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#1791 - 10/27/03 07:11 AM
A Search and Rescue Story
Posted by highsierra, 10-27-03This was posted in another thread, but I felt it deserved it's own thread. Anyone hiking Mt. Whitney needs to read this.
David Lindsay's Story (from the Inyo side):
My girlfriend, Olivia, and I decided to climb Mount Whitney after attending a lecture at an "Adventure 16" store. We were in good shape, and trained for a long time by working out 5 days a week, going on weekly hikes with the Sierra Club, practicing rock-climbing at "Rockreation" in Costa Mesa, and summiting Mount Conness (12,590 ft.) in Yosemite a month ago, which involved mostly off-trail bushwhacking. Besides going to the Whitney lecture, we prepared by reading books on the subject, and talking to people who had done the Trail. We had all the right gear and clothing, and knew how to use it.
Saturday, October 18 - After reading the book, "How to Climb Mount Whitney in One Day" by Sharon Baker-Salony, we decided to do it in two days, so we could enjoy it more. We drove up from Long Beach, CA, and camped at the Whitney Portal Campground.
Sunday, October 19 - We hiked up to Trail Camp and spent the night there (nice Solar Toilet).
Monday, October 20, 9:00am - Leaving our tent, sleeping bags and main packs, carrying 2 liters of water each (and clothing layers for every occasion), we left Trail Camp for Mount Whitney summit. My girlfriend is a strong hiker, but takes VERY small steps, so I rationalized that this "tortoise up / rabbit down" approach would help us avoid altitude sickness. I had her hike in front of me the entire trip, so she could go at her own pace.
When we hit the dreaded "98 Switchbacks," my girlfriend asked me to tell her about all my old girlfriends while we were climbing, in order to keep her mind off the climb. It worked, because we made it to the top with hardly any stops. At the Trail Crest sign, where the Mount Whitney Trail hits the John Muir Trail, we encountered zombies on their way back down from the summit; a 20-ish guy with a bloody nose complaining about the hike, a 30-ish guy who said that he almost died five times but the view was worth it, a girl with asthma and altitude sickness, etc. My girlfriend gave me the "are you sure we should do this" look, and I assured her that neither of us had an ounce of wimp-ness in our bodies.
We headed on to the summit. At about 14,000 ft., we both began to get slight headaches, and rested. We hiked some more. As she was hiking in front of me, she said, "OK, I'll stop here, and YOU go to the summit." I didn't say a word, and she kept on going. (It worked!) As we neared the summit, everyone coming down gave us encouragement and told us how beautiful it was up there.
Monday, October 20, 4:00pm - We got to the summit much later than I thought we would have. But the weather was absolutely perfect, with no wind at all, and it was a gorgeous, cloudless, sunny day. We had to do all the summit stuff, of course; sign the Ledger, touch the Geodesic Survey markers (all of them), take photos near the plaque, check out the building, and sit on the highest toilet in the contiguous 48 states.
Monday, October 20, 5:00pm - We left the Summit for Trail Camp, and Olivia made it clear that no man, beast, or boyfriend was going to stop her from getting to our tent at Trail Camp as soon as possible. I have never seen her trekking poles move so fast, and must admit that I was impressed. However, at this clip, I noticed her footing would sometimes slip a bit, and I asked her to slow down. I also reminded her to keep sipping water and eat some carbs periodically, but she kept going and said that she just wanted to get down. An Irish guy in shorts passed us on his way to the summit and I told Olivia, "That guy's gonna freeze his butt off if he's just going up now!" I tried to boost her moral by reminding her that when we hit the Trail Crest sign, the Mount Whitney Trail switchbacks that we came up would all be downhill.
Then things went downhill (literally): Olivia was in my sight pretty much the whole time until just before the Trail Crest sign. She went around a bend, and when I came around that bend, I saw the Trail Crest sign, but no Olivia. Thinking that she was barreling down the Mount Whitney Trail switchbacks, I turned left toward them but could not see her. I called her name, but heard no reply. I went back a short way in the direction of the summit, calling her name and blowing a whistle, but no response. I looked down the talus field on the west to see if she had perhaps fallen, but saw nothing.
The sun was going down, so I put on my down parka, hardshell, and headlamp, hoping to catch up to her on the switchbacks. About halfway down the switchbacks, the sky became completely dark. Someone started flashing a light at me from Trail Camp below, and I thought it might be her; but it seemed impossible that she could have gotten that far in front of me in the few minutes it took to put on my parka and shell. The flashing light turned out to be some other camper, and I started to get scared. I ran to our tent and saw what I feared most - no Olivia. My heart jumped into my stomach, as I realized that she had somehow taken a wrong turn. But how could this have happened? The Mount Whitney Trail was the most beautiful, well-groomed trail I had ever been on, and was very easy to follow.
From Trail Camp, I could see a headlight starting to descend the switchbacks. I just knew it had to be Olivia, so I began to climb the switchbacks again, flashing my headlamp, blowing my whistle, and calling her name. I got about half-way up and the person coming down began shouting back to me - with an Irish accent. It was Ronan, the Irish guy who passed us as we were going down. I asked him if he had seen my girlfriend, but he had not. However, he said it sounded like she may have gone down the John Muir Trail instead of the Mount Whitney Trail, which had not even occurred to me until that moment.
Monday, October 20, 9:30pm - Two more headlights came down the switchbacks and I started back up to meet them, but they were two rock -climbers named Andre and Todd, who had lost their way. At this point, I had to make a decision; do I spend the night at Trail Camp, then in the morning hike up the Mount Whitney Trail switchbacks to Trail Crest, down the John Muir Trail switchbacks toward Crabtree Meadows, and to try to find Olivia, or do I hike the six miles back to Whitney Portal that night, where I can phone "Search and Rescue?" I decided that if Olivia was injured, waiting until the next morning to hike up and down the ridge without adequate food, not having resources to carry her with a broken limb or hypothermia, and not having any idea of her specific location, was too much of a risk. It would be better to get to a phone ASAP and contact the pros.
