Why do hikers keep dying in the White Mountains of New Hampshire?

It was still dark when Emily Sotelo set out. At 4:30 a.m. on November 20, Sotelo’s mother dropped her at the head of the Falling Waters Trail — named for its fairy-tale

cascades — which leads to the summit of Mount Lafayette, a 5,249-foot peak in the White Mountains with an alpine zone where only dwarf vegetation can survive. But Sotelo, a

trained EMT and a relatively experienced hiker for age 19, was on a mission that Sunday. She had climbed 40 of the 48 peaks that are over 4,000 feet in the White Mountains. She

planned to finish Lafayette that day, and finish all of them by Wednesday, when she’d celebrate her accomplishment and her 20th birthday over dinner with her mother at the Omni

Mount Washington Resort. Sotelo never made it. The conditions at the bottom of the mountain were chilly yet reasonable. But a cold front was moving in from the west,

bringing plummeting temperatures and strong winds to higher elevations. As Sotelo climbed, the wind kicked up to between 40 and 60 miles per hour. Snow started to fall. Another

hiker out on the trails that day reported to the New Hampshire Fish and Game Department that he couldn’t see, even with goggles. Sotelo didn’t have goggles, a hat, or insulated

winter boots. Near the summit, Sotelo tried to turn back. She fled as the wind howled in her face, heading down the side of the mountain. Sotelo’s footprints suggest she

tried to run to safety, heading toward Interstate 93, which cuts through Franconia Notch. At some point, rescue crews believe, she lost her shoes, likely without noticing. She

sought cover in a drainage area, which would have offered some reprieve from the wind.