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#1418 - 10/05/05 12:09 PM
Posted by graham, 10-05-05Sorry to hear about these type of accidents.
Got this accident report from INYO SAR:
On October 3, 2005 at approximately 12:30 pm the Inyo County Sheriff's Office
received information that there was possibly an injured hiker near Trail Crest
on the Mount Whitney trail. The report was via a text message sent on a
cellular phone but did not give any details, nor was the date and time the
message was sent known.
Inquires began with Sequoia/Kings National Park and U.S. forest service, but
there were no wilderness rangers in the area. A C.H.P. helicopter based in
Fresno was requested to search the area but they were turned back by 50-60 knot
winds over the crest.
Forest Service rangers started in to the area, and Inyo County Sheriff's Search
and Rescue teams also started in with medical equipment. At approximately 3:30
pm rescue base received information from a paramedic and nurse confirming that
one hiker had been involved in a fatal accident. By 4:30 pm three additional
hikers in the victim's party were located and eventually all were reunited in
Lone Pine later that evening.
Witnesses reported that 45-year-old Stephen L. Tom of El Cerrito California,
attempted to glissade down an Ice chute from the switchbacks below Trail Crest.
He lost control during the roughly 1100' slide and impacted large boulders near
On October 4, 2005 an Inyo Sheriff & SAR recovery team flew in with the CHP
Fresno helicopter and recovered Tom's body. He was flown out and delivered to
the Inyo County Coroner at Lone Pine airport.
Posted by Jeff of Arcadia, 10-05-05My party of four ran into two women coming down on Oct. 2 who were above the ice chute when the accident happened. These hikers said two men attempted to glissade without ice axes, poles, crampons or helmets. One of the men was able to somehow stop at a ledge, while the other slid and then began tumbling all the way down. They were able to get down to the man on a ledge, but they said the man refused to move and asked for a helicopter rescue. They said they were able to convince him to wedge between their bodies and get back up the ice chute. To me, these ladies risked their lives to rescue this guy and I hope he got the names and addresses to thank them. One of my party did get their names, so if he needs the information I know where he can get it. When these women found out only one of us brought crampons and that the rest of us were just relying on ice axes, they gave us their instep crampons. We tried to pay for them but they refused. On the way down, we ran into two hikers without crampons and we passed the crampons along. Maybe this can start something.
A third hiker we met on the way up explained that two other hikers made it to the body at the bottom of the ice chute and determined he was deceased (head injury). On our way up above Trail Camp we watched various helicopters from different agencies trying to battle the winds to land to remove the body. Finally a CHP helicopter landed at the lake and a group hiked back in from there with a stretcher. They must have had problems because they were hours trying to find the body. The helicopter must have left and gone back down the mountain at least six times. We never did see that they found the body.
Monday night we were the only tents at Trail Camp and we all agreed it was the coldest night of our lives (that includes a 64-year-old Norwegian who has been in plenty of cold spots). We all had four season tents and 15 degree sleeping bags, but even with three layers of clothes, it was impossible to sleep. The wind felt like maybe 40 to 50 mph gusts and it was strong enough to lift our tents. None of our party was able to sleep and I ended up doing situps half of the night to keep from freezing. Our water bottles froze in the tent. I had to go down to the lake at the camp and break the ice to pump water. The ice was thick enough that the first rock I threw bounced away like a hockey puck.
On the way up from Trail Camp to the crest we were dismayed to find the snow had melted from the previous day and overnight had turned into sheets of ice. We ran into six French hikers who were without crampons and they were turning back. Cables was pretty bad but it looked worse above there because of all the ice. I thought we could make it with ice axes, but the rest of my party said the slope of the ice leading to the edge of the cliff was too severe. As it was we all slipped and fell at least twice on the way back down to Trail Camp. Probably the worst was one of our party caught one of his crampons on his pant leg and he went down. He was lucky enough to land his knee (instead of his head) on a rock.
All in all,though,it was a great adventure. My friends made the correct decision. It was just enough over their risk tolerance to make the call and that's the way it is. If the snow had not turned to ice, maybe we could have made it with no problems. Then again, maybe not. It's one of those calls that I will wonder about for a long time.
One final comment: I noticed several hikers with bear cannisters tied to the top of their backpacks, just behind their head. I kept thinking if they tripped and fell backwards that they would fracture their skull on the cannister. Somebody should get the word out. Also, I noticed several hikers carrying their ice axes in a way that would viscerate them if they tripped. Again, hikers should learn first how to carry and use them before bringing them on a hike.
Posted by Rick Kent, 10-05-05Another tragic loss. That brings the number of deaths on Whitney this year to at least three and the year isn't yet over.
Quick question for those who have been up there recently. My guess would be that the snow that is there is a bit too thin and not in a desireable state for glissading. Is that the case or have other parties been attempting to glissade as well?
Posted by tomcat_rc, 10-05-05I looked at the option on saturday since i had equipment - too barren then to do a realistic glisade - not consistant enough for me to plunge step down - i felt the switchbacks were still the better option. i am sure that there were patches that could be glisaded but as bouldery as it was i would never have attempted without arresting equipment. and the reports i have of that day show temps definately dropping to freezing condition. i bet some of those patches were just like an ice sheet launching pad. lets all use wise judgement and especially when going beyond your normal experience level.
Posted by graham, 10-05-05- Rick, Yeah the snow was pretty thin and there's probably some icy patches under the snow to make it poor glissade conditions. Check my pics on the Oct 2 trip report, there's a lot of exposed rocks. I did notice some tracks going directly below Trail Crest, but I couldn't tell whether it was from going up or down.
