Not Only Names in the Paper

I was away from the Whites and at the wedding of a friend when I received a call from the Pinkham Front Desk. The news was that the Lakes crew was responding to the report of a man suffering a heart attack. As I stepped in and out of the rehearsal dinner to check in with Pinkham I learned that the man had died, and the crew was now carrying his body to the summit.

Once I got back to New Hampshire and talked to the crew this is the story I heard:

That afternoon was one of the most beautiful of the summer. Northwest winds had cleared out the humid, hazy weather of July, and the mountains of Vermont were clear on the horizon. At 4pm most of the Lakes crew was lounging around the lake, reading, sleeping or joking. Suddenly two hikers from Quebec ran into the hut and explained in broken English and fluent French that a hiker was having a heart attack. Because Ben Lewis had the highest medical certification he was sent out with a first-aid pack and a portable radio. Brian Quarrier was sent with him because he is a fast hiker and can carry very heavy objects. They ran up across the Camel Trail to the junction with the Davis Path. Near this intersection they found the hiker and his party.

Jean Moreau had been hiking with family members when he stepped behind a rock to use the bathroom. When he didn’t emerge after several minutes his fellow-hikers stepped behind the rock and found he had collapsed and was not breathing. One hiker passing nearby began CPR while other hikers from Quebec stopped to assist. Jean’s family did not speak much English, and they explained what had happened to the French-Canadian hikers. They ran off to report the incident to the hut crew. By the time Ben and Brian arrived over 1/2 an hour had passed. The CPR efforts of the other day hiker had been unsuccessful. Jean was blue, cold, and had no respirations or pulse. Ben, who graduated from high school in June, had to decide whether to call a man dead. Given the time elapsed and the condition of Jean’s body Ben decided that Jean could no longer be saved by CPR. The rest of the Lakes crew that could be spared from dinner came up with a litter and blankets. After wrapping Jean and placing him in the litter they began carrying his body to the summit of Mt. Washington. As they traveled up the summit cone they were joined by AMC employees from Pinkham, NH Fish and Game officers and rangers from the State Park. Down at the hut 3 crew members served dinner and washed dishes for the usual full house of 92 guests.

“What made it hard” said Dan St. Jean, the Hutmaster, “was that his family and his wife were there when we got to the summit. And they were crying and speaking to us in French. None of us could explain, or give them any answers.”

The following day the Zealand crew watched a 22-year old man drown in the swimming hole they were cooling of in along the Ammonoosuc River. Down in the valley to pick up fresh supplies the crew had driven up the Cog Railway Base Road. A few miles up is a swimming hole lined with cliffs that almost every hut crew jumps in at least once during the summer. This day the river was high and Roger Schafer was pulled into a hydraulic flow and pinned under. It was several minutes before his body came to the surface. Several other swimmers including members of the Zealand crew jumped in and pulled him to shore. They took turns giving CPR until an ambulance arrived. Like Jean Moreau, it was too late.

The Zealand Hutmaster Heidi Magario wrote me a letter to tell me what they had witnessed and been involved in. It read in part “We’re involved in Search and Rescues all the time in the backcountry, and there you know that some people may die because they are far from the hospital, an ambulance, or the emergency room. But it’s difficult to accept that even in the frontcountry not everyone can be saved.”

Ben Lewis, the Lakes crew and the Zealand crew all knew that sudden deaths happen in the mountains. But now they know it in now in an entirely different way. To them the deaths of Jean Moreau and Roger Schaefer were not AP headlines tucked inside the Boston Globe or accident reports in Appalachia. They were men with families, men they tried to help. The crews carried their weight up the mountain and the river bank.