I knew Albert Dow, and while I didn’t feel I knew him well enough to think of him as a friend of mine he always left me feeling like I was a friend of his. He was that kind of guy. Intelligent, handsome, and open hearted he was destined for greatness. For Albert, greatness, and tragedy, arrived on January 25th,1982.
New Hampshire’s Mt. Washington has a reputation for having the “World’s Worst Weather”, and in fact the highest wind speed ever recorded on earth occurred there April 12th, 1934, 231 mph (372 km/h). Being the highest point in the northeastern US it draws large numbers of visitors year round to its alpine summit. Winter conditions there can be extreme.
Such was the case late on January 23d, 1982 when climbing phenom Hugh Herr,17, and Jeffery Baltzer,20, left the Harvard Cabin and headed into Huntington Ravine on Mt. Washington’s northeast shoulder to do some ice climbing in Odell’s Gully on the way to the summit. Conditions deteriorated during their trip and they soon found themselves lost in a whiteout blizzard.
Overdue in their return, with temperatures heading below 0 degrees F and wind speeds of 100mph being recorded on the summit, members of the volunteer Mountain Rescue Service headed out to search for them. On the second day of the search, January 25th, Albert and Mike Hartrick found some of Herr & Baltzer’s tracks but were unable to locate the climbers. On their descent ,and below treeline near the Lion’s Head they were overtaken by a slab avalanche which swept them further downslope through the trees. Despite the punishing circumstances, when the avalanche subsided Hartrick was alive and conscious, able to clear an airspace and use his radio to call for assistance. Later Dow’s body was recovered, it is believed he died instantly when overtaken by the crushing snowslide.
The next day the weather moderated, and a person snowshoeing in the Great Gulf area came upon tracks circling in the snow and shortly after Herr and Baltzer. A military helicopter was later used to remove them to an area hospital as death from hypothermia approached. Ultimately Herr was to lose both legs and Baltzer his lower left leg, toes on his right foot, and fingers on his left hand.
Today Herr is an Associate Professor at MIT and a respected authority in prosthetics probably best known to the general public through his work with South African sprinter and double amputee Oscar Pistorius. Baltzer is the Director of Pastoral Care at the Lancaster(PA) Evangelical Free Church. The small building in the photo with the plaque honoring Albert is a first aid cache containing rescue gear located in Huntington Ravine.