Ronan, Andre, and Todd were all going back down anyway, so I left a note for Olivia in the tent, telling her to stay there if she returned, and we left Trail Camp at 10pm wearing headlamps. 2 1/2 hours and 6 miles later we arrived at the Whitney Portal Trailhead. It was 12:30am. I called "911" from Andre's cell phone, but the rather rude operator told me to wait and see if Olivia finds her way back first. I explained to her that I would have no way of knowing this, since I was no longer at Trail Camp. She replied that I would then have to wait and call the Inyo County Sheriff Department at 7am.
All the guys wished me luck and said that their thoughts were with me. I went to lay down in my truck. I had been hiking 15 hours straight, but could not sleep. I felt guilty that I was safe and Olivia was not. All I could think about was Olivia in the last stages of hypothermia, alone and lost, or her body being found lying twisted at the base of a talus field like George Mallory's was on Everest. I knew that as a nurse, she would know what to do in spite of her lack of wilderness experience, but I didn't know if her petite frame could handle a full night at high altitude without a tent or sleeping bag. The night seemed to last forever.
Tuesday, October 21, 7:00am - From a payphone at the Whitney Portal Store, I contacted Keith Hardcastle from the Search and Rescue Division of the Inyo County Sheriff Department. I told him the situation; Olivia did not have much wilderness experience, and did not have a tent or sleeping bag with her, but she did have a 1/2 liter of water, a few snacks, a down jacket, long underwear, hardshell jacket and pants. She was also a nurse. I had a feeling that when she became aware that she was in the wrong place, she would stay put, and wait to be saved, rather than wander further. My biggest fear was that she would succumb to hypothermia during the night.
Keith told me that Inyo only covers the Inyo side of Trail Crest, and Sequoia National Park only covers the Sequoia side of Trail Crest. But he had some contacts at Sequoia, and they would try to coordinate some things together. I asked if he wanted me to hike back up, but he said that I should wait at Whitney Portal in case he needed to reach me. He told me to call him every two hours for updates.
Doug Thompson, owner of the Whitney Portal store, began to open up the store for business. I told him about Olivia, and being one of the foremost Whitney experts in these here parts, he immediately began to put my mind at ease. He said that people take that wrong turn down the John Muir Trail all the time; even the a group of Engineers did the same thing once! "She'll be scared, cold, and uncomfortable," he said, " but she'll survive." He told me if I needed anything after store hours, to just knock on his trailer door. In an effort to stay positive, I bought two "I Climbed Mount Whitney" mugs.
I called Keith back at Inyo, and he told me that there was going to be access to a helicopter, as well as approval for a "wilderness landing" which was rare. Most of the area on the west side of the ridge is rocky, so it would be easy for a helicopter to see Olivia. He assured me that he would do everything he could for a successful outcome.
A few hours later, I got a call at the Whitney Portal Store from Pat Grediagin. She was a supervisor for the Sequoia District Ranger Station. She told me that their regular helicopter was out fighting a forest fire, so they would need to get a CHP helicopter from Fresno (I think). The helicopter would search both the Inyo and Sequoia sides of the ridge. I asked her how late I could call her, and she said she would be there until the problem was resolved.
This was not the only incidence of different groups banding together; Keith put out the word with all the locals, and Doug Thompson told hikers going up to keep an eye out for her, as well as asking hikers coming down if they had seen her. I drove into Lone Pine to get some money and more supplies; the attendant at the Mobil station said, "Have you heard about that missing girl?" The pharmacist at Lone Pine Drugs expressed concern, and even people in the Carl's Jr. knew about her! When I got back to the Whitney Portal Store, everyone was wishing me luck and telling me that they would pray for Olivia.
Tuesday, October 21, 2:30pm - I spent the rest of the day feeling helpless, and listening for any sound of a helicopter. Once I thought I heard one, but Doug said that it was the generator on the roof of the store. All of a sudden, at about 2:30pm, Doug came running out... "Did you hear that? That's a helicopter. I know, I flew in'em for 10-15 years!" After that, every time the phone rang I jumped 10 feet in the air. But the call never came. I called Inyo and Sequoia, but both Keith and Pat said that they had not heard anything yet. Trying to keep the tears back, I told them that I didn't think Olivia could take another night.
By evening, I had to call the families, because the outcome now looked so uncertain. My Mom's church was praying for Olivia, my niece's PTA was praying for her, my cousin's band cancelled their gig and actually organized a search party of friends that were hikers, My brother and sister posted messages on the Message Board at http://www.mt.whitneyportalstore.com, Olivia's sister, one of her brothers, and her daughter all decided to drive up to Lone Pine because they could not just sit at home and do nothing. My family was crying, her family was crying, everyone at the hospital where she worked was crying, and I don't think anyone slept. At this time, Pat Grediagin was still coordinating things, and Keith called me to have me meet him at the Lone Pine airport the next morning at 7am. He said that there would be multiple helicopters, plus foot searches going on both sides, and emphasized that this time, "she WILL be found."
Wednesday, October 22, 7:00am - At Lone Pine Airport, I met April (Search and Rescue Worker #23) and Keith. They explained to me what was going to happen next. As the helicopter took off, I kept pushing the image out of mind that had Keith coming up to me and saying, "Dave, I've got some bad news...". Minutes later, a girl named Karen came running out shouting, "They've found her, and she's alive!" Another helicopter took off to get our gear from Trail Camp. Then the phone rang, and it was Pat; she said that they may be taking Olivia to Lone Pine Hospital. I turned around, and Olivia was standing right next to me, wearing her down jacket and clutching her trekking poles, emergency blanket, and 1/8 of a Cliff Bar. I couldn't believe I was looking into her eyes again. She said, "Just promise me one thing..." "What's that," I asked? "...NO MORE NIGHT HIKES!" We hugged each other and she kissed me with some very, very chapped lips.
Lt. Bill Lutze, Keith, April, Karen, other Search and Rescue workers, and helicopter pilots all came over with smiles on their faces, and of course we thanked them all for saving Olivia's life. Her brother, sister, and daughter were a half hour from Lone Pine, and had just been told by Pat of Olivia's rescue. As I drove Olivia into Lone Pine, she told me what she was hungry for by reading every sign in view..."COFFEE - BAKERY - PIZZA - STEAK!!" A huge breakfast and two root beer floats later, I took her around town and introduced her to the Lone Pine Drugs pharmacist, and other folks. Her family then drove up, all crying and vying for hugs. Then we went back up to the Whitney Portal Store, where Doug Thompson gave her a big hug, and presented her with his book, "Mount Whitney - Mountain Lore from the Whitney Portal Store," signing inside the cover, "To Olivia - Great to see you back on this side! - Doug."
