GILFORD — What began as a leisurely afternoon hike for five women turned into an ordeal that ended eight hours later with a nighttime rescue on Gunstock Mountain.

The women, ranging in age from 28 to 87, left the parking area on the northeast side of Gunstock Mountain around 3 p.m. Friday with the idea of taking a 30-minute walk.

After walking along the trails leading toward Cobble Mountain, the group decided to extend their hike and took the orange Overlook trail toward the summit of Gunstock, according to Gilford Fire Capt. Mike Balcom.

After three hours of slow hiking, the three older hikers, ages 55, 64, and 87, decided to stop, and the two younger hikers continued toward the summit to see if it was easier to continue up or go back down the trail. As nightfall approached, the groups called for help.

Gilford Fire-Rescue received the call for assistance at 6:51 p.m. and responded with an initial crew of five rescue personnel.

Balcom said it appeared that the two groups had become separated on the Orange trail and would need assistance to reach the summit. Cell phone technology pinpointed the locations of the two groups.

Gilford Fire-Rescue personnel were augmented by members of the Belmont Fire Department and a crew from Gunstock Mountain Resort. All told, 20 people were involved in the rescue effort.

Due to the location and terrain, rescuers decided it was best to guide the two groups of hikers to the summit and bring them down the mountain from there. Twelve rescuers had to carry the 87-year-old hiker to the summit on a Stokes litter, due to exhaustion.

Two pickup trucks and two multipurpose all-terrain vehicles brought the hikers and dogs down the mountain on a maintenance trail that parallels the Panorama Summit Chairlift at Gunstock, Balcom said.

Balcom said none of the women was injured, and the dogs, while tired, were otherwise fine.

An ambulance and fire engine provided support during the incident.

Fire equipment and personnel from the Meredith Fire Department covered the Gilford station during the rescue operation.

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