On May 11, 2019, a Dartmouth student became lost while hiking Mount Moosilauke as part of a “hiking overnight” trip offered and led by Dartmouth’s Outdoor Programming Office (OPO).
The student was found two days later near a hiking trail suffering from significant exposure-related injuries. Dartmouth engaged an external investigator to help examine its role in contributing to the conditions under which a student could become lost while on a College-led program and has found significant room for improvement. Dartmouth is committed to making certain an event like this never happens again by improving the standards, expectations and execution of OPO trips, increasing the performance and training of OPO personnel, and coordinating its trips more closely among all interested constituencies—OPO, the Office of Physical Education and Recreation (PE) and the students it serves.
The external investigator was asked to review all aspects of this event and to recommend operational and policy changes for the improvement and enhanced safety of OPO-led trips. This executive summary is intended to provide information to the public about the measures the College is initiating as a result of the confidential investigation.
Policy Changes, Practice Improvements & Training
OPO will take steps to improve the preparation of students on the trip including the conditions they might expect, the gear they would require, and appropriate ways for the group to approach the hike. The qualifications of OPO staff members who will lead trips will be more closely scrutinized for experience in challenging or adverse conditions, as will their adherence to OPO protocols.
In this same vein, the leadership of OPO will be required to personally review and approve the plans for all OPO-led trips. This review will be required to take place anew if there are material changes in the planned location, timing, or staffing of a trip.
Finally, PE will continue to review all OPO offerings submitted for PE credit. PE will not approve offerings that lack a contingency plan outlining alternative activities approved for PE credit in the event of bad weather or a significant change in circumstances.
Before this incident, OPO had initiated a risk review and program accreditation through the Association for Experiential Education (AEE). This work will continue as part of Dartmouth’s commitment to addressing the issues identified related to the Moosilauke hiking trip. AEE is a national organization that provides comprehensive standards for experiential and outdoor education programs to address program quality, professional behavior, and appropriate risk management.