Posted 09-14-06

On 9/12/06 at approximately 3:30 AM as we began our hike our group came across a sole female hiker(shoulder length brown hair wearing blue and black rain gear)about half way between the Portal and Lone Pine Lake. She was headed down the trail and stated she had gotten lost at the "wash out" and had been wandering in the wilderness for 20 hours. We did a quick assessment of her condition. She had food, water, a light and was on trail headed in the right direction with only about a mile to go, so we parted ways. Just curious to hear how she is doing and if anyone knows anything about her.

Posted by Edie, 09-14-06
Thank you for your concern. She made it down and is doing fine. She is going to post her story later. She mentioned all the wonderful people who stopped to ask her how she was doing. it kept her going.
Her sister.

Posted by Jim F, 09-14-06
Glad to hear she did fine.

I met her at 1:45 am on 9/12 just above Lone Pine Lake. I was on my way up the trail engaged in a moonlight hike to the summit. She was apparently startled by me as I was cruising along without artificial light ( just relying on the wonderful moonlight and my night vision ). Initially she might have thought I was a bear.

I asked her if she was ok, and she said was doing well, but progress to the Portal was slowed by a "knee booboo." Her gait appeared ok. She declined my offer of assistance. She had a light and there was no hint that she was cold. In fact, it was a pleasantly warm evening. Water was just ahead for her. I warned her that below Lone Pine Lake there were quite a few deer along the trail and not to be startled by their sudden appearence/moves. I continued on up the trail.

About 45 minutes before summiting at 6:00 am for a splendid sunrise, I came across two ladies huddled in space plankets. The said they were fine and were seen later in the morning enjoying a stroll down to Trail Camp.

On a more somber note, at 9:25 am ( when I was back down at Trail Camp) a helo was making its way up the drainage and flew over Trail Crest. Later it appeared someone might have been flown out of the Cottonwood Lakes area to the Southern Inyo Hospital.

Be careful out there. As the temps fall and the wind picks up, the trail at night will become less hospitable to those of us roaming about.

Hope everyone enjoys great fall weather in the High Sierras, Jim

Posted by + @ti2d, 09-14-06
Glad to hear she made it out okay. My buddy and I saw her at the log crossing a little after 2:00 a.m.
"Those on top of the mountain did not fall there..."

Posted by Edie, 09-23-06
This is from my sister, sorry it is long.

My Story of "Whitney in a Day"

As any experienced hiker, I know the basic supply list. Fleece, rain and wind gear, hat, gloves, new batteries in lights plus extras, first aid kit, food that will more then cover the trip, stove, water. Before packing, a lot of training and a good nights sleep.

Even prepared, the unexpected can happen.

Okay, I wasn't completely prepared. I did miss the good nights sleep before starting. My sister and I stayed at the hiker camp planning to start at midnight. We're really slow and knew we'd take the better part of twenty-four hours to summit and return. The excitement of our journey and the un-familiar noises at the camp allowed us about two hours of sleep.

As planned, we left the trailhead at midnight. By 2:55 we were at Lone Pine Lake, (which is great time for us) Had a quick snack, refilled our water, changed the batteries in my headlamp (not a good sign after only 3 hours and at least 3 to go in the dark).

At 4:45 we reached Outpost Camp, had a hot meal and rested a bit. It's so peaceful there. I started again at 5:40. The switchbacks between Outpost and Mirror Lake took their toll on my sister. At the ridge just above the lake, she knew her safety was at risk and turned back. She's made it the top twice before, but for some reason her body wouldn't let her this time.

At 7:45 I reached Trailside meadow, removed some layers of clothing and liberally applied sun-screen. I've had the high altitude sun burn before, not this time. Just above the meadow I had another snack break and rested about 15 minutes. There's a spot there that makes a perfect wag bag set up station and I was most grateful to be able to take advantage of it. By 9:05 I was at Trail Camp and stopped for lunch, refilled my water bag, stretched my legs and had a cigarette. (Yes, I bring a butt can), put on more sun screen and started up the switchbacks at 9:40. At 11:05 I rested at the cables and enjoyed the view. Unless you've been there it's hard to comprehend the beauty of so many shades of grey. The joy of being at Trail Crest again was overwhelming! Looking over the west side of the mountain is indescribable.