Posted by Ken, 10-05-05This is sad, and it seems, early.
One thing mentioned that I'd have reservations about: instep crampons. I think that they have utility for situations where one is on a relatively level icy trail. However, when one gets onto any significant slope in any direction, they are no good....they are not designed for that use. I'm often afraid that they allow people to get into situations for which they are not suited.
Another thought: Using an ice axe in the situation described is a serious thing. You probably have to perform the arrest within the first second, to be effective. After that, it is clear sailing all the way to the bottom, and there is nothing you can do. One you have a head of steam, there IS no stopping.
YOU HAVE TO KNOW WHAT TO DO, and you probably need significant practice, beforehand. Then, is not the time to learn.
I suppose that now is possibly the most dangerous time on the mountain, in that the nice conditions down below lure unprepared folks up high. They don't know. In full winter only real fools head up unprepared, and while more objective danger, participants are prepared.
I know the helicopter crew involved, H-40 from Fresno, and will be in a meeting with some of them this saturday. If there is more to know, I'll report it next week.
Good judgment comes from experience,
and experience, of course, comes from poor judgment.
Posted by Dave G, 10-05-05I agree completely with Ken regarding instep crampons. They are designed for relatively flat glacier or frozen lake walking. I've seen people try to use them going uphill and not only do they slip as soon as they lift their heel, once they start falling the points manage to catch anyway and they wind up with an injury or worse. I would say even the YakTrax thingies would be safer to use, since they at least cover the foot.
Posted by Jeff of Arcadia, 10-05-05I posted Oct. 2, but meant Oct. 3. Still fuzzy. I agree with Ken about instep crampons. On a switchback above Trail Camp, they slipped sideways even though I had them tightened as much as I could.
Posted by AxeMan, 10-05-05I watched a "dude" flounder down the chute on Saturday with no equipment, just an attitude and a prayer. He was lucky he didn't snap an ankle or worse. He did posthole a couple of times up to his waist that I saw, but I'm guessing he made it.
I was more concerned about the people who were just crawling up the Trail Crest at 2pm with the defiant "I'm gonna summit no matter what" attitude. It doesn't make sense, and you can't reason with them. Given the conditions (and the abilities of a lot of people up there) I'm surprised there haven't been more fatalities this year. Doug was saying that there are on average 2 to 3 rescues a week, but I guess the non-fatalities don't make it into the log books that are posted online. I think that might make people at little more cautious if they knew ... but again probably not.
Posted by Sierra Sam, 10-05-05My experience is that instep crampons can be more dangerous than no crampons. People think that they have protection and venture into marginal situations to find that they have little to none.
Posted by DougE, 10-05-05Last Sat. (Oct 1st) my partner Terry and I glisaded down the snow gully from Trail Crest - around 3pm. It looked too inviting compared with slogging down icy switchbacks. Few too many rocks at the top so we dropped down about 200' without much problem then moved right into the deep snow in the center of gully. Conditions were perfect for the glisade, not too fast or too slow. No rocks at all. Snow depth was fine. Used our poles to arrest. A few others followed us after they saw how much fun we were having (not to mention that they could bypass the switchbacks). We stopped short of the bottom of the gully and took the old trail back over to Trail Camp. Still didnt get back to the Portal until dark. Great day hike!
Posted by Adrian, 10-06-05Sliding down a long steep snow slope is only a good idea if you're totally sure the surface is soft with good frictional characteristics top to bottom. You could start on soft surface, run into shade and find ice...The above post relating to self arrest having to be right at the beginning of a fall is right on target; you're not going to do it when you're sliding at 50 MPH. Isn't this the second glissading death this year?
Be cautious and remember that, as with stairs, most mountain falls happen on the way down.
Posted by rene, 10-06-05Sad news; what was the situation in the other 2 deaths on Whitney this past year?
Posted by SAR, 10-06-05To Jeff of Arcadia, I would like the contact information for the women who witnessed the accident and rescued the second hiker. Contact me at the http://www.inyosar.org Thanks Sgt. Randy Nixon
Posted by Jan6905, 10-06-05The other two deaths were kind of similar. There were two men who were up in really windy conditions with lots of snow, and one of them happened to slip and fell. The winds were very strong and just rolled right down the mountain. The other man was up, almost at the summit via the mountaineers route. The same thing happened to him. These 2 gentelmen were both very experienced, but the fact that they couldn't self arrest on time and wind being about 70 miles per hour was a very big factor. Even if you are really experienced. Please be carefull. Use good judgement.
Posted by Rick Kent, 10-06-05The other two deaths occurred early in the year (in March and April) on the Mountaineers Route above the Notch (under winter conditions). I was up there shortly thereafter and saw both names signed into the register. As with this latest accident both occurred on descent with a slip/fall on a steep snow slope.
Prior to these deaths I believe the next previous was in June 2003 which also involved an out-of-control glissade on the chute next to the switchbacks.
More information and reports can be obtained from the Inyo SAR site (http://www.inyosar.org/).
