"I’m in no position to complain” – reckless hiker who required 12-hour rescue on Mount Washington may face hefty bill

Hiker on Tuckerman Ravine Trail, Mountain Washington, USA
Officials say the hiker endangered the lives of 11 mountain rescue crew members when he attempted to summit the mountain in 90 mph winds (Image credit: Getty)

A New Hampshire hiker who required rescue from Mount Washington in brutal conditions last weekend may be charged for his extraction, according to officials.

Though mountain rescue is typically provided free of charge, a New Hampshire law allows the Fish and Game Department to bill people who are found to be negligent for the cost of their rescue. In this case, 22-year-old Cole Matthes of Portsmouth set off over the holiday weekend unprepared, and persisted despite poor weather which saw other hikers he met along the way turning back. After falling and twisting his ankle, Matthes called for help, which prompted a 12-hour mission carried out in 90 mph winds and -52F temperatures.

At the time, the NHFG made the unusual move of publicly blaming Matthes in a news release and on Facebook for being "unprepared," saying he undoubtedly would have died without their help, and that his actions endangered the lives of 11 others.

"Matthes made numerous poor decisions in regards to the hike that he planned in the White Mountains. Matthes did not have proper gear, equipment, weather planning, and or proper critical decisions in order to keep himself out of harm’s way and moving in the right direction on a dangerous mountain range."

Though the majority of the 180 - 190 search and rescue operations in New Hampshire are delivered for free, according to reporting in the Seacoast Online, approximately 12 cases per year result in the hiker being sent a bill. These missions typically result in a bill of between $6,000 and $8,000 which makes for one expensive hike.

For his part, Matthes appears to be taking the news on the chin, saying: “If they decide to charge me, I understand, and at the end of the day, I’m alive because of them. I’m in no position to complain.”

For now, the case is under review with the New Hampshire attorney general’s office having the final say. Last year, we reported that NHFG had implemented a new rule allowing them to revoke the driver's license of any hiker who is slow to pay their fine.

Mount Washington in Winter

A New Hampshire law allows the Fish and Game Department to bill people who are found to be negligent for the cost of their rescue (Image credit: ScottOrr)

Why is Mount Washington so dangerous?

Mount Washington is the highest peak in the northeastern US at just over 6,000 feet tall, and has claimed more lives than any other mountain in the country. It is a strenuous hike and the mountain is frequently home to some of the worst weather in the world. Learn more in our article on what makes Mount Washington so dangerous.

All hikers are advised to be well-versed in winter hiking safety before setting off during the colder months. This involves checking the mountain weather forecast, dressing in winter hiking layers, using traction devices and carrying emergency gear such as a satellite communicator, avalanche beacon and emergency shelter. Learn more in our 10 winter hiking safety tips.

Julia Clarke

Julia Clarke is a staff writer for Advnture.com and the author of the book Restorative Yoga for Beginners. She loves to explore mountains on foot, bike, skis and belay and then recover on the the yoga mat. Julia graduated with a degree in journalism in 2004 and spent eight years working as a radio presenter in Kansas City, Vermont, Boston and New York City before discovering the joys of the Rocky Mountains. She then detoured west to Colorado and enjoyed 11 years teaching yoga in Vail before returning to her hometown of Glasgow, Scotland in 2020 to focus on family and writing.