I crossed over Trail Crest at 1:30 and started, which for me is the longest 2 mile stretch of the whole trail. Every 25 to 30 steps I stopped until the pounding in my head stopped. Occasionally, when the trail leveled some I could get up to 100 steps in before having to recover. Three hours and fifteen minutes later I was at the summit! I got my name down in the book, took a picture of that, ate some peanut butter crackers, a couple of mini snickers bars and drank some Gatorade and started back down at 5:00.

At the John Muir Junction I started to feel a little twinge in my right knee and knew it was going to be a slow, very slow, decent. Midway down the switchbacks, around 6:30 7:00, I put on my fleece and wind gear and got out my head lamp. I started to feel disoriented and unsure of the trail about 8:30. I had been on the trail now for about 20 hours. I started to see things that I knew couldn't be there. Little cabins along the trail that turned out to be the big rocks at the end of the switchbacks heading into Trail Camp. I was almost out of water but decided to wait until the rock bridge crossing just past Trail Camp to get some. Fatigue had taken my ability to think. I just wanted to get down. A man stopped me just past Trail Camp where he was camped and asked me if I had water. I've had experience with angels before. He was an angel for me, he gave about a pint or so of water, congratulated me for making the summit and said to be careful on the rest of my decent.

I'm not sure how far I had gone when I got off the trail and ended up in the creek wash just below Trail Camp but before the bridge, (where I had planned on getting water).

That's when my head lamp died again. I rummaged through my pack looking for my extra flashlight and couldn't find it. I knew I hadn't gone too far from the trail, a few feet at most. So, I back tracked in the dark looking for where I had made the wrong turn. (The moon was up but not very bright) Each attempt to find the trail got me a little more disoriented. I knew I was lost. Only a few feet from the trail and so many ways I could hurt myself if I continued walking around in the dark. I stood in the middle of the wash and blew my whistle. I waited. I knew if anyone would have heard me they would have looked for me. I don't know how long I waited; I guess it must have been around midnight or so when I saw three headlamps coming up the trail. I waited for them to get closer, dug out my cigarette lighter and blew my whistle again. When I knew they where looking in my direction I flicked my lighter a few times and they acknowledged that they had seen me. When they got close enough for me to see the trail, I slid off my rock and landed on the trail. So close and so lost at the same time. They asked if I was okay, no injuries to speak of, only light-less. Batteries were exchanged and I started off again in the same place where I made the original wrong turn. The spot is where the trail goes between two boulders for just a few feet and I missed it both times. I went to the left instead of between the rocks. I thank you ladies for pointing me in the right direction. Also, I am truly grateful for the batteries. It's still hard to believe that I could get so lost so quickly.

Just over the ridge above Mirror Lake the head lamp batteries died again. What's up with the battery deaths? I found a clear spot on the trail to carefully remove everything from my pack in search of my extra flashlight. I knew it was in there somewhere. The moonlight was enough out in the open, but I knew I needed light to maneuver past the lake and down the rest of the tree lined trail. I finally found the flashlight at about 2:00. By now I've been on the mountain for 26 hours. I couldn't remember when I had eaten the crackers and candy but I didn't feel hungry. I do remember thinking I would eat something when I got to Outpost Camp. So, with the pin light in one hand and my poles in the other I headed down past Mirror Lake, through Outpost Camp (forgot to eat) and around Bighorn Park getting slower with every step. About 3:00 I came down into the Lone Pine Lake area and saw a car parked next to the trail. (Big long rock with two bushes where the tires were) I knew it wasn't--couldn't be a car--could it? I was losing it and didn't even realize how seriously tired I was. Oh yea, and how much I needed some kind of nutrition. I did remember to take a sip of water now and then though.

There were people standing everywhere along the trail and then would just disappear. Big family tents were set up then became big rocks or bushes. Just after the log crossing my pin light died. Remember, I started with all new batteries, plus the ones the ladies gave me.

Tired, delusional, nutrition-less, light-less and hurt knee. I couldn't tell if I was awake or dreaming. Why couldn't I find the end of the trail? There had to be a quicker way to the trailhead. I knew there had to be. I don't know how many times I went back and forth the between two switchbacks, but it was several. I could hear the water and knew it was the wrong way. I had to go away from the water. There's no waterfall at the trailhead. Where was that other trail? The one that goes directly to the trailhead? I sat down at the edge of the trail, well maybe I laid down. A couple of hikers came by and asked if I was okay. I think I told them I was sleeping. The next hikers asked the same thing--imagine that! This time I answered "No, I'm looking for the trailhead" They said I was going in the right direction, about a mile further.