Posted by pv209900, 10-06-05To Sergeant Randy Nixon:
I attempted to find some contact information on the http://www.inyosar.org website but could not find a phone number to call or e-mail address to use. I do not know the names of the two women who rescued the second hiker on the snowfield, but four of my friends were at Trail Crest at the time of the accident. (I was with two others descending below the cables at the time.) Those four witnessed both the fatal glissade and the rescue of the second hiker. After the rescue by the two women, my friends then assisted the second hiker and his wife, both of whom were understandably frightened, back down the switchbacks above the cables to a point of safety. Another member of my group ran 7 miles down to Whitney Portal from Trail Camp to alert authorities, and it was probably a hiker he stopped on the way who was able to send the successful text message at 12:30. I will give you their contact information if you contact me (email@example.com, or call (530) 666-8275 (day)).
There's not much to add to what previous posters have said about the accident. From later conversations, I came to understand that the victim may have been somewhat inexperienced and got in over his head. Apparently, he and the second glissader were too frightened to descend the switchbacks above the cables, which have snow and ice in spots and significant exposure. A third hiker mentioned to them that he intended to glissade down. He then continued on toward the summit and they decided to attempt the glissade, essentially trading a known risk (descending the switchbacks) for an unknown risk. I'm told the victim had two trekking poles when he attempted the glissade, but they were apparently of little use. The second glissader was, somewhat remarkably, able to self-arrest with a stick.
I'm certainly more of a hiker than a mountaineer, but I'll agree with other posters who've said that the snow is too thin for glissading. Looking back at my pictures from the trip, it's hard to see a way down that would avoid the rocks, even if one was able to control speed and direction fairly well. I understand that another hiker was able to safely glissade down earlier that day, but that may have been more luck than skill based on his comments to a hiker in our group. So it might be a good thing to avoid unless you really know what you're doing. The post that said it was a good glissade on Oct. 1 may be accurate as far as conditions that day, but there were 70 mph winds up there on October 2 and some of the powder may have been blown away.
Posted by wingding, 10-06-05Another terrible accident - so sad. Self-arrest doesn't always work with an ice axe - I can't imagine it's any easier without one or with trekking poles.
Posted by Jeff of Arcadia, 10-06-05I also couldn't reach anyone at http://www.inyosar.org because they don't list phone numbers or e-mails. The two women who rescued the second hiker are Amy and Carolina Lund of Scottsdale, Arizona and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
We ran into pogledich's friend as he ran down the mountain looking for someone with a cell phone. We never were able to get through with our cell phone, but someone must have. Even though the hiker died, that guy who ran down the mountain for help is also a hero, as far as I'm concerned. My hat's off to him. What is his name and where is he from? How did he get his backpack down the mountain?
Posted by Mark A. Patton, 10-06-05There are all kinds of phone numbers at the bottom of the Missions page....
Independence Sheriff''s Office 760-878-0323 or 760-873-7887
Bishop Sheriff''s Sub Station 760-873-7887 or 760-873-7414
Posse Hut(SAR Compound) 760-873-5535
Interagency Dispatch(Forest Service/BLM) 760-873-2405
Symons Emergency Specialties 760-873-8904
Randy Nixon (W)760-873-6431 or 760-873-7887, (P)888-421-7243(10022)
Keith Hardcastle (W)760-878-0321, (C)760-878-0323, (P)760-243-7243(8600)
Posted by Jake Sanderson, 10-07-05I was with the Pogledich party. I think just about everyone on the mountain that day deserves a hat's off. Mike, the runner down the mountain, is from Santa Rosa, CA. His phone call was, I believe, the first concrete information received by Inyo S&R about the accident. Dan in Santa Rosa received a text message sent from the ridge above Trail Crest and quickly got through to Inyo S&R around 12:30. This got the wheels turning until they received Mike's telephone call. Ken, also from Santa Rosa, descended quickly from above the cables and was the first to reach the body. Then there were the other two hikers, one a paramedic, who stayed with the body for an hour and a half waiting for the helicopter before finally heading down, and of course the two ladies who have already been mentioned who descended to help Mike (the second hiker stuck on the slope) without hesitation after I told them what was happening below. They looked to be already very tired after their summit, and really deserve kudos for risking their own lives to head down that steep slope, and then slog back up again to Trail Crest. One of them had a bit of a fall of her own on the way down, and broke her trekking pole. Jeff from San Francisco, CA, another member of our party, met me at Trail Crest and gave up one of his trekking poles and stayed with Mike(second stuck hiker) and Brenda(his girlfriend) while they descended.
Based on what we'd heard from rangers and other hikers at Whitney Portal, all of our party had instep crampons and trekking poles. We saw many hikers descending the switchbacks with no crampons, and quite a few without even poles. To be brutally honest, I think the rangers at the Lone Pine station dropped the ball a little. After talking with them, we did not have an adequate appreciation of the dangerous conditions. I can see why some people made the attempt with inadequate equipment. I hope the Inyo Forest Service learns from this week's experience and maybe lean more toward hiker safety when providing information. My message to hikers that plan on attempting Mt. Whitney is to get additional information from other hikers, this message board, or wherever before deciding to attempt the summit, and of course always err on the side of caution. A lot can change in a few hours up there.
Posted by mtn_climbr001, 10-07-05"To be brutally honest, I think the rangers at the Lone Pine station dropped the ball a little. After talking with them, we did not have an adequate appreciation of the dangerous conditions. I can see why some people made the attempt with inadequate equipment"
BS! Take responsibility for your own equipment, knowledge, experience, etc. Yes, it's the popular mule trail, but it's also a 14K peak in the fall. Be prepared for everything
Posted by Andrew., 10-07-05My experience with the forest service is that they tend to be over cautious. I would not have expected this accident to happen given the current conditions, nor could they have.
Unfortunately, people sometimes make unexpected choices which lead to tragedy. There is no way anyone could have seen that ahead. As we have seen in the past, a choice one day is safer then the same choice on a different day.
