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Mt. Washington Exhibit Rededicated to Late Mountain Rescue Volunteer

Joe Lentini

In January of 1982, Joe Lentini was woken up in the middle of the night by a phone call. Two young climbers were stranded on Mount Washington in dangerous weather conditions. He and his team gathered at 5 a.m. to find and save them. 

"It was very cold, probably 20, 25 below," Lentini remembers. "Winds were blowing pretty hard up on top. And visibility was going down. You'd hold your hand out and you wouldn't see your hand." 

The team retreated, but returned the following morning. Volunteers Albert Dow and Michael Hartrick searched O'Dell's Gully and spotted tracks that could've belonged to the missing climbers. As the rest of the team convened at the bottom of the mountain, Dow and Hartrich were just beginning their descent. Suddenly, Hartrich radioed for help. 

"Michael was yelling, 'Avalanche! Avalanche!'," Lentini says.

The team rescued Hartrich, but discovered Dow's body buried in 3 feet of snow.

"We went from being fairly relaxed and relieved, because we were done with two really horrendous days, to all of the sudden a sort of terror zone," Lentini says. 

Credit Joe Lentini
Albert Dow was an expert climber. He remains the only Mountain Rescue Service volunteer to die during an active rescue mission.

Dow remains the only Mountain Rescue Service volunteer to ever die during an active rescue mission.

Thirty-six years later, the Mount Washington Observatory's summit Weather Museum will rededicate its Extreme Weather Exhibit in Dow's memory. 

Samantha Brady of the Observatory says part of the exhibit's purpose is to educate people about the risks of alpine sports. 

"You want to take into consideration extreme weather conditions that can change within minutes," Brady says. 

Also the president of the Androscoggin Valley Search and Rescue team, Brady says Dow's death has had a lasting impact on New Hampshire's rescue community.

Lentini, who still works with the New Hampshire Mountain Rescue Service, says that the tragedy resulted in increased visibility and respect for the volunteers. More importantly, Dow's legacy as a passionate and devoted outdoorsmen continues to inspire rescuers. 

"He had this incredible intensity and love for the mountains and respect for the mountains, and yet respect for people, too," Lentini says, remembering his friend. "He was just a wonderful human being.' 

A lifelong climber, Lentini says Dow's death didn't shake his love for the sport. 

"Mountains give, mountains take," he says. "It's tragic that we wouldn't have been climbing in those conditions ourselves, but climbers take care of climbers." 

In the long run, one thing has changed: Lentini's feelings toward the two climbers, young men aged 17 and 20 when they went missing in 1982, who his friend died trying to save. 

"They were faceless, nameless people who I had this intense hatred for because my dear friend, we'd dug him out of the snow," Lentini says. 

Hugh Herr and Jeffery Batzer were discovered, severely frostbitten and near death, by an Appalachian Mountain Club employee the day after Dow's death. Both survived, but with lifelong disabilities. Herr, who lost both of his legs, now creates bionic limbs that help amputees participate in sports like mountain climbing. 

"Before too long, I started to realize that anybody who's a serious climber has taken a risk," Lentini says. "They just made a simple wrong decision. I can't carry anger towards them."  

Peter Biello is the host of All Things Considered and Writers on a New England Stage at New Hampshire Public Radio. He has served as a producer/announcer/host of Weekend Edition Saturday at Vermont Public Radio and as a reporter/host of Morning Edition at WHQR in Wilmington, North Carolina.
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