‘Unprepared’ Mount Washington hiker breaks silence after 11-hour rescue mission

A Mount Washington hiker admitted he was “unprepared” for the perilous conditions as he apologised to rescuers over their 11-hour mission to save him.

Cole Matthes, 22, was hiking on Saturday on Mount Washington in New Hampshire when he began to drift away from his trail and stumbled upon a patch of snow-covered ice, and slid hundreds of feet down a ravine at around 11.50am, Associated Press reported.

Mr Matthes said to the outlet that he has plenty of hiking experience, yet not during harsh winter conditions.

The New Hampshire Fish and Game said in a news release that the hiker had made “numerous poor decisions” in the hike he planned.

They said he did not have “proper gear, equipment, or weather planning, and did not make proper critical decisions in order to keep himself out of harm’s way and moving in the right direction on a dangerous mountain range.”

The department added that his poor choices put 11 other lives in danger in order to save his, adding that if it were not for the rescuers, the Cog Railway and others, Mr Matthes would have “undoubtedly died” on the mountain.

Mr Matthes has expressed his apologies for what happened up on the mountain.

“I am extremely grateful to all 11 of the men who saved my life Saturday and am also extremely sorry that they had to risk their lives to save me,” he told the Associated Press. “I certainly made poor decisions and was underprepared for this hike.”

Rescuers boarded the steep Cog Railway to make their way up to Mr Matthes

(Sgt. Glen Lucas/New Hampshire Fish and Game via AP)

After he fell, Mr Matthes called 911 for help, but due to poor reception, very little information was taken, only that he was injured and needed help.

GPS tracking of the call was sent to a Conservation Officer, and the hiker was found well off trail in a drainage ravine at approximately 4,500 feet in elevation.

Rescue teams decided that the best way to reach the hiker was using Mount Washington’s Cog Railway, the first mountain-climbing cog railway in the world, and also the second steepest, according to their website.

Attaching a snow blower to the front, the rescue crews boarded the train, which saved the teams many miles of hiking.

Another call came in from Mr Matthes, but the signal was barely clear, though enough to understand that he was not in the same location but had made his way to another area, and was below a building in an emergency shelter. It was confirmed he still needed help, the release said.

The conditions on the mountains as the first group of rescuers started across were harsh, with winds up to 90mph, a wind chill of -52F and an ambient temperature of -9F.

In conditions like these, proper gear is needed to survive, as exposed skin would be subject to dangerous surroundings.

The first group of rescuers found Mr Matthes at the emergency shelter at 6.17pm; while he was not injured, the hiker was suffering from hypothermia, with many layers of his clothes frozen even down to his hiking boots.

“I was extremely relieved once the first team of rescuers arrived,” Mr Matthes said. “Even with my shelter, I wouldn’t have lasted through the night in my condition.”

Conditions were harsh, and the hiker sustained hypothermia and his clothes were frozen

(Conservation Officer Brad Jones/New Hampshire Fish and Game via AP)

It took the rescuers over three hours to slowly warm up the hiker, then he was transferred into extra gear. He was also given warm liquids.

At around 9.45pm, Mr Matthes left the shelter and was brought down the Ammonusuc Ravine Trail with assistance.

At 10.50pm, they arrived at the Cog Railway base station, where Mr Matthes was initially treated for hypothermia and frostbite. While he was recommended that he should go to hospital, Matthes was “signed off” after he said he did not want to be treated.

According to AP, he thought that taking an ambulance would be expensive, so he drove himself there instead.

“I’m currently recovering from some frostbite on my toes,” Mr Matthes said.

Despite seeing other groups turn around and who said, “The weather isn’t worth it,” he decided to keep going, the department said in the release.

“While I did see a group of hikers turn around at the Lake of the Clouds Hut, I decided to continue with other hikers,” Mr Matthes said to the outlet.

“I was not hiking alone at that point, and the weather conditions had not reached their peak.”

In their statement, New Hampshire Fish and Game Department concluded: “The list of people who have died on the Presidential Range will stay at 173 for now, thanks to the rescue effort that saved Cole Matthes’s life on Saturday.”

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