So what caused all this to happen in the first place?
- Did we actually separate while hiking? Not really; while she was definitely heading off like a girl with a mission, I saw her in front of me the whole time, until just before she went around the rock before the Trail Crest sign. But it is a good idea for hikers to wait for others in a group whenever coming to a sign that is a junction.
- Did we summit too late? Probably, although it was still light when we approached the Trail Crest sign.
- Was each hiker self-sufficient? No. I think this is the crux of the problem. Although we each had proper clothing and supplies, I had the map and compass, so she was relying on me. If I had given her a duplicate map and compass, she would have had more resources to find her way back, once she realized that she had gone the wrong way. I also think it would really help if the Sequoia National Park Service would put a sign on the upper section of the John Muir Trail coming down from Trail Crest, indicating the direction of Whitney Portal. From what I hear about others making the same mistake, this might be a good idea.
We gained a lot of insight and a lot of friends on this trip. I hope this story will be of some help to future Whitney-ites! Mucho mucho thanks to Keith Hardcastle, Bill Lutze, Pat Grediagin, Doug Thompson, Kent Pierce, John Ziegler, Bob, April, Kate, Andre, Todd, Ronan the Irish dude, the Lone Pine community, fellow hikers and countless others for bringing Olivia back.
By the way, I told Keith that Olivia did not have much wilderness experience, but boy was I wrong! See how she survived and was rescued, by reading her account below...
Olivia Djeke's Story (from the Sequoia side):
Monday, October 20, 5:00pm - After leaving the Summit for Trail Camp, I was tired and realized that there was no way we could make it back to Whitney Portal Trailhead before dark, as we had originally planned. But I at least wanted to make it back to Trail Camp before dark.
Monday, October 20, 7:00pm - I passed the Trail Crest sign and followed the trail which was going down. (This turned out to be the John Muir Trail, which went in the wrong direction.) Since it had switchbacks, I thought I was on the Mount Whitney Trail. I hiked non-stop to the bottom, but then the trail sort of disappeared. I decided to stay put and wait for my boyfriend Dave to come behind me. But when I saw two lakes in the distance, I realized that I was not in the right place. It began to get dark. I called for Dave until my voice was hoarse, and also blew my whistle. I left my LED headlamp on "blinking" mode so someone could still see me if I fell asleep or passed out. It was dark and cold now, so I decided to sit up against a big rock to protect myself from the wind. The ground, which was also solid rock, was too cold to lie down on. I could not open the knot on the bag which contained my down jacket, so I cut the bag open with my knife, slicing my left finger in the process. I used my bandana to stop the bleeding, then used a spare pair of socks as mittens.
I thought, OK what now? I need to do everything I can to survive, so I can see my daughter graduate from college, see her get married and have kids, and see my family and Dave again. Since Dave had not come for me, I thought that he had perhaps fallen over the edge at Trail Crest while taking a picture, so I stayed up all night, waiting for the sunrise so I could look for him. I prayed, "Please God, let Dave be OK, I love him very very much."
In spite of my cap, down jacket, long underwear, and windproof/waterproof jacket and pants, the cold still cut through to the bone. I wrapped my emergency blanket around myself, and started doing Salsa moves to keep warm. (I laughed about this to myself, to keep from being scared.) There was a rock in front of me that kept reminding me of a coffin. I heard thunder in the distance, but thankfully, there was no rain. I kept thinking that I heard footsteps around me, and never went to sleep.
Tuesday, October 21, 6:30am - I had no idea where I was, where the trail was, or where Mount Whitney was. But I thought that Trail Camp had to be somewhere nearby. So I got up and hiked around, hoping to see the distinctive "Solar Toilet" of Trail Camp, and to find Dave. After hours of no success, I hiked over some low ridges and decided that I was not getting anywhere. I then took inventory of my supplies: 1/2 liter of water, 1 Kraft Cheese 'n Crackers pack, an empty Cheese 'n Crackers pack that still had a little cheese on the sides, 1 Cliff Bar, a small bag of nuts and raisins, 1 lemon Starburst, 1 small piece of ****y, 1 signal mirror, 1 whistle, 1 emergency blanket, 2 trekking poles, 1 small daypack, and my clothes.
Tuesday, October 21, 1:00pm - I hiked toward some trees, hoping to find some water and people. I crossed a river and went down to a meadow. I thought it would be best to stay put there, and it was a good place for a helicopter to land because it was flat. Feeling helpless, I sat down and prayed, "Please God, I don't know what else to do, please give me some ideas." I then picked up some rocks, and used them to write the word, "HELP" in the meadow. Next, I made a larger "HELP" sign in another direction. After noticing a lot of jets flying overhead, I thought that maybe they could see a REALLY big "HELP" sign if I made it out of boulders. So I tried that, but by this time I was so tired that I could only spell "HLP." As I was working on these signs, I was still blowing my whistle and yelling for help. I was becoming very hungry and thirsty, but knew that I had to conserve, so I only had a few nuts, and a few sips of water.
This next part is a little spooky; I sat down in the middle of the meadow and waited for help. All of a sudden, I thought I heard Dave shouting, " HEY OLIVIA..." I replied, "Dave?" When I looked up, I saw what appeared to be Dave, sitting on a bench at the top of a ridge, smiling down on me. I looked down because I could not believe what I was seeing. Then I looked up again, and he was still there. I knew that I must have been hallucinating, but I still felt that it was a sign Dave was dead, and that he was trying to look after me. I moved from side to side to see if the image would disappear, and it did. But I avoided looking in that direction for the rest of the afternoon.
