Backpacker|November - December 2020
Pam Bales’ solo hike in October 2010 turned into a daring rescue of a fellow hiker. But she was left with more questions than answers.
Zoe Gates

A FEELING OF PEACE washed over me as soon as my boots hit the dirt. At the base of Mt. Washington’s Jewell Trail, the October sun felt warm on my bare arms. But having grown up exploring New Hampshire’s the White Mountains, I knew the conditions up high would be nothing like in the valley. In preparation for a late-season ascent of the 6,288-foot peak known as “home of the world’s worst weather,” I’d loaded my pack with extra layers and a pair of snow goggles.

I’d been volunteering with the Pemigewasset Valley Search and Rescue Team for five years, and these mountains were both my playground and my office. I was heading out to train with a heavy pack, and to enjoy a few hours in my favorite area.

Mt. Washington, with its unpredictable climate, has claimed over 150 lives over the past 150 years, making it one of the deadliest mountains in the country. I felt strong that day but could see thick clouds shrouding the top half of the peak. At 5,000 feet, about 3 miles in, the wind began to pick up around me. I stopped to add a layer.

Snow was blowing in my face as I continued upward, but I could follow this trail with my eyes closed. Above treeline, gusts raged and the temperature dropped. I told myself if the weather worsened further I’d turn back; returning to my car was more important than making the summit.


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November - December 2020