As he ascended the peak of Mount Washington with a group of friends, 24-year-old Adam Herman snapped a photo of a sign warning hikers about the risk of avalanches.
He didn’t realize that a few hours later, one wrong turn would trigger a flood of snow that would throw him and a friend 800 feet to the bottom of Tuckerman Ravine.
On Saturday afternoon, Herman, an Oak Bluffs native, accompanied by Tristan Lodge, 24, and his brother Conor Lodge, 22, also Oak Bluffs natives, and 23-year-old Rich Quebec of Vineyard Haven set out to reach the summit of the highest peak of the White Mountains in New Hampshire.
Neither Herman nor the younger Lodge brother had hiked the mountain before, although both had some hiking experience, but Tristan Lodge said he and Quebec had hiked the summit a few times and felt confident.
“There was no point where it felt dangerous or scary,” Tristan Lodge said. “The problem is that we got separated.”
Wanting to reach the summit before dusk, Herman and Conor Lodge hiked ahead of Tristan Lodge and Quebec, who was moving more slowly than usual because of a knee injury, Tristan Lodge said.
After reaching the summit, Herman and Conor Lodge descended and told the other two they would wait for them at checkpoints, said Tristan Lodge.
But snow driven by winds in excess of 50 mph had created a whiteout.
Herman and Conor Lodge did not see the trail marker indicating a left turn onto the Lion Head Trail and continued down into Tuckerman Ravine, according to a U.S. Forest Service press release.
That brought the pair to the slope known as “The Lip,” where recent weather conditions created the serious potential for an avalanche. A rainy thaw earlier in the week had been followed by heavy snowfall, with significant wind-blown drifting of the snow. The result was several inches of snow piled atop a slippery crust of ice.
“We realized we weren’t on the right (path) at some point and tried to correct ourselves,” Herman said.
In midconversation, Herman felt the shelf give out underneath him, he said.
“I tried to stab my (ice) ax into the ice, but it didn’t take,” said Herman. He fell several feet before sliding nearly 800 feet down the mountain, over rocks and ice.
“I was in the air for a few seconds at a time,” Herman said. “I felt my head smash, felt my arms smash.”
When the avalanche stopped, neither Herman nor Conor Lodge was buried, but they couldn’t ascend, Herman said.
When Tristan Lodge and Quebec reached the trail marker, there were two pairs of footprints leading straight down the mountain, but the footprints ended where an avalanche had started, said Tristan Lodge, who then shouted down the mountain to his brother and Herman.
Tristan Lodge said he and Quebec then climbed a few hundred meters back up the mountain to reach a caretaker’s cabin, where they found two park rangers who alerted a rescue team.
Once the pair was located by members of the rescue team, specialized hiking techniques were used to help the two hikers off the mountain so they could be taken to Memorial Hospital in North Conway, N.H.
Conor Lodge suffered a concussion but was released from the hospital the next morning and is recovering in Oak Bluffs before returning to school in Boston, said Tristan Lodge.
Herman was taken to a trauma center in Portland, Maine, for surgery Monday to correct several breaks in his left arm. Herman also broke his scapula and one vertebra and will need to wear a back brace until he’s healed.
Herman, who will stay with his family in Oak Bluffs while he recovers, said he’ll “definitely” go hiking again but will be hesitant about hiking in bad weather.
“Maybe I’ll go in the springtime,” he said.
Information from The New Hampshire Union Leader was used in this report.
Distributed by MCT Information Services