Two college students from Saco had to be rescued Tuesday night after becoming lost in New Hampshire’s White Mountains and might be billed for the cost of the operation.

Lt. James Kneeland of the New Hampshire Fish and Game service said Tyler Walsh and Michael Granger, both 19, were not prepared for winter conditions when they set out to climb 4,501-foot Mount Garfield in Franconia Notch.

Although both teens were wearing hooded down parkas, one was wearing cotton jeans and the other had sweatpants, Kneeland said.

“They were wearing a lot of cotton clothing, and cotton kills,” he said. “This could have gone south fast if their cellphones had not worked.”

Unlike wool or synthetics such as fleece, cotton loses its insulating ability when it absorbs water from snow or rain, or a hiker’s sweat.

The teens did bring food, but they didn’t have flashlights or headlamps, a map, or crampons on their boots to give them traction in the icy conditions.

Kneeland, who is from Windham, got to talk to the boys after they were rescued. He said Walsh attends the University of Maine Orono and Granger is a student at Maine Maritime Academy in Castine.

Attempts to reach Walsh and Granger on Wednesday evening were unsuccessful, but a photograph posted on Granger’s Facebook page shows them standing on a snow-covered peak or ridge with Walsh giving a thumbs-up.

If it’s determined the young men were negligent, they might be billed for the rescue, Kneeland said.

“The circumstances which led to Tuesday’s rescue occurred because two people ventured out unprepared,” a statement issued by the New Hampshire Fish and Game service said.

Under New Hampshire law the decision whether to bill the students for the cost of the rescue must be made by the Attorney General’s Office. Kneeland will file a report, which the AG’s office will rely on to determine if the students were negligent. If they are deemed to have been negligent they could be billed. If they are billed, the students have the right to appeal the AG’s decision in court, Kneeland said.

Counting manpower costs – three New Hampshire Fish and Game conservation officers responded to the call – and the cost of operating two snowmobiles, Kneeland estimated the bill could total about $1,000.

Walsh and Granger used their cellphones around 4 p.m. Tuesday to call 911, officials said. Their initial call for help was received by an emergency dispatcher in Vermont who re-routed the call to Grafton County, New Hampshire. Mount Garfield is located in Bethlehem, a town in Grafton County.

The students had encountered strong winds on the summit of Mount Garfield and mistakenly took the Garfield Ridge Trail from the summit for their descent, Kneeland said. Once they realized they were lost and would be unable to get off the mountain by the time the sun set, they called for help.

Using GPS coordinates from their cellphones, conservation officers were able to direct the students to a location where they could be rescued by two officers on snowmobiles. After traveling several miles, the officers encountered water crossings that were not frozen, forcing them to continue on foot for some distance. They found Walsh and Granger around 7:20 p.m., when the temperature had dropped to 3 degrees above zero.

The students were taken to the trail head and did not need to be hospitalized.

“Though it seems like varying fall like conditions are occurring in many parts of the state, the White Mountains and higher elevations have had winter conditions for some time,” the New Hampshire Fish and Game department said in a statement. “The trails are covered in snow and ice, and temperatures remain low. Due to quickly changing conditions, Fish and Game Department officials cannot express strongly enough how important it is to pack for winter conditions and be prepared for the worst.”

Conservation officials advise people planning to do a winter hike in New Hampshire to carry the following gear: a map, compass, warm clothing (sweater or pile jacket and long wool or synthetic pants), extra food and water, flashlight or headlamp, matches and firestarter, first aid kits, whistle, rain or windjacket, and a pocket knife or portable saw.

Dennis Hoey can be contacted at 791-6365 or at:

[email protected]