Tuesday, October 21, 2:30pm - I heard a helicopter and it passed by my side. I was thrilled, because I knew this meant that I was being searched for. I waived my bright yellow jacket to try and get the pilot's attention. He banked and went directly over me, but then disappeared over the ridge in the distance. Depressed by this, I began to think that I may never be found in time. The meadow was swampy, so the only area I could sleep on was over rocks. I gathered some grass to put underneath my body when I slept, hoping that this would block some of the coldness, and I built a small wind-block out of rocks. I did not want to use my daypack, which contained food, as a pillow, because I was afraid that bears would eat my face. So I hid the daypack in between some rocks, because I remembered hearing that bears don't like having to climb around them.
Tuesday, October 21, 5:00pm - I heard another helicopter and saw it hovering over the Mount Whitney summit. This was the first time I actually realized where Mount Whitney was. Also, because the helicopter was hovering, I thought they were looking for Dave's body, and might throw down a rope to bring his body into the helicopter on a back board. The helicopter then came toward me, and I started waiving my arms. It hovered to the left of me, then hovered behind me, then disappeared. I bargained with God, saying, "If I must stay here a second night, I will, but I don't think I can survive a third."
Tuesday, October 21, 7:30pm - I laid down, but could not sleep. It felt colder and windier than the previous night, and I was shivering more. Because of my training as a nurse, I saw this as a sign of possible hypothermia, and knew that I had to keep moving. I tried to move my feet and hands as much as I could. But eventually, I began to get a feeling of warmth and extreme comfort which did not seem normal. Knowing that this could be a bad sign, I forced myself to stay awake. This was the longest night of my life, because I truly felt that I could not make it through the next if I was not found.
Wednesday, October 22, 6:30am - Dawn broke, and I was very thankful to have survived another night.
Wednesday, October 22, 7:30am - A helicopter flew straight over my head. I got on a rock and waived my trekking poles, but the helicopter disappeared over the Mount Whitney summit.
Wednesday, October 22, 8:00am - Another helicopter flew straight over my head. Once again, I waived my trekking poles, but the helicopter disappeared over the Mount Whitney summit. After being missed four times, I decided that I really had to be prepared for the next helicopter, should it come. The best thing I could figure out was to stand on a high rock and waive my emergency blanket, which was reflective. I also had a small signal mirror, but the sun was not yet high enough to use it.
Wednesday, October 22, 8:45am - I saw another helicopter coming over Mount Whitney, so I got up on a rock and waived my emergency blanket back and forth. The helicopter was hovering low to my left, then it came toward me and circled over my head four times before landing in the meadow. I waited until the rotors had stopped turning completely, and when pilot Kent Pierce stepped out, I ran to him as fast as I could, crying, and gave him the biggest hug as I thanked him. "Are you OK?" he said. "Yes, I'm just cold," I replied. He asked me my name and I told him. I asked if he had received any information about David Lindsay, and he looked at his paper. My heart sank, because he could not give me an immediate answer. He then told me that Dave was OK. He said, "I know you're a nurse, but do you want to go to the hospital?" I told him I was fine. The other pilot, John Ziegler, then came out and I hugged him and thanked him too. He told me that I did all the right things, and that the emergency blanket made me much easier to find. He also told me that the Crabtree Meadows Ranger Station was just over the next ridge (but it was closed for the season). Kent then said, "Let's go home!"
We took off, flew over Mt. Whitney, and flew into Lone Pine Airport where I could see my boyfriend Dave waiting for me...
Posted by darylrose, 10-27-03Wow - what a great story, as finally told by the people who were actually there. I am so glad that it has a happy ending!
Posted by Ken, 10-27-03When I first read this, I thought it might be made up. I have confirmed the truth of it:
However, there are a number of troubling issues.
First, it is one thing for two mountaineers to separate on a trail, but for two inexperienced people to separate is not a good idea, at all. Olivia descended all the way from Trail Crest to the bottom of the switchbacks on the west side, before realizing that David was not there. Astonishing! But is was because they had no plan.
She was not paying attention. She didn't think she needed to.
Second, a map would not have helped. You need to know how to USE a map. You need to know how to find yourself on a map. A compass is a paperweight, if one is not trained in the use.
She was out for two nites, stars were visible, the bulk of the mountain was to the east, she should have enough sense to know that Trail Camp is to the east of the crest of the Sierra. She could have figured it out, if having a little navigational skill and sense.
Third, she violated the first law of being lost. When you lose a trail, STOP. Backtrack to the trail. STOP and figure things out. Had she done this, she would have been able to figure out where she was, and could have climbed back up in the morning (probably with others climbing the trail). As it was, she got so far off trail that no hiker would have seen her.
Good judgment comes from experience,
and experience, of course, comes from poor judgment.
Posted by Doug Sr, 10-27-03Be Kind learn from this, please do not second guess,or what if it to death.
Several years ago we had a guy come in and tell us he was back there three days going up and down the JMT and then one day he comes back to trailcrest then to the portal. , Why I don't know, see the other post about other hikers that talked to hikers heading down the back side and turned them around.
Thank You Doug WPS
Posted by Bob T, 10-27-03Doug Sr.'s words encouraging kindness and learning rather than second guessing and what if-ing are wise. There is a fine line, however, between trying to point out lessons to be learned, and second guessing or what if-ing. I don't know that anyone engaging in second guessing or what if-ing is trying to be unkind as opposed to pointing out lessons to be learned. Tone and appropriate choice of words can make all the difference in how a post is perceived, but I do think it fair to assume that most, if not all, are trying to be helpful rather than critical.
People like to talk about "rules" or "laws" for operating on hiking trails or in the wilderness. But there are few, if any, fixed rules that should never be broken. An irony is that the more experience one has, the more one knows and understands the "rules" and therefore is more able to follow them, but the more experience one has, the more it is acceptable to break the "rules." For instance, as Ken suggests, it is OK to separate on the trail if the parties are not "inexperienced."
I have seen so often the suggestion of the rule "Never hike alone." People on this board talk about solo hikes all the time, yet it doesn't seem to be an issue, even though solo hikers do get lost or injured and sometimes die as a result. I have hiked solo many times. The first time I hiked Whitney, I did the main trail by myself. Is it bad to try such an undertaking on unfamiliar terrain when one is alone? Some would say yes. I have not yet had anything go wrong hiking solo, but if I do, am I wrong for going alone, or am I taking a risk that is acceptable?
