FRANCONIA — Officials are warning about the perils of camping outside of sanctioned campgrounds after Connecticut man fell 250 feet to his death late Saturday night while camping up on Cannon Mountain on a ledge atop a waterfall.
Zachariah Peterson, 23, of Jewett City, Conn., slipped and tumbled down the entire length of the 250-foot waterfall at about 11:15 p.m. Saturday.
He had been camping with a companion and N.H. Fish and Game Department officials said alcohol consumption might have also been a factor in the incident that occurred about a quarter-mile up Tram Brook, which flows adjacent to the Cannon Mountain Aerial Tramway building.
Peterson and his friend, Garrett Gralton, had pitched a tent to spend the night on the ledge beside the top of the waterfall.
Franconia Notch State Park Personnel were able to respond and assist with the recovery of Peterson by operating the tram to the area of the incident, where they were met by responders who carried the him a short distance to the tram, said NHFG Lt. James Kneeland.
Both men had arrived in the Franconia Notch area earlier in the evening and decided to camp for the night on the side of Cannon Mountain just above the unnamed waterfall on Tram Brook, said Kneeland.
“They were on the ledge,” Kneeland said Monday. “The wooded area is very thick and I surmise very difficult to set up a tent on. Some of the rock exposure didn’t have water running over it, but was slick and mossy. They set up on that. One slip and you go over the edge.”
The night was damp and chilly, with temperatures hovering in the upper 30s, he said.
They arrived in the area late in the evening and didn’t set their tent up until about dusk, he said.
Kneeland said he’s never known anyone else to camp there.
It was the same location, though, where a woman who was sightseeing and taking photographs about 10 to 15 years ago slipped and fell to her death.
It is undetermined what exactly precipitated Peterson’s fall.
Kneeland said the incident is a reminder to camp where it is safe.
“There are plenty of other campgrounds in the area on level ground where it is legal and suitable,” he said.
Franconia Notch State Park, which encompasses Cannon Mountain, has the Lafayettee Campground at Interstate 93 Exit 34a and seven RV sites at Echo Lake.
“Other than that, we don’t have any sanctioned campgrounds within the park,” said FNSP General Manager John DeVivo.
Illegal camping within the FNSP is not uncommon.
“I wouldn’t call it regular activity, but it is common enough to be a problem,” said DeVivo. “Throughout the park, we have seen random tents pitched here and there. We’ve seen people literally 100 feet off the highway to a couple of miles into the woods.”
FNSP staff typically does not levy fines for violators, but uses the encounters to educate park visitors on camping legally and in official campgrounds.
Responding shortly after midnight Sunday, after Gralton ran barefoot down the trail, pulled Peterson from the brook and ran to the base where he flagged down a passing motorist for help, were NHFG conservation officers and members of the Franconia and Sugar Hill police departments, Franconia Life Squad, Sugar Hill, Police Department, N.H. State Police, and Pemigewassett Valley Search and Rescue Team.
“Our hearts go out to both of their families,” said DeVivo.