It is a lesson to all of us to not underestimate the experience of going to Mt. Whitney when the weather is like it is.
Posted by Jake Sanderson, 10-07-05"BS! Take responsibility for your own equipment, knowledge, experience, etc. Yes, it's the popular mule trail, but it's also a 14K peak in the fall. Be prepared for everything"
I agree with you that we should be taking responsibility for our own equipment, etc. Does that mean that the people we look to as "officials" shouldn't be responsible for keeping us adequately informed? I think not. If they're not there for us, we might as well close the Lone Pine station and just let Mt. Whitney be a free-for-all. If all our rangers are doing is carrying bags of human waste down the mountain, and cleaning up the corpses of the unprepared, I think we should just stop wasting our money...
If one of the rangers had said "be prepared for anything" when issuing our permits, I would have not made my remarks. The fact that several minutes were spent explaining how to **** in a bag and carry it out properly, but virtually nothing on safety and proper equipment leave me a little miffed.
That said, in general I have a great deal of respect for FS and other rangers, and really do appreciate the job they do. I hope they see my comments as constructive criticism, and strive to play a bigger role in PREVENTING this type of tragedy, rather than simply cleaning it up. I would much rather have made the summit than helping clean up a mess that may well have been preventable with some stern cautioning from a ranger in town.
Posted by 67brickie, 10-07-05"Does that mean that the people we look to as "officials" shouldn't be responsible for keeping us adequately informed? I think not."
Yeah, yeah, right. And the "officials" should be able to tell us exactly where a hurricane will hit, how hard the wind will blow and for how long, and how high the water will get. C'mon, man. The primary person respnsible for protecting yourself is YOU. "Adequate information" is very subjective; anyone with enough snap to be attempting a Mt. Whitney hike this time of year, with the recent weather conditions as they have been involving snow and ice, IF they've been paying attention, should already have "adequate information" from their own intake to be able to make informed (and safe) decisions. No matter what time of year, Whitney ain't no stroll in the park, and that's especially true whenever the weather gods take hold of her, even during the warmer months. It's your job, not government's, to take care of you and yours.....
Posted by jasonb, 10-07-05I agree Brickie. Plus, I'd image (correct me if I'm wrong) but that rangers won't give you advice even if you ask for it. It's a liability issue. Sure they'll tell you the conditions. Although when I was there a few weeks ago I knew much more about the conditions from this board than they had available at the ranger station. The reports at the station that I saw were on the conservative side, which is good at least. They can't sit there and tell you how dangerous it is or what you need to bring or what routes are safe. That's not what they are there for. They are not tour guides.
Posted by dstempke, 10-07-05There is a list of things that are not allowed given to you on your permit. It includes disposal of waste, food storage, cutting switchbacks, etc. The ranger goes through this checklist with you to initial showing that you know and understand those rules. I think it would be beneficial to put a warning regarding glissading on this sheet. There have been three deaths this year all related to glissading.
It could read:
"Glissading should not be attempted without an ice ax and prior experience and it could result in death."
This is definately not a time to point blame, but it could be a lesson we can learn from.
Posted 10-07-05I have to agree with Brickie here. It's your own responsibility to know what you're getting into each time you head into the mountains and to be prepared for the worst. As far as I know, the rangers do a fairly good job of reporting the current conditions on the mountain, almost on a daily basis. I stopped by the Whitney ranger station early July to pick up permits for Kearsarge Pass, and they had actual pictures of Trail Crest and Trail camp (showing the still frozen lake) taken from a few days earlier clearly posted, warning people of the well above average snowpack for this year, and to be adequately prepared. I don't know how much else they could have done to warn people, other than certifying every hiker for the ability to self-arrest and knowledge of how to use crampons. I've summitted Whitney 3 times, once in the spring where an ice axe and crampons were mandatory equipment, and I can't imagine somebody trying to glissade down that chute this late in the season (especially without an ice axe), even with the deep snowpack we had this year. Its a tragic accident, but I don't think its at all fair to blame the Forest Service for their lack of warning. People need to know their limits, and know when to turn back when the conditions are beyond their comfort/skill level.
Posted by Jan6905, 10-07-05I totally agree with brickie. And yes natureboy. I also agree with you. If people call the phone tree(same number as the R.S) and listen to their recordings which are updated every single day with new conditions and weather, it clearly states " Depending on your comfort and skill level you May need crampons and ice axe." This means it is up to YOU if you want to bring them or not. ONLY YOU know how experienced you are and you should know when it is dangerous and time to turn around. The rangers can't go out there and babysit everybody. Our fee does not include that. Everybody should know what they are getting into. ANYTIME you go into the mountains. You need to come prepared for the worst. And of course this message board has more info on it. People post things right after they get home. So everything they saw, they will post. Rangers are on the mountain everyday and give thier reports but they are not going to risk their lives by going up really high to a point to where they think they are not capable of doing just to give people exact reports on conditions. They don't get paid millions, you got to understand that. They do as best as they can. The rest is up to you!!! You need to come prepared for everything. The R.S just tells you regs. and most recent weather conditions and then issue you your permit. Then your on your own.
Posted by graham, 10-07-05When I picked up my Whitney day permit on Oct 1, the rangers described the trail & snow conditions above Trail Camp and had pictures of the cables and the switchbacks posted. They mentioned that conditions had gotten worse since the pictures had been taken. They mentioned taking the appropriate gear such as trekking poles, ice axe, etc.