Whether to follow the "rules" depends not only on experience, but on the nature of the trail and the terrain being traveled. In general, I think it is a bad idea to hike without a map and compass, but I have taken many hikes where I had no map or compass, sometimes on trails I already knew well, and sometimes on unfamiliar trails but I understood from reading or otherwise that the trail was well marked and well traveled, and the hike was short enough or filled with enough landmarks not to present a danger in my opinion. I knew I was breaking a "rule" of my own, a rule I usually try to follow, but the inconvenience of getting a map outweighed any danger I perceived, and so far, I have had no harm from breaking my own rule.
In general, I think it is a bad idea to go on a hike without a flashlight or an emergency blanket, but I have set out on many hikes without either, again breaking my own personal rule, thinking the risk outweighed the inconvenience of getting them or bringing them on that particular hike.
I consider myself to be a pretty experienced hiker, having done a lot of hiking over the last 30 plus years. I read the story of David and Olivia, and I ask myself the question, "Is there anything they did that I KNOW I wouldn't have done," and the honest answer is no, especially since I wasn't in their shoes at the time. I see what went wrong, but to the extent any "rules" were broken, I have trouble seeing a rule that makes me say, "there is no way I would ever break that rule" as it pertains to their experience. Would I wait at a trail junction if I thought that my partner was mostly in sight behind me? Maybe not, if I didn't have doubts about the right direction to take and figured my partner wouldn't either, although after reading this story, I might be more likely to be sure to stop.
It is easy after something goes wrong to say it is the result of breaking a "rule" of the trail, but if any of us are too slavish to the "rules," then we aren't having nearly as much fun enjoying ourselves out on the trail as we could be. It is great to keep the "rules" in mind, but be careful about criticizing others for not being slaves to them.
In the end, I think that discussion about what went wrong and how to prevent it is useful, if nothing else as food for thought for people, even if the tone of some of the posts may seem scolding more than constructive. Olivia came out of the ordeal with no real physical harm, so hopefully if David or Olivia read the discussion on the board, they can appreciate the discussion for what it is, an opportunity for all to learn something as opposed to an opportunity to criticize, even if the tone doesn't always make it seem that way.
Posted by Ken, 10-27-03Doug, what you say is fair.
I teach rock climbing to beginners, and one of the things that always makes me uncomfortable is that I am introducing people to something that can harm them. When embarking on an activity with significant risk, there are two ways to learn: by observing other's mistakes and problems, or by committing mistakes and having problems.
I agree, that I also believe that most posting here are interested in *preventing* the next epic, and putting the SAR people out of work!
I was involved in the investigation of Goran Kropp, the great adventurer who died in a climbing accident last year. Through careful investigation, the cause of the accident became apparent. Hopefully lives will be saved because of that analysis. Last week, two climbers from San Diego fell at Taquitz, and an investigation is pending, hopefully to reveal what happened at this popular climbing venue.
Good judgment comes from experience,
and experience, of course, comes from poor judgment.
Posted by Ken, 10-27-03By the way, I admire the forthrightness of those involved. It is difficult to have one's actions displayed in public, as we can all be found wanting in most any situation......if things go wrong. If they go right, then we don't look so foolish, I guess.
Good judgment comes from experience,
and experience, of course, comes from poor judgment.
Posted by Roley, 10-27-03I've got to respectfully disagree with the point of view that we shouldn't criticize their actions just because they've been through an ordeal. No one's attacking them personally; it's just their actions/decisions that are at issue.
One thing that's been glossed over is the fact that when someone goes missing, a lot more is at stake than the missing hiker's welfare. Here you had family and friends that were put through an incredible emotional ordeal and (for those that traveled up to Whitney) avoidable expenditure of time and money. Search and rescue activities are dangerous and put rescue workers at risk of injury or death; they also divert emergency resources from other activities, thus potentially slowing response times for others with emergencies.
They made a mistake that caused needless suffering and risk. Bad decisions have consequences. Any one of us might have to suffer the consequences of someone else's bad decision the next time we're on the hill, so we should all be free to discuss the issues openly (leaving the personal critiques out of it, of course). This will benefit everyone.
Posted by Desperado, 10-28-03My biggest safety rule in the mountains is to take enough stuff that I can survive (not be comfortable) if I have to spend the night up there. This group did that, and should be commended for it. All's well that ends well. Don't second guess people. We all make similar mistakes all the time and get away with it. P.S. Thanks for not coming to the hospital. I don't know what I would have done for you anyway.
Posted by Tom, 10-28-03The point I took from the story was not that they made any "mistake" per se. Some are saying, "they were separated on the trail", but how far apart is considered together and how far apart is separated? If they were 10 feet apart, is that still together? 3 feet, 1 foot, touching? The point being that any distance could be far enough to have something bad occur.
What I noted were a couple of at the time small errors in judgement that compounded one another.
As someons else stated, I didn't see any places in this story where I said to myself, "I definitely would NOT have done that!", and thus a similar situation could have happened to me.
The only thing in hindsight I see that could have improved things was for Olivia to stop and reverse direction immediately when she noticed Dave not behind her - but when you are half-blotto from summitting and hiking all day and just want to get to camp, who's to say you will even notice the person not there for some time?
Which gets to the point of not what if-ing this to death brought up by Doug. A few small errors compounded one another and caused a bad situation - the outcome was good because they both acted mostly correctly once they realized they were in a bad situation. The rest of us should learn from it and use what we've learned when we're up there.
Posted by talusdancer, 10-28-03Dave and Olivia, you did good. I'v never been lost, cornfused for a day once in the Kaweah Basin.
Posted by Roley, 10-28-03I guess if the message we want to give people is "It's ok to go off on a trail junction without waiting for your partner, and then proceed down the trail for an extended period without even checking to see if your partner is with you, in the highest mountains in California, in the dark, hours from the nearest working phone", then I'm not ok with that.
Tom, how can you say that's not "mistake" per se?
