... But Granite State Mountaineers Repel Idea of Charges

IN the Granite State - whose flagship White Mountains record some of the world's worst weather - searches, rescues, and recoveries come with the treacherous terrain.

Whether it be a lost hiker or fall from a rock face, rescuers respond, for the unspoken policy is: If you're in trouble, we'll try to pull you out of the Whites - and at no cost to you.

But while high rescue costs are behind a National Park Service proposal to charge climbers $200 to attempt Alaska's Mt. McKinley, no fee is being contemplated in New Hampshire.

``Absolutely no, with 10,000 zeros at the end of it,'' says Bill Aughton, search/rescue coordinator for the Appalachian Mountain Club (AMC) in Pinkham's Notch.

``There's not very much talk of it in the Northeast because there are so many volunteers, and the `Live Free or Die' mentality'' that is the state motto, says Rick Wilcox, president of Mountain Rescue Service (MRS) in North Conway.

Peter Lewis, assistant director of International Mountain Climbing School in North Conway, adds: ``Climbers are a free bunch. I don't think [fees] would help reduce ... rescues.''

Climbers agree the cost of a rescue is low. ``It is minute compared to trail maintenance,'' says Mike Pelchat, president of Gorham's Androscoggin Valley Search and Rescue (AVSAR).

Mr. Lewis explains: ``Let's say there's a three-day [rescue] with 20 volunteers whose skills are worth $100 per person per day. That's $6,000 - a value, considering what they're risking.''

So who pays? Many sources, including these rescue squads:

* The state Fish and Game Department. Its participation in the January search and recovery of a man who died on Mt. Jefferson cost the department $3,560.94, according to Maj. Brian Howe, department law-enforcement chief.

* United States Forest Service. Its expenses for the January ordeal were minimal, but a recent effort on behalf of two ice climbers who died on Mt. Washington is expected to cost about $1,000, says Ned Therrien, public-information officer.

* MRS. Its members, who do the most difficult rescue work, spend about $4,000 annually replacing damaged gear and on refresher courses for emergency medical training and avalanche and wilderness response. Money is raised through donations, lectures, and auctions, says fund-raiser Wanda Allen.

* AMC. It draws rescue funds from donations - which last year totaled $2,715 - and a general fund, says club comptroller Jim Wells. But he prefers to describe costs more broadly. Some $50,000 is spent yearly on salaries of AMC staff who are available to help when a rescue is under way.

* AVSAR. It's often the first responder, and in situations requiring mountaineering skills, it backs up MRS, Mr. Pelchat says. Members pay their own expenses, about $2,500 a year. AVSAR plans to start fund-raising.

* The Randolph Mountain Club in Randolph. This AVSAR offshoot has an equipment-replacement fund for staff but handles rescue costs the same way as AVSAR, Pelchat says.

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