Hiker Dies of Hypothermia in Storm Near Mt. Washington

Rescue teams endured 80-mile-per-hour gusts and snow to reach the injured hiker, who was attempting a Presidential Traverse.

Photo: Marc Sadowski / EyeEm via Getty

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A hiker attempting New Hampshire’s Presidential Traverse died of hypothermia after a severe storm brought gusting winds and winter-like conditions to Mt. Washington, state wildlife authorities say.

In a pair of press releases, New Hampshire Fish and Game said that it became aware the hiker, Xi Chen, was in danger on June 18 around 6:30 pm, after his wife, Lian Liu, called emergency services. In a text, Chen, 53, had told her that he was cold and wet, and that “he felt he would die without a rescue.”

A rescue team comprised of personnel from North Conway-based Mountain Rescue Service, conservation officers, and state parks personnel responded to the call, using a state-owned truck with tire chains to transport rescuers over the ice-covered auto road to near Mt. Washington’s summit. Conditions were frigid, with 80-mile-per-hour wind gusts and a wintry mix of rain, sleet, and snow falling in below-freezing temperatures. The initial team left at 9:30 p.m., with another team setting out an hour later.

By the time the first team found Chen on the Gulfside Trail near Mt. Clay at 10:38, he was “hypothermic and unresponsive,” Fish and Game said. The team constructed a shelter and attempted to warm him up, then carried him to the summit of the mountain and evacuated him by truck to the base of the mountain, where they transferred him to an ambulance for transportation to Androscoggin Valley Hospital in nearby Berlin. Unfortunately, Chen did not survive: After “life-saving efforts were attempted for several hours,” doctors pronounced him dead.

Popularly known as “the home of the world’s worst weather,” Mt. Washington has recorded some of the highest windspeeds ever measured on Earth, and can receive snow any month of the year. More than 160 people have died on the peak since 1849. While Liu told NBC Boston that Chen who had summited 19 of the state’s 4,000-foot peaks, conditions on and around Mt. Washington were unseasonably harsh over the weekend. New Hampshire Fish and Game said that one hiker had become hypothermic, surviving thanks to assistance from a group of Randolph Mountain Club members who carried her to a hut. Another had called 911 from Tuckerman Ravine before a hiking party lent him warm clothes and helped him to safety.

“The forecasted weather conditions, particularly for the higher summits, was not heeded by many hikers. Several found themselves unprepared for the dangerous conditions above tree line, and instead of turning back or bailing out to safer elevations, they continued on and ultimately called 911 expecting a rescue,” the agency said.

In addition to his wife, Xi Chen leaves behind three children, one in high school and two in college. Readers wishing to support his family can donate to their GoFundMe campaign.

From 2022