This article is going to be a slight deviation from my normal topic of interest, but I think it’s incredibly important that everyone in the outdoor community recognizes this story and remembers the lessons it can teach us. Even though it is sad and nerve-wracking to think about instances in which things go wrong in which the outdoors that we usually cherish as a safe space, it is essential that we listen and reflect so that we, as a community, can prevent tragedies like this from happening again and honor and remember those affected by them.
In mid-November, Emily Sotelo, a student at Vanderbilt University from Westford, Massachusetts, set out for a winter hike in the infamously dangerous White Mountains of New Hampshire. According to friends and family, she was attempting to hike all 48 4,000-foot mountains in New Hampshire before she turned twenty later that month. Unfortunately, she would not realize this goal.
She was ill-clothed and underprepared on her day hike when fifty-mile-per-hour winds struck the mountain range with snow and single-digit temperatures. Officials say that Emily found herself off the trail and passed away from exposure to the elements. Her body was found Wednesday, Nov. 23, on Mount Lafayette in Franconia, N.H.
Something to know about the White Mountains: they produce some of the worst and most unpredictable weather patterns in the country, with most of the terrain above treeline in an area called “The Alpine Zone.” This means that there is no vegetation to shelter hikers from the unruly weather conditions that are sure to come. This makes the terrain extremely dangerous for even the most experienced of hikers. On top of the tricky weather and lack of cover, the trails are often extremely long and strenuous, testing every aspect of a hiker’s abilities to their fullest extent. Sotelo was described by family and friends as a very strong, capable hiker with lots of experience. Still, the conditions overcame her preparation.
It is devastating to the entire outdoors community to hear about stories like Sotelo’s, but it is essential that we give them attention and reflect on them, not only to honor Soleto and her memory but also to prevent others from having the same fate. Even with her extensive experience hiking in the White Mountains and her confidence on the trail, the unpredictable weather trumped all. Next time any one of you, your friends, family, or anyone you know set out for their own adventure, make sure you or they take the proper precautions, check weather reports, and gear up appropriately to honor Sotelo and stay safe. As fun as it is to “get lost” in the woods and appreciate the beauty of the nature in our backyards, we must keep our wits about us and make sure to think through every decision we make, as it could very well be the difference between life and death.
I don’t mean to scare you all from going outside in the winter, but I encourage us all to know our limits. I myself am not a winter hiker, and I would actually consider myself a pretty novice hiker. Knowing my boundaries has been a learning curve this fall and summer, but I am so grateful to have been able to make it through my first few months of hiking safely and with new knowledge. I know this was a bit more intense than what I usually write, but we all must hear these things and stay safe. Signing off until next semester!
~ Liz Cutting `26