Saturday, 2:15 PM
Mass. teen survives three nights in the N.H. mountains
After the rescue, Mason got a hug from his sister, Amy.
By Brian R. Ballou, Globe Staff
The 17-mile loop cut through steep ridges and deep snow, but Scott Mason was undeterred in his quest to finish his hike through the Mount Washington range in one day. He had hiked here before, and as an Eagle Scout knew something about survival.
But what started Saturday morning as a personal challenge for the 17-year-old Halifax resident turned into a large-scale rescue effort that ended this morning when a search team, tracking footprints that seemed to meander, found him on a ridge northwest of the mountain.
Mason spent three nights under the stars, but appeared to be in good health. Major Timothy Acerno of the New Hampshire Fish and Game Department said the rescuers asked him, "Are you Scott?'' and Mason replied, "Yes, I am.''
The teen's mother, Jory Mason, became concerned Saturday night when he failed to call home. She called the Pinkham Notch Lodge, where he was staying, but a search was not initiated until the next day, when she called again.
"There was nothing on that first day that made it rise to a level of concern, because you have an experienced hiker and the weather was not extreme," Acerno said. "The thinking was probably that his one-day hike was going to turn into a two-day hike. The word was put out to other hikers and the forest service, to look out for him. On Sunday, his whereabouts became more of an issue, so we initiated the search.''
The search teams, organized by the fish and game department, involved a helicopter and as many as 28 experienced searchers from Sunday to this morning. Mason told his rescuers that he managed by relying on his training and his preparation -- even though he planned to return within a day, he had packed food and tools. He also started a campfire to keep warm at night, when temperatures dipped to 40.
Figuring he would not be able to make the entire trek in one day, Mason diverted from his planned path and took what he thought would be a much shorter loop back to the lodge. He decided against retracing his path because the steep inclines he had descended on his way out would be much tougher on the return trip.
He told rescuers that he ran into waist-high snow that made walking extremely difficult. Mason then came upon a drainage brook, which in the summertime is easily manageable, but because of the snow melt run-off, had become impassable. The brook cut off the shorter loop, giving Mason no other option but to return the way he had set out.
After the team of rescuers found Mason, they briefly evaluated his health. "He was in good condition; he was walking when they found him," Acerno said.
Jory Mason received the news that her son was alive and well. "She was so happy, relieved,'' Acerno said. "She had tears.''
The hike was not over, however, as Mason had to walk approximately another mile to get to the Mount Washington observatory, where he would catch a ride on a Snowcat vehicle to the base of the mountain and be reunited with his family.
Mason later told his mother that he had tweaked his leg during the hike and that it was bothering him. As a precaution, he was taken to the Androscoggin Valley Regional Hospital, where he was evaluated and released.
Back in Halifax, his troop issued a statement, "Boy Scouts of America Troop 39 Halifax, Massachusetts, is extremely pleased with the positive outcome of this incident. Scott is a bright young man and our most experienced hiker. We have no doubt that he put all of his training and skills to use in order to come through this ordeal."
Mason received an award two years ago for collecting more than 3,200 pounds of food for the Greater Boston Food Bank and the Pine Street Inn. For his Eagle Scout project, he collected the food by leaving boxes at Halifax area businesses. He has been a Boy Scout since he was 11.
Acerno said Mason would have likely endured a more severe night Tuesday night, as the forecast called for thunderstorms and wind gusts of up to 75 miles per hour. "Good thing he's not out there anymore,'' Acerno said.