Mount Washington Observatory extreme weather exhibit honors mountain rescuer killed in avalanche

Union Leader Correspondent
August 20. 2018 12:39AM
The extreme weather exhibit at the Mount Washington Observatory’s museum atop the tallest peak in the Northeast was recently rededicated in honor of the late Albert Henry Dow III, who lost his life in an avalanche while searching for two lost hikers. One of the hikers, Hugh Herr, attended the ceremony and posed for a photo with Dow’s sisters, Susan Dow Johnson to his left, and Caryl Dow, to his right, and with Sharon Schilling, the observatory’s president. On left, the exhibit features this plaque honoring the Albert Henry Dow III. (JOHN KOZIOL/UNION LEADER CORRESPONDENT)

MOUNT WASHINGTION — In his brief life, Albert Henry Dow III was many things, but above all he was someone who, according to his family, believed in the greater good and in serving humanity.

Dow combined the two with his love of the White Mountains, joining the all-volunteer Mountain Rescue Service to help hikers who run into trouble.

On Jan. 25, 1982, while searching for two hikers from Lancaster, Pa., who were lost on Mount Washington, Dow, 28, and a fellow MRS member, Michael Hartrich, were caught in an avalanche on the Lion Head Trail. Hartrich survived, but Dow, who was engaged to be married to Joanie Wrigley two weeks later on Valentines’ Day, was killed.

Although his death was tragic, their brother did not die in vain, said his sisters Caryl Dow of Stratham and Susan Dow Johnson of Exeter, who noted that Albert’s sacrifice immediately led to the creation of the annual Granite Man Triathlon in Wolfeboro, the 37th iteration of which was held this past Saturday. All proceeds from the race, said Dow Johnson, sustain a scholarship in Albert’s name.

Since its inception, the scholarship has awarded some $250,000 to graduates of Kingswood Regional High School who exemplify “unselfish devotion to the service of mankind.”

Dow’s death also had a profound effect on the people he was trying to rescue: Hugh Herr and Jeffrey Batzer. Herr was 17 years old and Batzer was 20 and both were considered proficient rock-and-ice climbers when they entered Huntington Ravine and decided that they were also going to summit.

In the midst of a blizzard, the hikers lost their way and hunkered down, resigned to what they thought was an inevitable fate. On the third day of their ordeal, however, an Appalachian Mountain Club employee, out on a personal outing, observed tracks in the snow that she followed to the men.

Frost-bitten and near death, Herr and Batzer were airlifted off the mountain. As a result of their exposure, Herr had both legs amputated six inches below the knees while doctors amputated one of Batzer’s legs, one foot, and the thumb and fingers of one hand.

Batzer went on to become an ordained minister, serving man by serving God.

Meanwhile, Herr, who hadn’t thought much of life beyond mountaineering, decided to go to college and today he is Professor of Media Arts and Sciences at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology where he is a world-renowned researcher in creating bionic limbs. In 2011, TIME magazine named him the “Leader of the Bionic Age.”

Last Friday, Herr joined Dow’s sisters and Wrigley atop Mount Washington for a ceremony during which the extreme weather exhibit in the Mount Washington Observatory’s museum was rededicated to Dow and the MRS.

Observatory President Sharon Schilling said the death of Dow, who is the only person killed while on an active MRS search, changed the way the State of New Hampshire treats volunteer rescuers, who, if they’re injured while working under the NH Department of Fish and Game, now are covered by worker’s compensation and life insurance.

Dow’s death also led to the increased use of avalanche beacons and of helicopters to assist search teams on the ground and to MRS members getting better radio equipment.

Schilling thanked the Dow family for paying for the new museum exhibit in honor of Albert and also extended gratitude to all the groups and individuals who respond, no matter what the weather or circumstance, to help people in the White Mountains.

Dow Johnson remembered climbing rocks with her brother in the family’s yard in Tuftonboro before they eventually progressed onto some of the taller peaks further north. She later became a nurse and a midwife, while Albert, said Dow Johnson, “stayed with climbing.”

Less than a month before Albert was killed, he was at a Christmas party at the home of his parents, Marjorie and Albert Henry Jr., Dow Johnson recalled, when their mother asked him why, just a few weeks earlier, he had risked his life to go look for a Snowcat driver who was missing on Mount Washington.

His reply echoed what rescuers continue to say today, she said: “I’d want someone out there searching for me.”

Herr said it was always deeply profound and moving, as well as important, to him “to remember Albert’s vision of love and service to his fellow humans. I try to do good in his name.”

“There’s no such thing as a broken, disabled person,” said Herr, only technologies that have not worked or are yet to be perfected.

Standing on legs and computer-chip controlled ankles designed in his MIT lab, Herr made a bold pronouncement at last Friday’s ceremony, saying “I believe that in this century we will forever eliminate disability in this world.”

Herr, said Caryl Dow, invariably invokes her brother and his role in Herr’s life, in every presentation he gives.

“Hugh,” she said, “is my brother’s living legacy.”

General NewsManchester

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