Once again I decided to look for the "other" trail. The shorter one. You know, the one that comes out behind the store. At one point I looked at my watch- it was 4:07. Why couldn't I find that other trail, the one without the waterfall? More hikers came by and asked the same thing, was I okay, did I need water or food, was I injured? Why couldn't they see I just wanted to find the trail that goes to the trailhead? Sleep deprivation and low blood sugar does some mighty strange things to the brain.

I finally found the other trail that went to the store and made my way to it. It was kind of tricky, but I made it. I was so tired that I decided to rest for just a moment. That moment turned out to be about a half hour. I had ended up about 20 feet off the trail just before the North Fork Lone Pine Creek crossing. My flashlight worked again for about five minutes, just long enough to get back up on the real trail. 5:00 am- 29 hours. The thirty minute nap had revived me enough to understand that there was no other trail. The only way down was to go down. The dream of another trail seemed so real. I was awake but certainly not thinking clearly. I did have to go toward the water and cross the creek- two creeks and the little stream. Every hiker that came past I asked how much further it was to the trailhead. I kept getting closer. It finally looked familiar. Reality was forcing its way back into my head. Just keep going. Follow the trail. 5:30, I see the trailhead.
My sister was there to pick me up. (Worried, of course) We went into town, ate breakfast then went to a motel where I took a very quick shower and fell asleep instantly. After a little rest the magnitude of the danger I was in started to settle in my head.

I'm aware of all the other hikers who were genuinely concerned for my safety, with good reason. Thanks to all of you.

When I spoke with Doug today, he asked if I would tell my story. Maybe as a "Don't do this" type of thing. Or. Maybe a "Stop and rest, eat etc. when you start getting weird" type of thing. I want to laugh at how silly some of it was- cars, family tents, cabins, and a quicker way down. But, in all actuality it's no laughing matter. My ability to make any sound judgment was gone and I have to thank my God for keeping me safe and getting me down without a stretcher. A Proverb comes to my mind, 16:18 "Pride goes before destruction, a haughty spirit before a fall" I had read about a hiker getting lost on the Mt. Whitney Trail and thought- How can anyone get lost on such a well marked trail? It could never happen to me. I knew I could make the summit in a day. The sign at the trailhead says "The summit is only half way" I've learned a couple of valuable lessons from my journey. One: Don't be so full of pride to think nothing can go wrong. And two: Don't hike alone if it can be prevented.

So, now I'm one of "those" hikers that will be talked about as not being fit to claim the Mt. Whitney summit. Oh well, go ahead and talk. But remember, even when well prepared the unexpected can happen- to ANYONE.

Shirley Ewert
September 11, (and 12) 2006
A 49 year old smoker from Salem, Oregon
Three time summit-er
One time delusional

Hope you never experience the descent this way.

Posted by Bob K., 09-23-06
Shirley, Thanks for recounting your experience. One thing I learned from your story was if I see someone who I suspect is in your situation, I should talk to them until I'm satisfied that I understand their state. Then make the hard decision and walk down with them, even though I may have my heart set on keeping a schedule that I have planned for months.

And on the other side of the coin, I should set a turn around time, before the hike, if I haven't reached the summit. And alter that turn around time if some unforeseen problem arises. If I haven't made the summit by that time and I'm not close, I should make the hard decision and turn around, even if I have looked forward to summiting for many months before the hike. Especially because, if I run into trouble, I wouldn't want to ruin someone's climb because they are kind enough to insist on walking down with me when I'm having trouble with a disoriented mind or some other problem that I developed from needlessly overdoing it.

What happened to you could have happened to many others, and may have, but we wouldn't know because they didn't tell their story on a message board. So thanks again.

Glad you came out safely. I wish you many good hikes in the future.


Posted by superTramp, 09-23-06

to the trail- so close, and yet so far

thank you, and i hope we can learn from your shared experience

Posted by Rightstar, 09-23-06
Glad you made it out okay considering you were lost and could have gotten hurt. I am amazed at how many hikers failed to see you needed more help than batteries and water. Thanks for sharing with us your story in vivid detail. In the future, I will be careful when going alone in the mountains to Mt. Whitney or any other place for that matter. It is easy for us hikers to think we are immortal and not susceptible to fatigue. Your story is an important reminder! Once again, thanks for sharing.

