Critical Hours: Search & Rescue in the White Mountains

May 30, 2018

With pleasant weather comes a busy hiking season in the White Mountains of New Hampshire. A misread map, a sudden storm, a forgotten headlamp - and suddenly a hike could turn into a matter of survival. We look at a new book, "Critical Hours," that offers a history and a celebration of the search and rescue workers and volunteers who save lives in the White Mountains.  The growth of inexpensive but sophisticated navigation devices and mobile phones have become part of the experience for both hikers and rescuers. We examine the impact of ubiquitous technology and the future of search and rescue operations.

 GUESTS: 

Excerpts from "Critical Hours" by Sandy Stott

Describing Franconia Ridge:

"For nearly two miles between Little Haystack and the ridge’s big dog, Mount Lafayette, the Franconia Ridge is a mountain ambler’s paradise. From the south the terrain trends upward, but there are no extended climbs, and there are a number of level stretches where the flat-rocked path let’s you saunter along in the sky. At an average elevation of 5,000 feet, the ridge rises a steep 2,000 or more feet above the surrounding territory, and the winds and fierce climate permit only a few patches of scrub trees on the east side near the ridgeline. Called in some guides a knife-edge, the ridge is a dull blade, with only a handful of spots where it narrows to a body’s length. Still, its walkers are of equal parts air and earth, and the whole rumpled quilt of the White Mountains is clear and wild to the east."

On his motivation for writing the book:

As part of my long affiliation with the Appalachian Mountain Club’s semi- annual Appalachia Journal, I’ve read story after story that has come down from the White Mountains—climbers stilled by storm; children who’ve wan- dered off; walkers who’ve stumbled into fractured bones. Ringed around these stories have been the rescuers, many of whom are now familiar to me. Again and again I’ve read their names, a list of guides and conveyors back to the everyday, saviors really. And slowly I’ve come to realize that, even as I’ve never joined a search and rescue group, or been gathered back by one, I see my better self in these men and women who would help us when we fall.

This book gives voice to some of their stories.

 The purchase of a HikeSafe card from N.H. Fish & Game helps support the cost of search and rescue operations.The Hike Safe.com website is a resource for hiking preparedness.To be aware of changing weather conditions in the White Mountains, one resource is the Mt. Washington Weather Observatory Higher Summits forecast.