I believe the Lone Pine rangers acted appropriately and can't prevent or be held accountable for every accident in the backcountry. I'm glad they're around when accidents do happen to help with rescues. Hikers are responsible and must be accountable for their own actions. I accept the backcountry risks once I start at the trailhead. I don't want it to get anymore bureaucratic than it already is.
Posted by Jake Sanderson, 10-07-05You know, you guys are really sounding like a bunch of elitist poopers(had to find a word that would make it past the filter) at this point. Sorry to be so direct. Essentially it sounds like you're saying that unprepared and inexperienced hikers deserve to die on the mountain. I for one disagree, if for no less selfish reason than not wanting to ruin my own trip. I too don't want to add any more bureaucracy than there already is, but simply a little more cautionary advice. There was so much information about wag bags and closed toilets along the trail, I felt like I could handle almost any toilet emergency that might arise. But what another poster suggested, a warning about the often fatal effects of glissading, was nowhere to be seen, even on these message boards. My point is, how hard would it be to add a few simple warnings to the back of the permit, or verbally on the end of the lengthy description of proper excrement etiquette? I am not advocating requiring all hikers to carry ice axes and certifications of mountaineering training.
Posted by SAR, 10-07-05Thanks to PV209900 and Jeff of Arcadia for the witness information, and I will have our tech guy move the contact information to the appropriate page on our website.
Posted by graham, 10-07-05Jake, Don't be absurd. I never said that inexperience hikers deserve to die. I'm always willing to help hikers that have gotten in trouble and have helped many a hiker over the years. And I'm sure most hikers feel the same way.
My point is that all the glissade warnings, posters, consent forms, etc. would not prevent these types of accidents from happening. Unfortunately accidents happen even to the very experienced (e.g. Secor's glissade on Mt Baldy in April-05). I believe that any adult that enters the backcountry should understand the inherent risks (weather conditions, lightning, getting lost, glissading, animals, etc) and be willing to accept it. If they get in trouble hopefully there are people like yourself, me rangers, SAR, etc. that can provide help. But I don't expect the rangers to supervise or guide my hiking trips.
- Rick Graham
Posted by Memory Lapse, 10-07-05Jake,
Don't be naive.....the mail trail does not require one to glissade and this unfortunte person made a decision to take this route and place himself in danger. I was not there and cannot speak to the conditions but should they also warn about snakes, slipping on scree and breaking an ankle, and any number of other life and health endangering acts?
This environment is inherently dangerous and should be approached with caution. One of the earlier deaths this year happened to what was described as a very experienced mountaineer who was glissading an area that has been described by many as an area where this method can be successfully practiced.
There are numerous warnings and helpful information everywhere you look at the MWRS and the portal trailhead. When does blaming others stop and taking personal responsibility start?
Just in case no one has heard, it is dangerous to put a cup of McDonald's coffee between your legs while driving.
Posted by asbufra, 10-07-05It is not a popular point of view but I agree with Jake on this. I am sure that this is a horrible accident and no one, including the Forest Service, is at fault,
But, once the Government regulates the trail they have culpability. We refer to it as "wanting the authority without the responsibility".
If they write tickets and tell you how and where to c*r*a*p and put up all those stupid "Don't cut switchback" signs they can certainly put up a "Glissading can be deadly "sign.
If he did not know the danger of glissading on that icy slope it is tragedy.
I think they put up the lightning warning signs after people in the Hut got struck several years ago. In Southern California when mountain lions are spotted near Park areas they immediately place signs at all the entrances and we all know how many fire danger signs there are when it is hot and dry and windy.
Why not make it a point to let everyone know how dangerous glissading down a 1,000 foot slope can be?
Posted 10-07-05Many people were hiking over their ability on the Monday the 3rd. Winds were gusty, trail was icy and people moved on and upward with regular boots even tennis shoes. We spoke to the young fellow who was impressed with his slide down the same site where the unfortuante fellow fell to his death. We estimate he went down about 10 to 20 prior to the fatal slide. It doesn't take a 1000 ft fall to cause serious injury. Putting rescue teams at risk also.
Posted by jasonb_dup1, 10-07-05No signs! Are you free-kin kidding me? You want a sign put up everwhere there are dangerous spots on trail? It's the WILDERNESS!
Posted by oskar, 10-07-05Dear Everybody and SAR,
Since Whitney seems to be the Disneyland of big mountains in California, you are going to get inexperienced hikers. Add to that a permit system where everyone isn't going at the optimal time of the year, and trouble will happen. Because this is a unique situation I suggest the forest service put up two signs.
One at trail crest that says people have died trying to glissade down this slope with a big red X.
Mike, the guy the two girls rescued, said fear of going down the icy switchbacks motivated them to slide down. He also said they debated it for awhile. Maybe the posted threat of death from sliding down would have caused them to take the relatively safer path of slowly descending the switchbacks.
The second sign is somewhat optional. At the base of the switchbacks above trail camp, there could be another sign that reminds people that snowy slopes icy over in the afternoon/evening and that going up is easier than going down.
Obviously, many people ignore signs, but I really think the trail crest sign, right at the point of the decision to glissade, could dissuade people from attempting it. I also doubt it posses any legal issues.
Posted by blaze_whitney, 10-07-05Does anyone remember versatile fred's post from May, 2005? He was furious that a ranger asked him if he was aware of the dangerous conditions and that anyone who was not experianced with winter hiking conditions should turn around . Unfortunately the post was deleted. Possibly because of the negative things he said about the rangers warnings. Maybe he could chime in on this discussion. I wonder if he would have a different opinion now. My condolences to the hiker who perished, his family and everyone else on the mountain.