Posted by tchiker, 09-23-06
yes, thanks for sharing your story. I think you are right that just getting two hours of sleep before the hike was your biggest "blunder".

I would not try any hike with just two hours of sleep. because I know I would not enjoy it. I know other people do better on little sleep, but it certainly does impair one's decision making ability..that is just a matter of biology.

Anyway, I think I will bring even more extra batteries on my next long hike.

Posted by Hiker Neil, 09-24-06

I hope and trust that you have tossed your current headlight? Sounds like you have a short or some other issue causing you to eat up batteries.

Thank god you made it down in one piece.

Will you try it again?

Posted by + @ti2d, 09-25-06
Shirley, it sounds like you didn't "panic" considering your state of mind and the fatigue factor. My friend and I are very happy you made it back safely (we met you at the log crossing on our way up). Your experience is a wake-up call for all of us. It CAN happen to any of us who hike that trail.

Shirley, if this is any consolation...Get back up there to the summit again!
"Those on top of the mountain did not fall there..."

Posted by AlanK, 09-25-06
The unexpected can happen to anyone. On the other hand, this is not a story I would use to convince an experienced, but overconfident, hiker of that. It's too easy to say "not me."

Embarking on a hike that is expected to take over 24 hours, at best, after only two hours of sleep seems to almost guarantee problems. After a 9 hour trip to Trail Camp, a serious re-evaluation of plans would have been wise.

Having one of those $20 emergency bivy sacks would have provided for a stop for some sleep somewhere on the way down.

I have to guess that the battery-eating lights were incandescent. Investing in a good LED headlamp, and a couple of pocket LED lights as spares, woule give a lot of light and dependable backup for tiny battery usage. I recommend that for anyone.

I hobbled down Whitney on a bad ankle this summer in (what I think was) a non-delusional state. I really sympathized with the problem of trying to get down with a bad knee. That really could happen to anyone! (Except that for me it was bound to be an ankle instead of a knee.)

Shirley toughed out an extremely difficult situation. I am impressed by the strength she showed and glad she made it down ok. But she's lucky to be alive and the danger she was in was easily avoidable. In my opinion, that's a better lesson for people to take away than "expect the unexpected."

Shirley -- you are the same age as my little sister. I'll take that as license to nag (more than I already have). Give up smoking and then do Whitney again! :-)

Posted by mark b, 09-25-06
What an incredible story. I'm glad you are here to tell it. My two buddies and I reached the summit on 9/11 and must have crossed paths with you at least twice. Once on our way up, you were probably at Outpost when we went by. I remember seeing a woman moving around off the trail. And on the way down we must have crossed somewhere high on the 97 switchbacks. I may have been a little out of it and don't remember seeing you on your way up.
I'm amazed you had the presence to sit and wait when you got disoriented in the wash. I'll take that with me in the event I find myself in the same situation. Just to stop, rest and think. Or, to wait for some kind of direction from other hikers or daylight.
Thanks for telling your story in such detail.


Posted by liquidman, 09-26-06
Hey There Shirley, you gave me a cigarette the night before the climb, I finally went down to Lone Pine and picked up a pack. I tried to pay you back, but you weren't into Camels... Do you remember me?, I left at 3:30, but was still wide awake when you pulled out. I summited at 11:30 and met you again on the way down, somewhere on the '97' ...right after passing the frozen waterfall?. I think we had a quick laugh over the apparent lack of endurance of the non-smokers...LOL. It occurred to me then that you were very late on the trail, I walked away wishing I had mentioned it. "She's just going to Trail Crest...right?"

I'm so glad to hear that you made it to the summit, and that you persevered in the face of such MONUMENTAL adversity.

You can come climb with us any time. Just... pick up the pace...LOL

You put in the gas, fill the radiator and top off the oil, but someone's gotta climb in, and hit that accelerator...


Posted by tomi, 09-27-06
dear Shirley,
thank you for sharing the story.
The unplaned thing can happend to anyone, experienced or not. I am glad that you made it to the Portal without injuries.
Like Bob K. mentioned turn around time is something everyone must have in mind or plan to be ready to overnight with proper equipment.
Be safe ot there.

Posted by Edie, 10-03-06
To everyone,
Shirley says "THANK YOU"! Will see you all next year. Will take the lessons learned from this experience to make the next one even better. Doug, and to everyone that responded with ecouragement, advice and support, again THANKS.

Her sister,