Thirty people have died in falls from ice-covered walls, sheer cliffs and tops of ravines in Mount Washington State Park since record keeping began in 1849. Thirteen perished in avalanches, 28 succumbed to hypothermia, and 10 lost their lives in skiing accidents.
Together, these are only a fraction of the 150 people who have died while visiting New Hampshire’s highest mountain — and their stories are revealed in “Death on Mount Washington: Stories of Accidents and Foolhardiness on the Northeast’s Highest Peak.” (Lyons Press, ISBN 978-1-4930-3207-5, paperback).
Released on Tuesday, this book by author Randi Minetor, who has also written two other books in the “Death in the Parks” series, provides the details of each death as documented in local and national media, park records, American Alpine Club accident reports, and rangers and others who were moved to record these events as history.
In addition to gasp-inducing and sometimes gruesome accounts, the book provides plenty of cautionary information to help people who visit the park make certain that they come home alive.
“There is no kinder way to say this, so here it is: Death on Mount Washington tells the stories of people who went to the tallest of New Hampshire’s White Mountains to have the time of their lives, and did not live to return home,” writes Minetor in the book’s preface.
The park can go for years without a fatal mishap but as its popularity has grown throughout the 20th century, so has the frequency of deaths.
Visitors come to Mount Washington to test the limits of their endurance, braving technical climbs, crevasses in the ice, lengthy hikes in subzero conditions and some of the world’s most dramatic and hazardous ski runs.
Many of these people have no idea just how challenging the mountain’s landscape can be, despite Mount Washington’s global reputation for hosting the worst weather in the world.
“Death on Mount Washington” tells the stories of highly experienced and well-prepared hikers and climbers who made a single mistake, as well as young adventurers who vastly underestimated the challenges they would face on the trail.
The Harvard students in 1933 who decided to climb the mountain without carrying any food; the MIT excursion in November 1933 for which the participants brought no warm clothing; the pair of intrepid Appalachian Mountain Club members who doggedly trekked through an ice storm in June 1900 to perish a few hundred feet from the summit — all of these are cautionary tales for today’s readers, told in hopes that others will think twice before making the same kinds of errors.
“If just one person cancels or turns back from a hike when he or she sees clouds gathering atop Mount Washington, this narrative will have done its job,” Minetor writes.
In the end, Minetor encourages readers to visit Mount Washington State Park.
“Please rest assured that a visit to Mount Washington need not be dangerous,” she writes. “More than 250,000 people visit the mountain every year without mishap — the risk is only as great as a hiker’s lack of preparedness, or his or her ability to recognize when it’s time to abandon a hike or climb and seek shelter or come down … Just be careful up there.”
Randi Minetor has written more than 60 books, from national park guidebooks and American history to hiking guides and birding handbooks.