Posted by pv209900, 10-07-05I'm no fan of signs in the wilderness--the experience is already diluted enough by hordes of hikers, tame wildlife, occasional trash on the trail, etc. But like others have said, Whitney is a place where time and time again, inexperienced hikers get in over their heads. Ideally, all hikers would have sufficient experience, common sense, etc., to avoid all of the natural hazards that can reasonably be avoided. But that's simply not the case. For example, I noticed on the internet (I believe the Inyo SAR page has a report) that a man and woman also had problems on what sounds like the same snowfield a couple years ago--he died and she was injured. Even if it's not the same snowfield (at a minimum, it's quite close to the site of the 10/3/05 fatality), it's the same type of mistake that led to the accident this week.
Maybe a sign is warranted, maybe not. I think the original point was that because this hike is difficult, sometimes dangerous, and extremely popular, the USFS could do more to educate people about the potential hazards of this hike and perhaps other popular hikes with similar hazards. A quick review of the "Missions" page on Inyo SAR proves that this point had merit. So many of the injuries and deaths covered on that page were errors of judgment, often where it appears that the victims simply failed to appreciate the danger of taking a certain course of action. Everyone knows that stepping off a cliff is bad, but not everyone can readily appreciate that a snowfield that may be safe for glissading one afternoon could be dangerous the following morning. And some who hike Whitney simply aren't going to have the experience to understand that. No doubt I've made some dumb mistakes in the mountains in the past and simply been lucky enough to avoid the consequences.
So should there be a sign? There are several signs at the beginning of the trail next to a scale for weighing your pack. I can't remember what they all say--perhaps one covers hazards in a straightforward and helpful way. But if not, it would be an easy thing for the USFS to put up another sign noting places on the trail where hikers have been injured or died in recent years. This is clearly something they care about--they have a newspaper article posted in this location regarding a pair of fatalities on the Mountaineers Route. Yeah, everybody should have the common sense and experience to make such a thing unnecessary. But even experienced hikers make errors of judgment, and one sign at the trailhead warning of the past mistakes of others could go a long way to avoid similar future mistakes. If something regarding the 2003 fatality on that snowfield had been posted, there's some chance the October 3, 2005 fatality would have been avoided.
Posted by Memory Lapse, 10-07-05I have a much more ridiculous suggestion.
Before you can be issued a permit into the Whitney zone, you must have at least 100 hours of instruction on mountaineering skills, taken and passed a written certification examination, passed a skills test for proficiency in rappeling, route finding, glissading, ice climbing, walking, bouldering, and demonstrate proper use of snow shoes, crampons, ice axe, hiking poles, water filters and propane stoves. You must also have been guided up into the zone by a qualified mountaineer a minimum of three times, summitting at least two of those attempts, without use of oxygen, Ginko-Bilboa, Diamox, Advil, Tylenol, Aspirin, water or food. In addition, you must also have an IQ of at least 135 and have never been accused of doing something utterly stupid.
I can think of at least a thousand ideas of where warnings and instructions could be posted in our everyday lives to avoid injuries and death. But at some point, a person must recognize those things that are common sense and only require minimal good judgement.
This message board is one of the best sources of information and guidance offered by some very qualified mountaineers and yet some of the advice and experiences minimized the dangers that exist. I have enormous respect and admiration for the people who can fly up and down this mountain with ease in unimaginable times but they are not the rule people, they are the exception. Do not be fooled by this mountain's quiet, serene appearance. It can be a killer. Let that be your warning sign.
Posted by jasonb, 10-07-05I don't think anybody (except possibly the dumbest person on the planet)ever went glisading down any of those slopes without realizing the risk and considering the consequences. It has been stated that the injured party debated for some time before deciding to try the glisade. So obviosly they knew the danger. The decided they could handle it. A sign is not going to convince them that they can't.
Posted by ClamberAbout, 10-07-05Well, I must qualify for one of the "Dumbest Persons on the Planet" then...
About 20 years ago I glissaded down the chute. Perfect conditions fortunately. Didn't have an ice axe or even poles. Switchbacks were completely filled in, so we hiked up the chute, hit the summit, and then were back while the sun was still high in the sky so nothing iced up. Snow was deep and fluffy. It was the highlight of the trip.
I had no clue that there was any danger involved. Seems like you would; I mean, look down and you can see the rocks, but nevertheless, the thought that I could crash into them and die never occurred to me.
It seems like it takes time and experience for people to gain an understanding of some of the hazards present in the wide outdoors. I had certainly hiked before, but at the time had never even heard of glissading. If folks haven't spent time on a board such as this (to my defense, didn't exist back then), or with other more experienced mountaineers, then they very well may honestly be unaware of how dangerous their actions are.
People die and are injured on Mt. Baldy every year too. It's not necessarily particular to Whitney; it's just that people don't comprehend the dangers of what they're doing. Sad. Apparently on the way down these guys finally realized they were in over their heads and just chose the wrong way to try and get out of the situation. I doubt that they had any idea that they could hit an ice patch and go out of control.
Posted by Ken, 10-07-05PV, I am having difficulty understanding your reasoning. You state:
"So should there be a sign? There are several signs at the beginning of the trail next to a scale for weighing your pack. I can't remember what they all say--perhaps one covers hazards in a straightforward and helpful way."
