On Saturday Conor and Tristan Lodge, Adam Herman and Richard (RK) Quebec, all Vineyarders, went hiking on Mount Washington in New Hampshire. On the descent however, due to whiteout conditions Conor, 22, and Adam, 24, took a wrong turn onto Tuckerman Ravine, triggering an avalanche.
The two men plunged 800 feet over rocks, cliffs and ice, and yet miraculously survived.
The foursome had started the hike together. Tristan and RK planned to spend a few days on the mountain but Adam and Conor would be leaving that night. As dusk approached, Conor and Adam worried they might not make it to the summit before night fell and decided to proceed ahead of the others. RK was nursing a knee injury from the summer before, and made slower progress uphill.
The mistake was splitting up, Tristan Lodge said by phone on Tuesday.
“This was not youthful confidence or recklessness,” he added. They had planned to hike together and stick to the Lion Head trail, which has a negligible risk of avalanche.
After reaching the summit, Adam and Conor headed back down. Along the way they met Tristan and RK who asked them to wait while they, too, visited the summit.
Waiting proved difficult, though, in the 70 mile-an-hour winds, so Conor and Adam started downhill at a slow pace.
“We figured we needed to keep up our heat to survive,” Adam said. “We tried to move very slowly, and make sure they had time to catch up to us.”
Soon they came to a trail split, where Lion Head trail meets Tuckerman trail. Mistakenly, the men veered right onto Tuckerman, trying to follow a set of foot and ski pole prints.
“I didn’t know we were walking on a shelf, until mid-conversation the shelf started to give out under my feet,” Adam said.
Immediately, the men thought, “avalanche.”
“As soon as I saw myself swept up in it, I knew that this was going to be life or death for me and for him,” Conor said.
Adam said he felt something lift him into the air as if skiing off a jump.
They flailed their limbs and attempted to impale their ice picks in the side of the ravine but it was no use. The avalanche swept them down and across the ravine ripping away their ice picks and the micro-spikes on the bottoms of their boots.
Conor landed first. He had been able to stick his left leg out during the fall, catching it on rocks and vegetation to slow his descent.
“I knew if I stopped myself, I would be able to survive,” he said. But he hit his head in the fall, and woke up confused, the result of a concussion.
“I remembered this nagging sensation that someone else was with me,” he said, but he didn’t remember who it was, and couldn’t even recognize Adam who had landed some distance below him.
“I kept asking him, who are you, who are you?” Conor recalled.
He slid down to meet Adam. It was impossible to try and move further down the mountain, the angle of the drop was about 60 degrees, and the possibility of triggering another avalanche still remained, so the men decided to try and hike up the ravine. But it was slow going with Adam’s injuries and no climbing equipment. In the fall he had sustained a severely broken arm and a broken back.
The men stopped trying to climb up and huddled together, stabilizing themselves next to a bush. Then they heard Tristan’s voice, calling out from above.
“I can’t tell you how great it was to hear his voice,” Adam said.
Tristan and RK had taken the correct route, descending on Lion Head trail, but when they didn’t find their friends they became concerned. Applying logic and “some intuition,” Tristan began looking around and finally spotted two pairs of tracks heading off to the left. On a hunch he followed the tracks to an area where snow had been torn away from the side of the mountain by an apparent avalanche.
“It was a big chunk of snow missing, and we saw their footprints going into it,” he said. The temperature hovered around zero degrees and the wind blew the snow in all directions.
“Conor was down there and stuck and I couldn’t get to him,” Tristan said. He called out to his brother and Adam, “No matter what, we are coming for you, hang in there.”
Tristan and RK ran down the mountain, skirting the ravine, until they reached the caretaker’s house and called for help.
While waiting to be rescued, Adam's mind wandered to the stories he had heard of people left in the cold who lost body parts to frostbite.
“In the back of my head, I was like I will probably have to stay the night out here and lose a couple of limbs or fingers,” he said.
For the better part of five hours, Conor and Adam sat in the ravine, struggling to stay awake and keep their blood flowing. They distracted themselves with talk of girls and school.
“I had given up hope, and Adam told me not to,” Conor said. “He said we would be saved, we would be alright.”
At one point they thought they heard the sound of a snowmobile approaching. But the sound died out, replacing hope with deeper doubt. Finally, at 9 p.m, lights appeared below, and rangers Beth and Sam reached them carrying food and extra layers of clothes. More hours passed before the rescuers could secure them to a Bobcat and bring them down to the base of the mountain.
Jeff Lane, a snow ranger who participated in the rescue, said the hikers were lucky as the ravine had not filled up with much snow, and the avalanche was not large enough to bury them.
At around 2:30 a.m., Conor and Adam were driven by ambulance to Memorial Hospital in North Conway, N.H.
Later that day, the Lodge brothers travelled back to Massachusetts. Adam was transported to the Trauma Center at Maine Medical Center. He will undergo surgery on his arm on Friday, and afterwards will recuperate with his parents in Oak Bluffs.
“I want to thank Tristan and RK because if it weren’t for them, we may never have been found,” Adam said.
“I have to thank the rescuers,” added Conor, who is finishing his final year at Northeastern University. “I appreciate all the efforts in trying to keep me alive.”