June 24, 2013

Hikers' 50th reunion recalls rescue

Three men meet atop Mount Washington where, in a 1963 storm, one man broke the rules to save the other two.

By Billy Baker / The Boston Globe

MOUNT WASHINGTON, N.H. — As the two hikers approached the summit of Mount Washington on that winter night in 1963, they were in serious trouble. Snow was falling rapidly, the temperature had plunged below zero, and the wind -- which was averaging over 50 mph -- was hitting them with 116-mph gusts.

click image to enlarge

Guy Gosselin, left (wearing glasses), makes his way to the summit of Mount Washington June 1, to reunite with Gerry Wright, center, and Harold Addison, right.

Jonathan Wiggs/Boston Globe

"We had had it. We weren't going much further," Harold Addison remembered. "The last 400 yards, the wind was going right through us, knocking us off our feet."

As he recalled this, 50 years later, Addison was standing at the base of the mountain with Gerry Wright, his hiking companion that night. They were waiting to reunite with the man they credit with saving their lives, a man they hadn't seen since.

Addison and Wright told the story of that March night 50 years ago as though reliving it, telling of approaching the summit dome in the snow and driving winds. Addison knew they only had one hope: They needed to spend the night inside the Mount Washington Observatory at the summit. But there was a catch. Addison knew that hikers were not allowed inside the observatory in the winter, a policy that continues to this day. He knew this because he had been turned away at the observatory door in the past. If you go up the mountain, they expect you to be prepared to get yourself down.

So, with the sun going down and the observatory just coming into view, Addison broke the news to Wright. Then he told him the plan.

Wright was a convincing orator -- the two had met because Wright was a youth minister at a Methodist church in Essex, Mass., where Addison was a parishioner -- and so he would knock and plead their case.

The wind was blowing so hard that it took Wright nearly 45 minutes just to climb the steps to the door. Finally, he knocked. A man answered. Wright made his case.

"I said, 'Sir, unless you let us in, you're going to have two dead bodies on your doorstep in the morning.'?"

That's when this man, this stranger, opened the door and let them in.

Wright and Addison knew very well that he had done something he was not supposed to do and they were forever grateful. But as time passed, the man's name was lost in the fog of memory. Around Thanksgiving last year, that all changed when Addison was going through some old papers at his home in Essex and discovered the other important thing the stranger had done for them, a hand-drawn map outlining the safest way for them to get down the next morning. When Addison flipped over the map, there, on the back, the man had written his name: Guy Gosselin.

Addison's son, Bruce, tracked Gosselin down. Phone calls were made. A 50th reunion was organized. And so it was that on a recent Saturday, the three men arranged to meet at the base of the famous "This Car Climbed Mt. Washington" auto road to head again to the summit.

Wright and Addison were in high spirits as they kept an eye out for Gosselin's car. While they waited, Wright detailed some of the other things Addison neglected to mention before their hike all those years ago.

"I had a guide who was supposedly an experienced mountain climber," Wright, now 78, said as he looked at Addison, who is 84. "Little did I know he had reached the top maybe once, and turned back many times."

When they left that day -- March 9, 1963 -- Wright remembered it was a pleasant day in the valley, and he assumed the hike would be "a walk in the woods."

(Continued on page 2)

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