I'm sure Dave and Olivia are wonderful people, and I am VERY relieved they came out of this ok. Along with everyone else I send my best wishes and commend them for the resourcefulness and levelheadedness that got them through it in one piece. But they still made some stupid mistakes and there's nothing wrong with pointing that out! We've all made tons of stupid mistakes. Many have written about them in detail on this board as object lessons for other hikers. I appreciate the noble impulse to reduce someone else's embarassment, but if a little embarassment is the price they have to pay for future hikers to learn the seriousness of these "little" lapses in judgement, let them pay it. I think they will live through it. Sticks and stones, right? :-)
Posted by Tom, 10-28-03I guess I was pointing out the difference between a blatant mistake (as in going to the summit late in the day wearing shorts and a t-shirt) and an error of judgement that could befall even seasoned hikers, in particular after a really long hike at high altitudes.
To me it was a case of several small errors that anoyne might have made, which when taken together multiplied their effects enough to cause a dangerous situation.
There's a big difference between that and many of the people we see up there (underdressed, lack of food/water, no survival gear, etc, etc).
Posted by Bob T, 10-28-03Roley says: "I guess if the message we want to give people is 'It's ok to go off on a trail junction without waiting for your partner, and then proceed down the trail for an extended period without even checking to see if your partner is with you, in the highest mountains in California, in the dark, hours from the nearest working phone', then I'm not ok with that."
I don't think that is the message anyone wants to give. I think in part the message is more that most people are going to learn lessons more when others make understandable mistakes than when others simply make stupid mistakes.
When people do astoundingly stupid things on the mountain, there isn't much of a lesson in it for me. The people going up with nothing but shorts and a cotton T-short and a single one liter bottle of water and end up freezing when the sudden storm comes in or when they don't get off the mountain before it gets really cold, they teach me nothing -- this could never happen to me. When things go wrong that make me say, "I could have done that," it makes me sit up and take notice, and think about how maybe I should be more careful in certain situations, it actually teaches me a lesson.
The message here isn't that it is OK to do what they did, but neither is the message here that this is one of those "follies" situations where we sit back and laugh because it was so stupid no person with any reasonable experience could let it happen.
If the message is that someone did something stupid, then I will tend to ignore the message, because I think that I will not be stupid, I won't worry about it. If the message is that someone made understandable mistakes, then I am more likely to sit up and pay attention, so that I see how to avoid those mistakes. In this case, I think it is the latter situation. There are lessons to be learned, and different people will probably learn different lessons. This is why it is worthwhile to discuss what mistakes were made and to engage in constructive criticism of what was done.
Posted 10-28-03I find it interesting that a suggested solution for solving "the took a wrong turn at the junction of the Whitney Trail and the JMT", is placing a sign on the JMT that indicates the direction of the portal, when the hiker(s) have already overlooked two signs at the junction, one indicating the direction of the JMT, and one the direction of Mt. Whitney. Unless we are talking a big, neon, Las Vegas style sign, not only indicating the direction of the portal, but also offering to comp you if you make it back (after stuffing an all-you-can-eat prime rib buffet down your gullet, of course), it seems like signs are not quite enough for these poor souls...
Awareness is the solution for the problem. Awareness and Snickers Bars...
Posted by vinze 3, 10-28-03amen to the snickers bars. my secret weapon, i can't choke down some of these new-fangled power sticks, but snickers always go down ez...
Posted by Steve C, 10-29-03Harpstring says nothing less than a big neon sign would turn the lost hikers around. But I would disagree...
Have you seen those "WRONG WAY DO NOT ENTER" signs at freeway exits? They are there for a reason, and hopefully save a life or two every so often.
After reading about this rescue situation, and reading other hikers' reports about turning people around on the trail, I believe this is ONE place where a unique sign would make a significant difference.
This is a junction where the correct direction is not obvious -- people are tired, and going down seems like the right way. It is in the middle of a moonscape of big random rocks, two trails go up, and one goes down. It is not obvious to everyone that the JMT means no services for the next 200 miles. It is not obvious that the trail ENDS at a peak and not at Whitney Portal.
I believe that a special sign would save lots of grief -- maybe thousands of dollars a year due to rescues that it prevents.
So here is my idea of a sign. It should be red, and placed maybe 100 feet down the trail from the junction, facing the down-hill hikers:
Read this!If you are a Mt. Whitney day-hiker, then
YOU ARE LOST!
This trail does NOT go to Mt. Whitney.
It does NOT go to the Whitney Portal road.
This trail goes deep into the backcountry.
Turn around and go back to the junction
Ok, that's my idea of a sign. Any comments?
Mt. Whitney Hikers Association
Posted 10-29-03Actually, Steve's idea is a pretty damn good one. This particular rescue mite have been avoided by having a sign like the one he talks about, but I believe one of the agents that caused Olivia to take a wrong turn was the onset of darkness, and unless the sign is illuminated by something, it could be easy to walk rite past and not even know it was there, no matter what color the sign was. My original post definitely had a sarcastic undertone, but as I think more about it, it almost seems about rite. Yeah, a little extreme, but not that far off base.
Although I failed to mention it yesterday, kudos to Olivia for how she handled the situation (except for the wrong turn of course). She said that she couldnt endure a third nite out there, and I actually believe she would have found her way to the portal if she had decided to leave b4 that third nite, but I think staying in one place, knowing that a SAR would be underway, was a smart thing to do.
Posted by ericb, 10-29-03Out of respect for those involved (as well as Doug), I hesitate to chime in at all, but I can't resist: I have two questions that I really am curious about, and I'm wondering what people will say...
1. Is it really that difficult to tell east from west?
I understand being "loopy" after a long day of hiking at altitude (hell, I thought I was being chased by rabbits on the way back to the car at Bunny Flat after a long day on Shasta), but I have to admit, I'm amazed that people can't distinguish one side of the "Whitney ridge" from the other - they are sooo distinctly different. It seems so plain to me - especially late in the day (which side is the sun on, for God's sake?!) Besides, there IS a sign at the trail junction - in fact, there are TWO: one points clearly to the trail that goes to Crabtree; the other points clearly to the trail that goes to the Portal.
So, can somebody please explain to me how this happens to smart people (just like Dave and Olivia - who are obviously intelligent)?
