Skip to main content

Lessons from the tragic death of Emily Sotelo on Mt. Lafayette

 The body of Emily Sotelo, the missing 19-year-old hiker, has now been found on Mt. Lafayette in Franconia Notch New Hampshire. There was never a doubt in my mind that the superb team of New Hampshire Fish and Game would succeed in coming to a logical conclusion to this horrific tragedy.

Major David Walsh said it best, so I will reitterate his thoughts on what went wrong. When hiking in the White Mountains of New Hampshire:

Be prepared for the unexpected.

Be prepared with knowledge.

Know the weather conditions.

Dress for weather conditions.

Have extra clothes, food, water, head lamps, map and compass.

Know your limitations.

Know when to turn around.

This entire event was so bizarre and puzzling, in my article, I asked for feedback. Except for one response from an absolute imbecile and a few comments from premedonnas, most of what was posted was, "What the Hell was she thinking!" This, from "Anonymous", was the best-of-the-best:

I have been up this route in the winter a number of times and at least half the time have turned back after encountering the conditions on the first couple hundred feet above where the Falling Waters comes out above tree line. For those who have not encountered it, it is impossible to describe how abruptly and how fast conditions deteriorate once you go above tree line. literally in space of a few hundred feet. If a squall comes in and the wind is howling your tracks in the snow are quickly obliterated. Out of all the trails in the Whites, the entrance to the Falling waters is notoriously hard to find to backtrack on in the winter, especially in those conditions. I pay attention and know where it is but still have trouble. Once you hit the ridge the degree of exposure to the west and north west winds is probably as severe or close to the Presdientials since the Franconia Ridge sits as the first high ridge in the whites facing west and north. the stretch between little haystack and Lincoln is brutal. with a 5 am start I doubt anyone else saw her. she may well have made it up the Falling Waters which is real doableto tree line even dressed as she was. My guess is that she got in trouble quickly on the ridge as soon as she crested tree line. the search teams are well aware of this and I am sure they have searched that immediate area well. You would think the helicopter would spot something too since they have had clear weather. It just goes to show how rugged and unforgiving that terrain is. I am hoping against hope for her-she just made a tragic mistake. but it doesn't look good

So well written, and right on. And, written before the girl's body was found, it mirrors what Major Walsh had to say. 

As an experienced hiker, I have previously followed every part of Major Walsh's advice while hiking, generally in better weather conditions than Emily Sotelo faced. Emily followed none of the tips. This was a tragic, but avoidable, event. 

But this continues to occur. I want my NH Fish and Game back - released from the mental and physical burden of searching for individuals that unknowingly put their lives on the line to conquer yet another mountain peak - while mentally and physically unprepared to do so. Will future venturers into The Whites heed Major Walsh's advice? I doubt it. There will be more such tragedies!


  1. I’m an experienced hiker and did that route about 6 weeks ago with my daughter in less than perfect conditions – it was cold, windy and foggy on the summit ridge, and despite my fleece and gortex layers I became mildly hypothermic during the descent from Lafayette to the Greenleaf Hut (but felt fine after a rest and some hot coffee, which is not an option after the hut closes for the season). Six weeks later, the conditions are clearly much more severe. We don’t yet know exactly where she was found, but from the descriptions so far it was somewhere in the headwaters of the Lafayette Brook, presumably N of the Greenleaf Hut. I am guessing it was in the woods - if she had been above the tree line, she would probably have been found sooner by helicopter search. I’m also guessing she went up Old Bridle Path (it seems unlikely that she could have gone up Falling Waters and made it that far) and was overcome by deep snow and cold, perhaps after losing the trail - she started early and was probably the first hiker of the day, and after overnight snow any footprints would be buried. Even in good conditions, it is alarmingly easy to lose the trail in dense woods, as I’ve discovered several times. She was not experienced with winter hiking and may not have realized that cell phone batteries die easily in cold temperatures, so a navigation app would not help. And the exhaustion factor that comes from struggling through deep soft snow is hard to convey to anyone who hasn’t experienced it.

    What a sad story. We can only hope that others learn from it so that some future tragedy may be avoided.

    1. That was a large part of my purpose in writing about the search. Major Walsh made it clear what to do - what to bring - how to prepare. Thanks so much for your analysis. Just what I was looking for.


Post a Comment

Popular posts from this blog

Rules of survival: When search-and-rescue turns into body recovery

 How the Hell did this happen? Two days after 19-year-old Emily Sotelo was supposedly dropped off in Franconia Notch (NH) at roughly 5:00 AM ET, Sunday, November 20, 2022 by her mother, to hike several mountains alone, the search continues for the young lady. Photo by Linda Lane The information from news agencies indicated that Emily started hiking the trails while it was still dark. She was supposedly wearing only sneakers, a coat and workout pants. I can persona;ly attest that the weather in the area was very cold with high wind speeds, and gaining elevation on the trails would only add to the horrendous conditions. Ms. Sotelo was reportedly a seasoned hiker, but had little or no experience hiking in winter. At the peaks, temperatures on that Sunday dropped to zero degrees with a wind chill of minus-30 degrees. It is beyond my comprehension to imagine a hiker-of-experience tackling that kind of travel - in extreme weather - with only basic clothes and few (or no) supplies. I have hik

The Elm Street Nightmare

 A true-and-suspenseful horror tale of haunting, homicides and the hunt for triple-murderer, Daniel Laplante - as told by the cops that were there By Lt. Thomas Lane (Ret.)  Daniel Laplante - cold, calm, clever, calculating- Photo: YouTube   Elm Street  surfaces on four occasions in the Laplante saga: 1.) He  resided on Elm Street  in Townsend, Massachusetts 2.) He  kidnapped a woman  at gunpoint on  Elm Street, Pepperell , Massachusetts 3.) He was arrested and transported to Massachusetts State Police Barracks on Elm Street in Concord . 3.) He was  tried, convicted   and sentenced for the murders at  Superior Court , corner of  Elm Stree t and Gorham Street, Lowell, Massachusetts. When evil and cleverness reside in the same mind, the stage is often set for true horror. Such was the case with triple-murderer, Daniel Laplante . As a 16-year old , he quickly transitioned from: Minor thefts and breaking into homes To: Taunting and threatening a father and his two daughters as an unseen

Did the Celtics Kevin McHale really have a wingspan of 8-feet?

According to many sources, the Celtics Kevin McHale did indeed have an estimated wingspan of 8-feet. One of those sources is Wikipedia, as seen below: Kevin McHale American basketball player DescriptionKevin Edward McHale is an American retired basketball player who played his entire professional career for the Boston Celtics. He is a Basketball Hall of Fame inductee, and is regarded as one of the best power forwards of all time. He was named to the NBA's 50th Anniversary All-Time Team. Wikipedia Born: December 19, 1957 (age 61 years), Hibbing, MN Wingspan: 8′ 0″ Height: 6′ 10″ Spouse: Lynn McHale (m. 1982) NBA draft: 1980, Boston Celtics (Round: 1 / Pick: 3) Hall of fame induction: 1999 Number: 32 (Boston Celtics / Power forward, Center) Kevin was listed at 6'10" tall when he was drafted with the 3rd pick in the 1980 draft. Red Auerbach, in yet another heist, brought in both McHale and center Robert Parish (via trade) prior to the Celtics' 1980-81 Champion