepishly, "they would have been dead".


On the whole, the buddy system saves lives as well.

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From what I've read online about this your man... he's alive because he didn't follow up one fateful mistake (trying the 17 mile hike in one day without a buddy) by making another one once he knew he was in trouble.


He got lucky with some favorable weather so he didn't freeze to death. He was smart enough to realize he was in trouble and formulate a plan. Finally, he was EXTRA smart enough to re-evaluate that plan once it was in motion.


If he had attempted to cross one of the melt-off swollen creeks, he could have drowned. Had he panicked, he could have lost his bearings. Had he not had some basic shelter building / survival techniques and used them, he could have succumbed to the elements.


Instead - he keep calm, assessed and reassessed his plan, and hiked towards a known area where people were. I guess one could argue he should have "hugged a tree", but I suspect he also had a good idea if he could or could not be spotted easily from the air. As I've never been in that part of the country, I can't speak to if staying put and making a large signal (if possible) was a good option.


Sometimes the best option is to save oneself - and he accomplished that.


It takes a strong person to not overcorrect with another bad decission, trying to overcome a first bad choice. He should be commended for that. That being said - I agree he likely now knows his limits and takes a buddy next time (at least he'll have someone to talk to if they get stranded together).


I think its a great testiment to his knowledge, his resoursefulness, and his determination to live that he got out of the situation without much harm.

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This young man is very fortunate indeed. We have been blessed with some very July-like weather which may have helped save his life. Despite being encircled with roads, the area is still very remote nad wild. A woman who went missing in 1985 was not found until 1994. Still a few have never been found. I will not condemn this lad for being alone on an adventure such as this, since we have all done it I'm sure, but rather suggest anyone wanting to explore the Presidentials read "Not Without Peril" by Nicholas Howe (AMC books) beforehand. Many hve died from exposure on the nicest of summer days. See you at Pinkhams Pack!

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There is a good follow up article about this http://news.yahoo.com/s/ap/20090430/ap_on_re_us/us_missing_hiker;_ylt=AqXfK_1plmAHi3lnnLCp2zNG2ocA


In "Deep Survival" Laurence Gonzales writes about a group of four climber/hikers sliding down a mountain while roped together. The person who started the slide was described as the "most experienced" climber. He goes on to explain that sometimes most experienced means doing it wrong longer than others without having an accident (yet). The climbers encountered two other parties, cloths lining them and pulling them down the mountain. I think there were eleven total when they reached the crevasse. If I recall 8 of them died.


I think the moral of the story, as it applies to this thread is that you not only have to use the buddy system but you have to choose your buddy wisely.


BTW: I highly recommend Gonzales' book.

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  • 11 months later...

Eagle Scout off the hook for $25K rescue bill -


Nashua Telegraph, Sat Apr 10,2010




CONCORD New Hampshire has decided not to go ahead with a controversial attempt to charge a Massachusetts teen $25,000 to cover costs for a search and rescue in the White Mountains last year that involved a helicopter.


New Hampshire Fish and Game said it has decided not to pursue collecting the reimbursement because of (Scott) Masons personal circumstances and conditions at this time. The department reserved the right to bring action in the future, however.


Mason, an Eagle Scout who as 17 at the time, spent three nights alone on Mount Washington last April after he sprained an ankle and turned off marked trails while hiking alone.


The search included a helicopter, but rescuers on the ground ended up spotting the teen and leading him to safety.


Masons lawyer, Pamela Kogut, said her client and his family were grateful to New Hampshire rescuers and appreciative of the decision to drop the fine. Mason is now 18 and a senior in high school.


We have long maintained that Scott took his responsibility as a safe hiker very seriously, and that he was not negligent, she said. We also believe that for a young man and a hardworking middle-class family, assessment of more than $25,000 was not warranted.


The fine was the largest of its kind ever imposed in New Hampshire, one of eight states with laws allowing billing for rescue costs.


Three states besides New Hampshire Hawaii, Oregon and Maine have laws allowing agencies to bill for rescues, but only Maine has attempted to recoup money a handful of times and the bills were never paid, according to an Associated Press review last year. California, Vermont, Colorado and Idaho have laws allowing state agencies to bill in limited circumstances, but the laws are rarely enforced.


National search-and-rescue organizations dislike the laws. They worry the possibility of big bills could cause hikers to delay calling for help, putting them and rescuers at greater risk.


State authorities praised Masons skills when he was lost which included sleeping in a boulder crevice and starting fires with hand sanitizer but said Mason wasnt prepared for the conditions.


Three months later, the state presented him with the bill, which produced a long and heated debate about the need and propriety of charging people for rescue.


At the time, the news caused a firestorm of attention, with hundreds of Web sites, blogs and ABC News picking up the story. A scoutmaster from Maryland set up a Facebook page in Masons name to raise money. Despite some fallout, several state officials interviewed stood by the law.


The charge came about partly because the traditional funding for search and rescue operations in the state a $1 surcharge on off-highway recreational vehicles and boat registrations was falling well short of costs.


Fish and Game Lt. Kevin Jordan said there was a lot of compromise on both sides. Masons family sent the state $1,000.


Weve reached what all of us believe is a reasonable conclusion that pursuing the reimbursement at this time would not be appropriate, Jordan said.


In a letter sent April 8 to Masons legal counsel, New Hampshire Attorney General Michael Delaney and New Hampshire Fish and Game Executive Director Glenn Normandeau wrote: We hope that the publicity about his experience has served as an important teaching moment to others considering hiking in the White Mountains, so they might know that the dangers and risks of doing so should never be underestimated.


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