State police investigation is ongoing
By James M. Odato
State Police are investigating whether a man found dead last week under 4 feet of snow on Mount Colden was involved in an avalanche at the notorious Trap Dike.
After a three-day search involving 27 state Department of Environmental Conservation forest rangers, search team members discovered the body last Friday of Thomas Howard, 63, of Westport, Conn. “partway up” the Trap Dike route to Colden in the High Peaks Wilderness Area, said a DEC spokesperson on Tuesday.
The discovery came within the Trap Dike itself at the base of the upper waterfall section, DEC said. Rangers used avalanche probes as they searched the area and at 10:30 a.m. March 18 noticed a small patch of fabric that turned out to be Howard’s backpack, DEC said.
DEC said about 48 inches of snow covered the hiker’s 6-foot-1-inch body and that National Avalanche Center experts pointed to evidence suggesting an avalanche occurred at the site.
“However, without an eyewitness, and due to changing snow conditions, it is impossible to say for certain if the snow accumulation was from an avalanche or drifted snow,” the DEC said.
An investigation by the New York State Police into the cause of death is ongoing, so this is not considered an avalanche death. DEC does not have any recorded avalanche deaths in the Trap Dike.
State Police Captain Peter Arcadi said Howard parked his gray Lexus at the parking lot on Adirondak Loj Road near Lake Placid and went hiking a week before his body was found. He had registered his plans to set out to Colden and the Trap Dike, “where all the nasty stuff comes down when it rains and snows,” Arcadi said.
He said Howard had disclosed plans to start his outing on March 11 and be completed Sunday March 13 but he didn’t report to his job on March 14. Someone reported he was missing on March 16, triggering a three-day ground search by DEC rangers and an air hunt by state police using a helicopter.
The Trap Dike area received several inches of snow during the time Howard was missing.
“That area is pretty hazardous,” said Arthur Perryman, a ranger union representative in the Adirondacks. “It’s a pretty common place for people to run into issues.”
Relatives described Howard as an experienced outdoorsman. From his obituary: “Tom was an accomplished mountaineer and hiker. He spent over forty years climbing some of the most challenging mountains on the globe: ascending Mt. McKinley, Mt. Huascaran in Peru, and Xixabangma Peak in the Himalayas, to name but a few. He hiked the 273-mile Long Trail in Vermont and the entirety of the 2,000-mile long Appalachian Trail, from Maine to Georgia. In October 2021, he crossed the entire White Mountain Presidential Range in one day. Tom aspired to climb the second-highest mountain on each of the seven continents and had finished the first part of this journey when he scaled Mt. Kenya in the fall of 2021.”
An economist, he received a doctorate from Yale University and also graduated from Dartmouth College where he studied applied mathematics. His LinkedIn resume listed his experience in macro, energy and finance economics and skills in forecasting, econometrics and data analysis.
Editor’s note: This story has been updated with more information about the search and recovery process.