Like you already stated, all summit facilities are closed to the public during the winter months (October to May). Some (like Yankee and Tip Top House) are completely boarded up while others have air locks, boarded up doors, and locked doors (Sherman Adams, Yankee, and the "Basement"). So hikers in the winter will typically find a baron landscape like an abandoned post. We keep lights off to conserve electricity but there is always someone up here. And we usually will keep the front entrance lights on during the night just in case someone needs help. But just because we are here hikers should read: there is no water, no warming huts, no food, and no transportation down the summit this time of year. If you hike up, you must be prepared to remain outside and hike down. So, if you arrive to Lions Head and conditions are deteriorating, conditions are only going to get worst as you go up. And it is only an optical illusion that the summit is "just right there". When you get to Lions Head, that's typically when you should decide what you are going to do; continue on or turn back down.
Originally Posted by Chingas
Most people have a good head on their shoulders and will see 0ft visibilities as a deterrent in continuing on and will turn around to try again another day. They, like me, choose life. But on occasion someone inexperienced or overly confident will continue on in the worsening conditions because the summit is "just right there" and if they get into trouble we will try to help them. But other times, even experienced people get into trouble (slip on the ice, broken crampon twisted an ankle, etc) and they decide that it is safer for them to crawl to the top or call for help rather than head down. So, we get these two camps of people showing up; goofers and those in actual need of help. Once here, then what? Well, I will try and clear that up below.
Most of the time, yes, we will hear them. It may not be immediately especially during windy events but bang long and loud enough and eventually we will hear them. We are well tuned to "normal" noises around the building. So when something doesn't sound right, we perk right up and volunteers have said we look like Prairie Dogs standing at alert when something isn't quite right.
Originally Posted by Chingas
Now, it has been my experience that if people think they need help or actually need help, most of the time they will do anything to get to shelter or will make enough noise to get the help they need. Some may try every door to find one that may be open. Others will rap on the windows downstairs where we live. Some will wail on doors to get our attention. Some will even break down doors to get to some sort of shelter. Some may call 911 and report that they are in the entrance way or inside one of the buildings.
And, on occasion, there are those in such bad shape that they just collapse in the front entrance where the wind shelter is or in the wind lock of Yankee. Even if you don't make a lot of noise, if you at least get to the front entrance, someone is bound to find you as State Park makes several rounds to neighboring buildings and we go out to get the precipitation can every 6 hours.
Now, just because you make it to the top for help, we assess each situation individually. And when we find you, we notify the State Park employee that is up here to take over your assessment. Most of our "rescues" come in the shoulder months (spring/fall) when people are expecting a ride down. Some will go to extremes lying about having hypothermia or an injury that occurs after we start assessing them. Most of the time in these cases, if the weather looks to remain nice, we point to the auto road and send them on an 8+ mile journey to think of what they did wrong. If the weather looks bad and dangerous or we find that they really are in need of help, state park will either arrange a ride down or an overnight and neither come cheap with hefty fees usually being charged for the services. And in extreme cases, I have heard the rumors of possibly charging breaking and entering or reckless hiking.
But if the injury or condition is legitimate, we will treat the problems as best we can. We have a First Aid room to treat a lot of conditions. But, most of us working up here in the winter, State Park included, are not EMT's. There are a few State Park employees that are trained EMT's, but unless they happen to be up here at the time of your rescue, odds are you are just going to get first aid attention to keep you alive til we can get you down to help. And getting down isn't a quick process.
In the best-worst case scenario in the middle of winter, we find you immediately at our front door in need of attention. We will bring you in, assess your situation then start placing calls for transportation down. First we must find a driver who can come up. Once we find one, it will take 30-90 minutes to get them to the base to start the ride up. They then need to get to the snowcat and start warming it up. This can take several minutes to an hour pending. Then they must drive up. Top speed is about 8 mph. So on an 8 mile road, it is at best an hour up. But if weather is bad, it may take several hours up if at all. Once up, we need to get you secured in the cat then head down with another hour plus long journey down. Once at the base it is 30-45 minutes to the nearest hospital. So from start to finish, on a really nice day, it will take about 6 hours to get you down to medical care. In the city, you have the golden hour to get to medical treatment but in the back country, like here, you have the golden day to get to treatment. Not optimal but that's reality.
But, the above is a "perfect case" scenario. If you call 911 and say you are near a cairn in need of assistance, we first need to find you. So that will tack on several more minutes, hours or days depending on where you are and whether we can find you. And just because you call 911 to find and help you, that is all weather pending. We are all SAR volunteers up here. When we go out to help you, we are off duty and putting ourselves at risk. And if the weather is so bad that we do not feel safe going out, being volunteers, we have the right or refusal to go out. In that case, you may have to wait for improved weather or for someone below coming up to find you. This isn't always the case and most of us will go out and try to help but if it is blowing 100 mph and 30 below, I know most of us would probably reconsider and hold off.
So, with all this in mind, this is why we always say, it is normally much safer to turn around and go back down than it is to continue on. Even if you have to hobble down to HoJo's, at least there, Fish and Game can get a Snow Mobile up there faster than we can get a cat up here. So hopefully this helps clear things up a bit.
Safe hiking out there this winter-
Staff Meteorologist/Night Observer, KMWN (Mt Washington Obs., NH)