3 people die in 6 days from climbing and hiking accidents in New Hampshire mountains

A hiker and two rock-climbers have died in separate incidents at White Mountains, all within less than a week.

A hiker fell nearly 70 feet to his death on Saturday at New Hampshire’s White Mountains, making him the third fatality in just 6 days at the popular mountain range.

The unidentified man was hiking along a 2-mile trail, with an average height of 70 feet, to Arethusa Falls, a White Mountains waterfall, when he went ahead of his two friends to the top of the falls, the New Hampshire Fish and Game Department said in a statement. The friends arrived at the falls to discover the man had fallen from the top and “sustained life-ending injuries.”

A day earlier, on Sept. 25, the fish and game department says an unidentified Massachusetts man plunged 55 feet to his death while rock-climbing a route known as the “Dead Sea Equestrian” at the Rumney Rocks in the White Mountains. His climbing partner told first responders the man suffered a “catastrophic equipment failure.”

And on Sept. 20, 34-year-old Benjamin Kessel died rock-climbing on Cannon Cliff after a rock “the size of a refrigerator” dislodged above him and severed his climbing rope. Kessel fell 150 feet into spruce trees and nearby climbers, upon descending to the cliff’s bottom, determined he was deceased.

Kessel, from Somerville, Massachusetts, was an engineer and outdoor enthusiast, according to his online obituary. It reads, “He was an avid rock climber who loved the outdoors and taught and led expeditions with the MIT Outing Club.” A memorial fund has been started in his name.

The deaths come during what officials say is an unusually busy season at White Mountains — and the coronavirus pandemic is likely a factor.

“It seems like a lot of people are coming,” Lieutenant James Kneeland of the New Hampshire Fish and Game Department said in an interview with NBC News.

“People are traveling closer to home and are not going on extended vacations elsewhere. They’re doing the short drive here to White Mountains and a making a day or weekend out of it locally.”

Normally, Kneeland sees “very, very few rock-climbing incidents” and the pandemic may be a reason for the “rash in the last week or so of climbing accidents.”

New Hampshire wildlife officials are now urging visitors to White Mountains to plan ahead and be cautious while enjoying the outdoors.

Kneeland’s specific advice to rock-climbers is to review safety literature, make sure you have the appropriate gear or go climbing with a guide, especially as winter approaches and trails or climbing routes become more difficult to navigate.