That would seem to indicate that your experience is that a sign does not get read. I agree with you. Further:
"But if not, it would be an easy thing for the USFS to put up another sign noting places on the trail where hikers have been injured or died in recent years. This is clearly something they care about--they have a newspaper article posted in this location regarding a pair of fatalities on the Mountaineers Route."
WAIT!! So there IS a cautionary posting!!!
"..... and one sign at the trailhead warning of the past mistakes of others could go a long way to avoid similar future mistakes."
WAIT!! Apparently NOT! You state that there IS a newpaper story posted there, and it sure didn't stop these guys!
"If something regarding the 2003 fatality on that snowfield had been posted, there's some chance the October 3, 2005 fatality would have been avoided."
I don't believe that. I think that anyone who would glissade down a thousand foot snow slope, without any gear, without any knowledge, without having read about it, is not going to be stopped by a sissy sign.
Good judgment comes from experience,
and experience, of course, comes from poor judgment.
Posted by Richard P., 10-07-05Have a look at page 1 & 2 of this album to see the signs at the Portal Trailhead. (Click on the images to see them in a larger format.)
My take on what I see in these posters is that they are trying to warn hikers that there is the potential to get into a dangerous situation if you are not careful.
Getting more specific, I'd say Photo 9 is ample warning.
Posted by scotthiker2, 10-07-05When you hike to the top of Vernal and Nevada Falls in Yosemite, they have those graphic signs showing what will happen if you swim in the water and lose control. It is very simple and to the point. don't even think they contain any words - well maybe a few.
When I was younger (30 years ago) people swam in those waters all the time. Every time I have been back since, I rarely see anyone in the water. I believe those signs are effective.
I really don't understand why there is so much resistance to a sign at the top of the snow run. I don't see anyone complaining about the Hut on top of the mountain. Who could possibly need that?
Mt. Whitney is not a wilderness experience. A long time ago - Yes, but not today. It is challenging only because of the altitude and length of the trail. I have met very few hikers (outside of the Pacific Northwest) that really understand the dangers of snow. There are many on this board who I am sure have read "The Freedom Of The Hills", but most Whitney hikers do not fit into this category.
Posted by Fred98, 10-07-05Scotthiker and others:
Scott, interesting that you mentioned two things I can relate to.
I was at Vernal/Nevada many years ago when the calm was broken by a jackhammer. They were installing the signs to warn of the waterfall dangers. Altho, I guess they still do not work - I believe someone again died there this year, while I was there.
Second, I'm from snow country and own an older copy of Freedom of Hills. And in the pacific northWET (as we affectionately call it) they occasionally post signs at trailheads telling current info like good wildflowers, terrible mosquitos or still snow on trail. Or they might post one like this:
I don't think we can be warned about everything and I'm not even advocating the type of sign shown above.
I think many of us lucked out over the years learning through some pretty poor decisions but with few injuries. We've learned from friends or maybe reading or taking courses. What if the glissade had not been fatal but the poor chap just broke through the relatively thin snow and smashed his head on a boulder or just found too deep of a hole in the soft snow. As others have said, the warnings could be unlimited and cables, chains, hand rails, etc might be supplied.
But I also agree with someone above, that occasionally a poster asks questions about this trail and and a response indicates it is a "walk in the park" and not a big deal. We know folks have gone down the wrong way at the John Muir Junction and frankly, there were a few areas at switchbacks (above or near Mirror Lake????) where the trail is vague altho I did figure it out. But some folks do walk this in the dark, exhausted, etc. It is a MAJOR walk and for dayhikers, 22 HARD miles for many, if not most hikers, and altitude can add another dimension. Yeah, some guy does it barefoot and others in under 3 hours - they are unusual. Actually, anyone who summits Whitney, even as many as who do, are unusual. Most Americans and others do not hike up to 14,000+ feet. It may be very easy for a modest few but it is work, strenuous and challenging, for many.
Good luck to all - including those who plan on doing it this week who are still asking the same types of questions about equipment, experiences, etc. BE PREPARED.
Posted by Mark A. Patton, 10-07-05"Sign Sign everywhere a sign
Blocking out the scenery breaking my mind
Do this, don't do that, can't you read the sign."
Five Man Electrical Group
* * * *
Frankly, I don't need a cross or sign at every switchback to tell me its dangerous. I see enough of that driving to my cabin and no one bothers to slow down.
I've been up the main trail four times now and turned around 3 out of the 4 times.
I skied off the Cornice at Mammoth a couple of years ago, lost it, and slid all the way to the bottom. I was tired of intermediate runs. I wanted a challenge. I thought I was ready. I was wrong. Sign or no sign, I was going and I realize now that I'm lucky there were no rocks and I didn't hit anyone.
This accident was a tragic error in judgment and the only person responsible is the deceased.
Mark A. Patton
Posted by VersatileFred, 10-07-05Fred,
You need to add some height and width attributes inside your tag. I provided some examples in the How to Post topic, but I stopped propping the topic a month ago. You probably forgot that it was on the message board.
Orientation Notes for Whitney First Timers
Posted 10-08-05In response to the tragic accident of Steve Tom, there will be a celebration of his life held Sunday, 10/9 at 6pm at Wilson & Kratzer, 825 Hartz Way, Danville, CA 94526. There will be a funeral mass held Monday, 10/10 at 10am at St. John the Baptist Catholic Church, 11150 San Pablo Ave., El Cerrito, CA 94530. His family requests in lieu of flowers, donations in his memory may be sent to the Red Cross National Disaster Relief fund. You can check out his obituary at contracostatimes.com. He was really an amazing guy.
