updated 4/28/2009 3:29:17 PM ET 2009-04-28T19:29:17

A 17-year-old Eagle Scout planning an ambitious day hike and then lost for three nights around the highest mountain in the Northeast was found Tuesday and reunited with his family.

Scott Mason was spotted Tuesday morning on a ridge northwest of Mount Washington, Fish and Game Dept. Major Tim Acerno said. He was reunited with his family at a command center about two hours later, hugging them and slapping his father on the back.

"He looked a lot older. He looked sad and older," said his mother, Jory, who was trembling with emotion.

A short time later, Mason was taken by ambulance to a hospital to have pain in one of his legs checked out, Acerno said.

Planned 17-mile hike
Mason, of Halifax, Mass., headed up Mount Washington early Saturday and was planning to hike 17 challenging miles in one day. The 6,288-foot mountain is notorious for its unpredictable and often treacherous weather, including the highest surface wind speed ever recorded on Earth — 231 mph. Forecasts for Tuesday afternoon warned of possible thunderstorms and wind gusts to 75 mph.

Searchers had been following intermittent boot tracks consistent with someone who was disoriented or lost, Acerno said. Searchers in six teams of four used ropes and temporary bridges as they approached the area from two directions, but had difficulty moving in waist-deep, soft snow, Acerno said.

The unusually warm, humid weather since Saturday worked for and against Mason: Searchers weren't worried about hypothermia, but they said the melting snow had led to high rivers that would be difficult for him to cross.

After learning of the rescue, the teen's father, Mike Mason, said he believed his son didn't panic.

"I hung in there because I had a sense he would hunker down and he was gonna pass this test," Mason said. "This is his basketball, football, this is what he loves."

Mason's mother said he was an experienced hiker, but not in extreme conditions, and probably did not have overnight gear.

Boy Scout since age 11
Mason, a Boy Scout since age 11, has spent many weekends hiking in the White Mountains and became an Eagle Scout in October, said Tom Goldrick, his scoutmaster in Halifax.

"He's the most experienced hiker in our scout troop. ... We all had a very positive outlook," Goldrick said.

He said Mason has the top leadership position in the troop and has taught hiking and camping skills.

Before leaving an Appalachian Mountain Club bunkhouse Saturday morning, Mason said he planned to climb Mount Washington, then take the Appalachian Trail north to the summits of Mounts Jefferson, Adams and Madison. He left the ridgeline around Mount Clay, descending into an area known as the Great Gulf Wilderness, where he was blocked by a river.

He was spotted about 10:40 a.m. Tuesday. Rescuers guided him to the summit, where a snow vehicle and then a pickup truck brought him down to his waiting family.

Mike Mason said he is sure his son will hike again.

"Not alone. We'll let him join the AMC. He'll hike again," he said.

Copyright 2009 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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