2. Did NOBODY at Trail Camp consider grabbing some water and snacks and heading up and over the switchbacks toward Crabtree to find Olivia? Once David got back to Trail Camp and Olivia wasn't there, it should have been obvious what had happened. Couldn't somebody at TC guess (and they would have been correct) that she was probably no more than three hours' hike away, just waiting to be found?
Now, I have to be honest here (and I'm sure to get flamed for this), but I have to ask this question because, as a husband, the one thought that's been nagging me ever since I began monitoring this epic story is this: on a relatively warm night in crystal clear weather, what in God's name were David and company doing going back to the Portal and sitting in the car while his girlfriend was most likely just over the ridge on the other side of the switchbacks?
"Going for help"? A good idea, but any way you slice it, there wasn't going to be any SAR help until daylight anyhow. Why not send somebody down to the Portal to alert SAR and seek Doug's advice, and, in the meantime, send two hikers (I'm assuming David would want to be one of them) back up the switchbacks and down the other side to look for Olivia?
Please don't anybody take this as criticism (I know it could be taken as the exact sort of "what if" second guessing that Doug was trying to discourage, and I certainly don't mean it as a personal attack on David) - I am honestly just trying to understand why this course of action didn't present itself as an option.
Based on Olivia's description of her journey, up until dawn of that first morning she'd have been easily found by a two-person team descending the west side of Trail Junction, yelling and blowing whistles, and everybody could've been back at TC (and a messenger sent to the Portal) by sunrise, avoiding a massive SAR mission and an entire extra day of terrifying discomfort for Olivia and worry for everybody else.
Were there not enough people at Trail Camp to at least look? I came through there exactly 24 hours before all this went down, and I remember thinking how odd it was that there were so few people at Trail Camp... but there were some. I think I know most people on this board well enough to know that any of us, had we been there, would have been very willing to switch on our headlamps and go look for her.
So why didn't this occur?
Posted by ep, 10-29-03> 1. Is it really that difficult to tell east
> from west?
Well, no. Not if you're paying attention. But the problem with trail hiking (as opposed to orienting in the backcountry in general) is that you are placing your faith in the trail. I'll bet Olivia was focused on staying on the trail, where to put her feet, and in moving quickly. Trails often head in seemingly the wrong direction before doubling back. I think that by the time it was clear that the trail was obviously the wrong one, she'd gone pretty far. Now granted, the Whitney/Muir crest is a pretty distinct formation. But having a really bad sense of direction, I can sort of understand what happened.
> 2. Did NOBODY at Trail Camp consider grabbing
> some water and snacks and heading up and over
> the switchbacks
It could be that they were too tired to reclimb to the crest at night. Plus nobody really knew what happened to her. If someone had gone off and gotten in trouble as well, there would armchair analysts pointing out that the first rule of rescuers is to not become a victim yourself.
I agree that it is hard not to get the feeling that these guys were not fully prepared. The Whitney trail by it's nature invites inexperienced hikers. The whole idea of adding another sign (why not lighted guardrails the entire length of the trail?) is part of this mentality. But on the other hand, I've been party to the "stupid thing" in the backcountry myself. Last year, I got lost with a partner and ended up spending a night in a cave, sheltering from the rain. I've been backpacking/skiing/climbing pretty extensively in the backcountry for about 15 years and my partner has been at it more than twice as long. And yet we made many of the classic beginner mistakes, despite knowing better.
Posted by Bob T, 10-29-03ericb asks: "Did NOBODY at Trail Camp consider grabbing some water and snacks and heading up and over the switchbacks toward Crabtree to find Olivia? Once David got back to Trail Camp and Olivia wasn't there, it should have been obvious what had happened. Couldn't somebody at TC guess (and they would have been correct) that she was probably no more than three hours' hike away, just waiting to be found?"
Well, the answer at least in part is found in David's story that is in the first post of the thread. At 9:30 in the evening, after getting back to Trail Camp and finding Olivia not there, and it being suggested that she may have gone down the west side, David says: "At this point, I had to make a decision; do I spend the night at Trail Camp, then in the morning hike up the Mount Whitney Trail switchbacks to Trail Crest, down the John Muir Trail switchbacks toward Crabtree Meadows, and to try to find Olivia, or do I hike the six miles back to Whitney Portal that night, where I can phone 'Search and Rescue?' I decided that if Olivia was injured, waiting until the next morning to hike up and down the ridge without adequate food, not having resources to carry her with a broken limb or hypothermia, and not having any idea of her specific location, was too much of a risk. It would be better to get to a phone ASAP and contact the pros."
If I put myself in David's shoes, the hardest part of the whole thing would have been trying to figure out what to do at Trail Camp. It sounds like David didn't realize that SAR wouldn't do anything at night, but even if I knew SAR wouldn't come at night, and even if I could get someone to go over with me to the other side so that they could go back to Portal for SAR if I found her and if she couldn't make it back on her own, and even if I didn't think I was too tired to make it, would I have done that? Or would I have eventually gone down to the Portal, figuring that the odds of rescue were better the sooner that SAR got on the job? I probably would have known SAR wouldn't come out until daylight, so I probably wouldn't have gone down so soon, but if I sent someone else to get SAR, they wouldn't have known Olivia or the situation, and who knows what the SAR response would have been. Given the lack of ability to communicate between the mountain and the real world, I think I would have been in total agony over what to do, I would have wanted to search myself if physically able, I would have wanted to communicate with SAR myself. It would have been horrible to decide.
It sounds like Olivia got off the JMT, so in the end, it sounds like David's decision probably was for the best. It seems highly unlikely to me that there could have been a better outcome if he tried to find her on the west side. There were no great choices for David to make at 9:30 p.m. in Trail Camp. I don't think anyone can say he made a wrong decision there, except maybe he could have waited another 4 or 5 hours since SAR wasn't going to come until light, but in this case, that wouldn't have made any difference anyway.
I think it is a very hard question -- what should one do if one is at Trail Camp in David's shoes? I don't think there is a good answer to that, but David's solution probably worked out as well as anything would have.
Posted by mtn_climbr001, 10-29-03I've been able to resist till now, but come on...
GIVE IT A REST
Posted by ClamberAbout, 10-29-03Well, maybe I'm an idiot... But reading this debate has certainly started me thinking about what I would do in a similar situation (member of party disappears), what not to do (instruct members of party not to disappear, although I'd have thought that goes without saying but I guess not), etc., etc., etc.
