Following Atticus: Forty-Eight High Peaks, One Little Dog, and an Extraordinary Friendship by Tom Ryan is published by William Morrow. It tells the story of my adventures with Atticus M. Finch, a little dog of some distinction. You can also find our column in the NorthCountry News.

Monday, January 21, 2008

A Death On Mt. Washington

Sad story today on about a fellow who died on Mt. Washington this weekend. Here it is:

Experienced climber dies on Mount Washington
Hiking alone, caught in ravine avalanche

By John C. Drake
Globe Staff / January 21, 2008

Peter Roux spent his work days in an office at the Memphis headquarters of International Paper and found his escape in hiking, his wife said yesterday.

The 39-year-old Lewiston, Maine, native and University of Maine graduate, who had twice scaled Mount Washington with his wife, Ann, came to New England on Friday to meet friends. He had been hiking alone in the mountain's Huntington Ravine when he failed to contact his companions as expected that evening, authorities said.

Authorities say the experienced climber's body was found atop a debris pile Saturday morning, the result of an avalanche, in the first hiking death on the famously treacherous mountain since 2004.

"He loved nature," said Ann Roux, 39, also a Lewiston, Maine, native who met her future husband when they were freshmen at the University of Maine. "He just liked the views, and he started [hiking] to get a workout."

In a telephone interview from her home in Memphis, she said her husband did not take excessive risks."He was not a thrill-seeker," she said.

New Hampshire's Mount Washington is famous for its extreme weather, with hurri cane-force winds coupled with sub-zero temperatures regularly recorded at its iconic observatory. It also is a popular hiking destination, where the US Forest Service maintains an avalanche center, which issues daily updates on snow conditions. According to the US Forest Service, the posted avalanche rating for the gullies in Huntington Ravine on the mountain's east side was "high" on Friday, meaning natural or human-triggered avalanches were likely.

On Friday morning, Roux left Pinkham Notch, the starting point of several hiking trails, with plans to climb Odell's Gully about 3 miles away in Huntington Ravine, his companions told investigators. A storm with wind speeds of 60 to 70 miles per hour and gusts at Mount Washington's summit of 86 miles per hour pounded the mountain throughout the day, packing unstable snow onto Odell's Gully, according to a report of the accident posted yesterday on the avalanche center's website. After friends reported Roux overdue, Forest Service snow rangers began a search about 10 p.m. Because of concerns about the snowy terrain's stability, search teams did not enter the ravine until Saturday morning. Roux's body was discovered at 7:15 a.m., 400 feet below Odell's Gully.

The Mount Washington Observatory provided a snowcat, a vehicle used for travel on snowy terrain in blistery conditions, to transport rescuers. Investigators determined that during Roux's climb, a snow slope fractured, causing an avalanche that carried him amid its debris.The avalanche center's accident report suggests Roux may have triggered the avalanche by encountering a pocket of unstable snow.

"He was a very good hiker," Ann Roux said. "This was a freak accident." The couple had been married for 15 years, and had previously lived in Jay, Maine, and Erie, Pa., before moving to Memphis. They had no children.He worked for International Paper for 18 years, most recently as manager of finance, Ann Roux said.

She said she worried for his safety, but not any more than when he traveled on an airplane."It's natural to worry," she said. "But it's not any different than a business trip."

Funeral plans were pending, she said. Services will be in Lewiston, Maine, on either Friday or Saturday, she said.

More than 130 people have died on the 6,288-foot-tall Mount Washington since 1849 for numerous reasons, including falls, avalanches, hypothermia, and natural causes, according to records of the Mount Washington Observatory. Most recently, a 28-year-old man from Southbridge died in a fall in Huntington Ravine's Yale Gully in January 2004, and a Vermont man died in a fall at adjacent Mount Clay in March of that year. A Canadian man died of a heart attack on Mount Washington in August 2006.

John C. Drake can be reached at
© Copyright 2008 Globe Newspaper Company.