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June 27, 2013

Essex hikers reunite with rescuer 50 years later

MOUNT WASHINGTON, N.H. — As the two hikers approached the summit of Mount Washington on that winter night in 1963, they were in serious trouble. Snow was falling rapidly, the temperature had plunged below zero, and the wind — which was averaging over 50 miles an hour — was hitting them with 116-mile-an-hour gusts.

“We had had it. We weren’t going much further,” Harold Addison of Essex, Mass., remembered. “The last 400 yards, the wind was going right through us, knocking us off our feet.”

As he recalled this, 50 years later, Addison was standing at the base of the mountain with Gerry Wright, his hiking companion that night. They were waiting to reunite with the man they credit with saving their lives, a man they hadn’t seen since.

Addison and Wright told the story of that March night 50 years ago as though reliving it, telling of approaching the summit dome in the snow and driving winds. Addison knew they only had one hope: They needed to spend the night inside the Mount Washington Observatory at the summit. But there was a catch. Addison knew that hikers were not allowed inside the observatory in the winter, a policy that continues to this day. He knew this because he had been turned away at the observatory door in the past. If you go up the mountain, they expect you to be prepared to get yourself down.

So, with the sun going down and the observatory just coming into view, Addison broke the news to Wright. Then he told him the plan.

Wright was a convincing orator — the two had met because Wright was a youth minister at a Methodist church in Essex, Mass., where Addison was a parishioner — and so he would knock and plead their case.

The wind was blowing so hard that it took Wright nearly 45 minutes just to climb the steps to the door. Finally, he knocked. A man answered. Wright made his case.

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