I'd say what I would have done, but I'm afraid I'll make mtn_clmbr001 scream!
Anyway, it has been educational for me at least. So, if that's the purpose of this bulletin board, then it is being fufilled.
Especially helpful for newbies, I daresay, if only they'd just look at it!
Posted by Ken, 10-29-03continuing on the theme of what could be done at Trail camp, I'll mention the tremendous resistance of people to ask for help. While it may not have panned out, a LOT of people carry cell phones, now. In fact, in a recent mountaineering trip, one of the participants also was carrying a satellite phone!
It would be reasonable to check with everyone at TC to see if they had one that worked, or would work if one got into a "line of sight" spot. This would have saved the hike out, would have allowed David to get some rest that nite, and to hike back up in the morning, potentially moving the rescue up by 24 hours.
Most people are willing to help. Ask for it.
Good judgment comes from experience,
and experience, of course, comes from poor judgment.
Posted 10-30-03Not to dwell on this but the second-guessing about David's actions, as well as those of other hikers may be unfair. There are a lot of Monday morning quarterbacks who are trying to unravel this story. I will share a different perspective.
We were in TC on Monday night when this was taking place. There were probably 40 people, including 20 Marines who had come in late. Most of us were to summit on Tuesday and had bedded down early. Afterall, the TC is not a bustling metropolis after it turns pitch black, especially in October. When David came into camp Monday night he asked a fellow hiker for fresh batteries. He gave a rushed account of what might have happened to Olivia. At this time nobody in TC knew anything about her skills, what supplies she had, her hiking experience, ect. David didn't mention what part of the trail which they became separated. He only said that after summiting, she had gone ahead and that he expected to find her at TC. No mention as to where on the trail "she went ahead". At the time we didn't even know David's name. No one knew if she had reached TC and continued (for unknown reasons), or fallen off the switchbacks or whatever. I would say that fewer that four or five people had heard this story until Tuesday morning.
For anyone at TC to immediately summise that Olivia had gone down the west side would have been premature at best.
To think that hikers in TC could instantly form a coordinated ad-hoc search party was out of the question because the details simply were not there yet. David probably had no idea about the operational policies and procedures(nor do most of us) of the local SAR. He simply wanted to find her somewhere along an 11 mile trail.
Surprisingly, even after all of the helicopter activity on Tuesday I would guess that only half of the people at TC had heard about the ordeal by the afternoon when we came off the summit.
The people that did know likely found out because of the flyers that were being dropped in weighted zip-loc bags from the CHP chopper or by word of mouth. One flyer hung on the solar toilet. Believe it or not, some at TC thought the helicopter was filled with sightseers or movie crews. And to be honest, when we first spotted the chopper we thought that maybe it was looking for a fugitive or something similar. Afterall, it was a CHP helicopter and not from the forest service, the military or Inyo County.
When we made it back to the WPS on Wednesday at 11:00am, Doug had his shop closed for supply day. There were no signs at his store nor at the bulletin boards at the trail head. In other words, anybody heading up on Wednesday was probably oblivious to the situation unless they had heard the story in Lone Pine.
This message board now is plastered with details that were unknown to everyone except David until he reaveled them last week after all were safe. It is easy to pick apart the minutia and criticize the actions of others. We are glad everyone is OK. I hope that lessons were learned and this tale will serve to re-enforce certain backcountry "dos and don'ts". Please use this as a tool and not a forum for second-guessing others who share your passion for the outdoors.
PS- Doug, next time you plan to close your shop, let us know in advance. We could have scheduled around it. We really were looking forward to eating some of your grub:)
Posted by KevinR, 11-08-09A great read, with a happy ending. Thanks to Dave and Olivia for their candor.
Interesting how many mishaps could be avoided by the following the basic "rule" - stay together.
Posted by M. Mouse, 11-08-09I'm really glad that everyone made it out ok.. I definitely learned a few things. Mistakes happen to all of us and the best thing is to be able to learn from them. I'm sure they both wish that they would of done things differently but that is not what happened., They both did things that they thought were best at the time.
Thanks for sharing your story, it is always good if someone can learn from our mistakes.
Get up! Get moving! That is when life begins.
Posted by bulldog34, 11-08-09Just another great example of the wealth of information on this board. Here's a thread from 6 years ago, one that is intensely interesting and informative, that's available for us to review with just a little searching. I've found a number of similarly engrossing threads just jumping around from page to page during idle time.
Thanks Doug for keeping all these available! I'm sure lots of disk space could be freed by deleting or caching these older posts, but it's wonderful to have them available.
And after reading the story, my personal opinion re their biggest mistake is that they left Trail Camp far too late. They left at 9:00 am, planning to summit and return to the Portal the same day. To me, the numbers don't work in their favor from the outset. Darkness played a huge factor in their not linking back up the same day and SAR being called - and that appears to be due to their late start and slow pace. Summit at 4:00 pm, 7 hours after leaving TC - what's that? Way less than a one mph pace. They were headed for trouble at the outset, and then things just got worse.
Posted by markskor, 11-09-09"Interesting how many mishaps could be avoided by the following the basic "rule" - stay together."
Why is this the basic rule...where is this written anywhere?
On a well-marked trail, even if in a group to start, we all still hike at our own inherent pace; hurrying or slowing down seems to make me tire easily. Hike your own hike.
I do agree with the basic rule of: Anytime there is any trail junction encountered, everyone stays at the junction until all are accounted for, but as to all in the party staying in a tight group while hiking along a marked trail...don't think so.
mountain man who swims with trout
Posted by ClimbSTRONG, 11-09-09I had an unforetunate incident that made me a believer in this rule. Maybe its been long enough that I can tell the story one of these long winter nights!
Anyway, one reason/situation where separation would NOT be a good idea (and it was mentioned in this story) is when one person is not self sufficient without the other.
I would have never guessed, until it happened to me, that two people could become lost from one another so quickly and so completely.
"Avoiding danger is no safer in the long run than outright exposure. Life is either a daring adventure or nothing" -Helen Keller
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