Woman who fell and died at Purgatory Brook falls was experienced, well-equipped for winter hiking

In what appears to be the first death ever associated with hiking around Purgatory Brook, a Massachusetts woman died Sunday after slipping on icy trails and falling some 15 feet over the Upper Falls waterfall and getting trapped under the ice.

Dorie Goldman, 50, owner of the Backyard Bakery in Amherst, Mass., died after falling over Upper Falls at about 1 p.m. Sunday, Jan. 25. “She fell and slipped into the waterfall and the current carried her under the ice,” Mont Vernon Fire Chief Jay Wilson said. Goldman was under the ice for a “significant amount of time.”

Trails around Upper Falls and parts of Purgatory Brook have been closed due to icy conditions.

“She was a regular hiker … she was hiking and running and biking all year round, she was very experienced,” said Peter Skott, Goldman’s former husband. “She was a fantastic person, who always went her own way.”

According to state Fish & Game officials, Goldman and a companion had parked on the Lyndeborough side of the brook, at the end of Purgatory Road, and hiked to Upper Falls, a distance of a few hundred yards that requires crossing the brook on a bridge made from a felled tree.

Upper Falls is one of three waterfalls along the roughly 5-mile-long Purgatory Brook. The brook starts in New Boston and tumbles south to the Souhegan River in Milford, descending about 900 vertical feet. It makes up much of the border between Mont Vernon and Lyndeborough.

Goldman was apparently looking over the falls or approaching the overlook when she slipped and fell over it, onto the largely frozen pool at the base of the falls. Her companion, whose name has not been released, called for help, according to Fish & Game. Skott said Goldman was visiting a friend who lives near Purgatory Falls.

Dr. Jennie Duval, the state’s assistant chief medical examiner, will conduct an autopsy on Goldman’s body Monday to determine cause and manner of death, Mont Vernon Police Chief Kevin Furlong said.

Furlong said he and other law enforcers agreed to temporarily shut down trails leading to the falls. Signs were posted along entry points to the Upper Falls and surrounding conservation area Monday, and police “do not cross” tape was strung across the hiking trail both below and above Upper Falls.

A Jan. 19 posting to a Facebook group called Mont Vernon Chatter urged people to check out the falls, but added: “Just be sure to wear microspikes or the equivalent; there are some pretty icy patches on the trails.”

Upper Falls, the most dramatic of the three waterfalls along Purgatory Brook, has drawn people for well over a century.

As early as 1880, picnic areas were built on the Mont Vernon side of the waterfall. Hotels that catered to Boston-area residents escaping summer heat in the era before air conditioning encouraged visitors to the site, which at one point even hosted a bowling alley. The facilities, including hand railings around the area at the top of the falls, disappeared after the town’s hotel era ended around 1930. Few signs are visible today from of them, except for a few metal rods embedded in rocks.

In the past decade conservation groups including town conservation commission in Mont Vernon and Lyndeborough, have worked to preserve much of the property around the brook. Hiking trails around Lower Falls, which is in Lyndeborough just north of Fitch’s Corner in Milford, and around Upper Falls were connected about a decade ago with trails running along the brook. It is about a 3-mile walk to visit all the falls.