THORNTON, N.H. (AP) — An experienced hiker who had accomplished the “Triple Crown” of challenging cross-country trails died in New Hampshire's White Mountains during a solo hike in brutal conditions, including single-digit temperatures, harsh winds and waist-deep snow.
Christopher Roma, 37, was an expert hiker who ran his own long-distance trail guide business and had walked this familiar trail many times before.
“Once you get to a certain point, you have to make that choice to continue or turn back,” his mother, Barbara Roma, said. “And he was never really a turning-back kind of kid.”
Concerned friends of Roma started calling 911 at about 10:20 p.m. Tuesday after speaking with him by cellphone. Roma himself eventually reached the emergency line saying he was very cold.
That call enabled authorities to get coordinates placing Roma between Mount Bond and Mount Guyot.
A large team of Fish and Game conservation officers and search and rescue squads assembled, and set out as of 2 a.m. Wednesday, but was slowed by blowing snow. A New Hampshire Army National Guard helicopter crew made three separate flights, but couldn't get near the targeted area on Mount Guyot because of low clouds and poor visibility, Lt. James Kneeland of the Fish and Game Department said.
By the time ground crews reached Roma at 5 p.m., he was dead.
The helicopter was able to recover his body on Thursday morning, saving what would have been a difficult carry-out for 15 conservation officers and more than 30 volunteers who were on their way to him.
Born in England, Roma moved when he was 5 with his family to Thornton, in the heart of the White Mountains, and grew up skiing, snowboarding, snowshoeing and hiking the challenging terrain. A bad motorcycle accident 10 years ago broke his neck and ribs, but that didn't stop him, his father, Hayden Roma, told The Associated Press in an interview Friday.
“That changed his whole life,” his father said. Following his recovery, he dedicated himself to hiking, conquering the Pacific Crest Trail between Mexico and Canada, the Continental Divide Trail along the length of the Rocky Mountains, and then the Appalachian Trail, which he completed in 99 days. Together, they're known as the “Triple Crown” of hiking.
"He was doing over 20, 22 miles a day," his father said.
Roma also had hiked all 48 of New Hampshire's 4,000-foot mountains, a 250-mile (400-kilometer) trek, in a little over 10 days, he said in his blog.
“He was trying to beat a personal best, I think — he was trying to work on doing it in a certain time. He just got caught in some freak weather," Barbara Roma said of his last hike. "The winds really picked up. They were up to 80 miles an hour at one point," she said.
She said “there were whiteout conditions” when he called 911. “They stayed on the phone with him a couple of hours.”
The call eventually dropped, and rescuers gave the family a bleak outlook on Wednesday morning because it was so cold, she said. “They'd had people out since 4 in the morning trying to get through. They had to start turning back because they were all getting frostbite."
She said a couple of the people on the rescue team kept looking, and found him.
Christopher Roma, who ran the Northeast Trekking Company, a guide service for long-distance hikers, said on his website that his hiking experiences transformed him and he wanted to share his knowledge with others.
“I experienced a lot of learning the hard way, and my goal is to educate and inform you about the dangers of the wild, the trials and tribulations, and the importance of sustainability. I want to show you that if we take care of nature, nature will take care of us, mentally and physically,” the website says.
Roma's mother said he "was always wanting to achieve more” and loved his family, enjoying hiking with his 2-year-old son, Solomon.
His sister, Megan Roma Sullivan, fondly recalled how he interacted with people on their last hike together in August, along Hadrian's Wall near the border of England and Scotland.
“He always cared about people and wanted what's best for them, to change their lives basically every time they would have a hike," she said. "They would have good conversations.”
McCormack reported from Concord, New Hampshire.
The spelling of Barbara Roma’s first name has been corrected in the 3rd paragraph to Barbara, instead of Barabara.