Posted by kazz, 10-08-05Marguerite, thank you for the information. I read the obituary and the touching messages people have left in the guest book. It sounds like Stephen Tom was a wonderful human being who made the world around him a better place.
Whenever something like this happens, it's human nature to want to find a way to distance ourselves from it out of a simple need for psychological reassurance ... that we wouldn't have made this or that decision, or that there was some external factor at fault. I think it's because deep down we know that none of us is ever fully in control of anything. When we venture into the wilderness, at whatever skill level, we already know that. And let's not forget that altitude can affect reasoning ability and judgment ... we know that too.
But some things are accidents, pure and simple. I glissaded that chute in June. It was my first time glissading (w/ice axe and a more experienced partner) and I was plenty scared, as well as very aware that any loss of control would have been potentially fatal. But I'd gotten myself up there, the switchbacks were buried, and there was no other realistic way down. You weigh the options, plot your strategy, say a little prayer and go.
My ego would love to think I made it down safely because gosh darn it, I'm a fine mountaineer. My heart, though, knows the bigger factor is that luck that day was on my side.
Posted by beachdude3a, 10-08-05Jake is simply another person who wants the government to take responsibility for our individual actions. Whatever happened to "I did it (or failed to do it), therefore it is my responsibility?" When I first wanted to climb this mountain, I google searched enough and discovered this board. Prior to heading up, I read this board for six months and learned everything I could about the Mt. Whitney trails. I eventually summitted via the MR. I am truly sorry this gentleman perished, but as another poster said, glissading is optional and not required. Even with a "ranger warning" one who glissades could get in trouble. Especially if one is foolish enough not to have proper equipment. When I undertake any new activity, it is my responsiblity to research like heck and do everything in my own power to make the activity as safe as possible for me. I have skydived from 24,000 feet, gone hanggliding, gotten in a shark cage surrounded by great whites off the Farrallons off of SF, gone bungee jumping, etc. Any mishaps in some of these activities could well have been fatal, but that is my choice. If anyone takes the time to read this Board for a few hours prior to going to Mt. Whitney, he will have all the info he needs to avoid some of the pitfalls which have been experienced by many of us. The one exception to this of course is the weather. As we all, or I guess I should say, as most of us know, it doesn't matter what the rangers say about the weather on the mountain. It can change any minute. It wouldn't matter to me if a ranger told me that it was 70 degrees on top because I'd still be ready for it to start snowing or lightning due to how weather can change so quickly. Most of the people on the this Board are individualists who acknowledge that their own safety depends on their own individual actions, not that of others such as the Rangers. That does not make us "Elitist Poops." Jake will probably next suggest that a fence be put up on more dangerous parts of the trails, or if he goes to the Grand Canyon maybe he wants a fence around the canyon to keep people from falling in. Or how about nets in the ocean up and down the California coast where I live to stop the occasional and rare shark attacks on surfers? Sorry, Jake, but you will find that on this Board there are many more individualists who take responsiblity for their own actions than there are people who want the government to be their Mommy and Daddy. Call us elitist poops if you will, but I wouldn't have it be any other way.
Posted by Doug Sr, 10-08-05Hi Thanks everyone for posting I will leave the topic open, it looks like some things are about signs , "don't slide if there is not enough snow to cover the rocks" and "stay in control if you do go down the chute" .
The sign thing is how this message board got started a person came into the store and said a sign at the trail head stated Ice AX and crampons needed, I said thats not right. They said no thats what the sign said , I walked to the trailhead and read the sign they were correct trail report dated Oct said Ice Ax and Crampons needed , this was the Fourth of July weekend and the trip report had not been changed, quietly I started doing a weelky trail report taking pictures and E Newbold would type the text and Mike Harris would print the report and scan the photo of the conditions and we would hand them out at the store, Now with the internet A much greater amoung of information can be found from trips in the last several hours with many photos posted and daily conditions.
Be safe Be kind Thanks Doug
Posted by AsABat, 10-08-05For those wanting the USFS to protect us from all dangers, be careful, you might get what you ask for - a forest closed whenever there is any danger: rain, wind, snow, ice, fire, dust, pollen, a paper cut from picking up your permit. Sorry, but I've seen trails closed because they were not perfectly maintained and someone could get hurt. Be prepared.
Posted by jasonb, 10-08-05I can't remember if this has been mentioned yet:
October 5, 2005
Two climbers had sumitted Mt.Whitney via the mountaineers route. Upon
descending the main trail, they decided to glissade an ice chute to save time.
They both lost control of their glissade, striking boulders which caused
injuies which disabled them from being able to walk. Their fall was witnessed
by three other climbers from Trail Camp. These climbers found and assisted both
injured men with advanced first aid. They were able to safely move them to a
the extra clothing they could spare and went for help while the third stayed
and assisted the injured men through the night. Early the following morning,
CHP helicopter H-82 out of Victorville flew into the area and extracted both
injured men. They were flown to Southern Inyo Hospital where they were treated.
Full recovery is expected for both victims.
If not for Doug Aubushon seeing the two men fall in the ice chute, and he,
Warener Dozier and James Dixon all from Shaver Lake Ca. taking immediate proper
action, the outcome of the victim's condition would have been different. Their
action is commendable and credited for saving the lives of Alexander Selover
and Leland Grant
I'm not advocating 'No Glidssading' signs. Just pointing out to new (and I guess veteran) board members that many people are getting injured glissading on Whitney.