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Hiker, 80, Defends Grandsons After Mount Washington Ordeal

James Clark says he told them to hike on without him, later needed rescue
By John Johnson,  Newser Staff
Posted Jun 17, 2019 8:00 AM CDT
Hiker, 80, Tells Grandsons to Go On. It's Nearly Disaster
A pair of hikers traverse the trail New Hampshire's Presidential Range Wednesday, July 27, 2016, on Mount Washington, N.H.   (AP Photo/Jim Cole)

(Newser) – The rescue of a hiker from frigid Mount Washington in New Hampshire is making headlines for the unusual circumstances surrounding it—the hiker was 80 years old, and he'd told his two grandsons to hike on without him because he was embarrassed about slowing them down. They did so, and now James Clark of Dublin, Ohio, is defending them in the face of criticism from the hiking community and wildlife officials. The details:

  • The hike: Clark and grandsons Kevin McNerney, 19, and Aidan McNerney, 14, were ascending a trail Thursday when he told them to hike ahead of him because of his speed, reports the Union Leader. This wasn't unusual on their hiking trips, says Clark.
  • The problem: Clark didn't think he'd have any trouble reaching the summit on his own, but the trail he planned to take was closed, and the alternate trail was much harder than he anticipated. The wind chill was about 12 degrees Fahrenheit, and he eventually took shelter between two boulders. He blew a signal whistle to no avail.

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  • His grandsons: They made it to the summit, and it was 7:45pm by the time they returned to the visitors' center, reports the Conway Daily Sun. At that point, they alerted authorities, setting off the rescue.
  • Fetal position: Rescuers found Conway about 1:15am in a fetal position, unable to speak or move much because of apparent hypothermia. They had to carry him down in a stretcher, and an ambulance took him to the hospital. Fortunately, he's fine now. "If anybody’s at fault, it’s definitely me and not those boys," Clark tells the Union Leader. "I’m the one who has insisted that they go ahead. So any negligence was on my part."
  • Criticism: Criminal charges "may be something that we look at when we ask the attorney general about the negligent hiking," a state wildlife official previously told the Union Leader. He and other critics say the family broke a cardinal rule in deciding to split up and leave a solo hiker behind, and they should have been better prepared for conditions. "Within the hiking community, a lot of people are really pissed off," says the owner of local hiking outfitter Redline Guiding.
  • The bill: The family will likely receive a bill for the rescue. "We totally understand and we will cover it," says the older grandson. "There’s no price that you can put on a life."
  • Two deaths: Also last week, Sandra Lee, 63, of Mount Tabor, NJ, died while attempting to reach the summit of Mount Washington, per the Northeast Explorer. She showed symptoms of hypothermia before she died. And 69-year-old William Wittenaur of New Hampshire died after a suffering a medical emergency in his home state's White Mountains.
(Read more hiking stories.)

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