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#1417 - 06/23/03 12:15 AM
Fatal Accident on June 21st
Posted by Michael Tolchard, 06-23-0370 yo female survived, 60 yo male was killed. Occurred in chute below Trail Crest during attempted glissade late on Saturday.
Posted by Computer Nerd, 06-23-03Do you have any more details? I made it back down to the Portal entrance at 8:30 pm and didn't hear or see any thing.
Posted by Jim R, 06-23-03I scanned the on-line version of several newspapers, including the LA Times, the Inyo Register, and the Bakersfield newspaper, and couldn't find anything.
Posted by Michael Tolchard, 06-23-03Here are some more details regarding the accident Saturday evening from my discussions with people at Trail Camp, the Coroner, and my own involvement.
A 60 yo man had tried to glissade from just below Trail Crest about 8pm and lost control, I assume due to the ice in the chute. His 70 yo wife followed soon after. The woman located her husband and found him unconcious. Those at Trail Camp heard the screams and climbed up to the bottom of the chute to assist. They found the woman injured and dazed. They evacuated her back to Trail Camp using a sleeping bag. She was rendered medical aid by somebody with substantial medical knowledge at Trail Camp. I understand she had a broken nose and lacerations, but otherwise, not in too bad of shape considering. Those in the area we're unable to locate the man during a search for him. I'm not sure if she moved some distance before the Trail Camp people found here or what. My involvement started when I arrived at Trail Camp mid morning and discovered that the man had still not been located. Hoping that he was able to somehow come to and shelter in place during the night, and as it appeared nobody else was searching off the trail, I got as much information as I could about the path of the fall and set off to the bottom of the chute in search of the 1st victim with the hope of rendering aid. At the bottom of the chute, a couple of ladies with a better view yelled out to be that they noticed something a couple of hundred yards above me. After a careful look, I also noticed something unnatural in the snow. I step kicked up to the location and discovered the victim. A check of pulse and breathing revealed that he had expired. I covered the body with the mylar blanket I always carry and secured it with rocks so it wouldn't blow away. I signaled back to Trail Camp with my mirror for several minutes to make the location known to those down below. About 20 minutes later, the SAR chopper came up from down below and I began signalling it with my mirror. Appearently they saw it as they came directly to my location. They assesed the situation from the air and headed back down to Trail Camp. Unable to do anything further, I step kicked about halfway up the chute picked up a number of items along the way. After I saw no more items in the snow, I traversed off the chute and continued my trip up towards the summit. About 3pm I arrived back to Trail Crest from the back side. There was a crew of 5 SAR folks recovering the body by way of a sling from the chopper. They moved the victim suspended back to near Trail Camp and assume loaded the body into the chopper and flew off. I'm guessing the female victim was flown out on the choppers first trip up, but don't know for sure. I had signalled the chopper on their second flight up. I observed about about 7 SAR flights during the afternoon, and I'm guessing their may have been more while I was on the back side.
Kudos the the folks that rescued and rendered aid to the woman. Wish I could have done more for the man ....
Posted 06-23-03I climbed Whitney on Saturday with a friend. The news of a death is just horrible. I really appreciate the detailed information posted by Michael Tolchard, I met many people on that Mountain on Saturday, climbers are generally a really good group of people. Does anyone know who or where these people involved in the accident were from???? or in what paper I can find more info...any info is much appreciated! Thanks in advance...Sincerely, Shannon
Posted by Jeffrey Cook, 06-23-03This should end all questions this season as to whether the slope North of the switchbacks is still fit for glissading. As much as I love the snow, I'll be spending the extra hour on the switchbacks this weekend.
Posted by Michael Tolchard, 06-23-03The couple was from Newport Beach in Southern California.
Posted by Michael Tolchard, 06-23-03I think I missed a question ...
I haven't seen any newspaper report about this accident yet. I'm guessing they don't know about it.
The snow in the chute was quite soft while I was there midday Sunday. But, the paths where people have glissaded were still quite hard, even at midday. Once I got off the glissade runs, it became quite soft. Looking closely at the glissade runs I could see where thawing and refreezing has taken place, so my guess is it was quite hard at the time of the accident.
There are also a number of sizable rocks sticking out of the snow which would be hard to avoid while moving.
Posted by JPR, 06-23-03Michael,
Thank you for sharing the sad story. I have a few questions for you if you don't mind. Could you explain "it appeared nobody else was searching off the trail"? This happened on Saturday afternoon - how many people were at trail camp? Did those there ever conduct a search? Were they aware that someone was still missing?
Sorry to ask questions such as this, and I am in no way pointing any blame at you, however, I was quite surprised by your story. It sounds as if no one at trail camp attempted a rescue or even to locate the injured party prior to your arrival. I've personally been involved in two rescues on Whitney (hypothermia and a broken leg) and I simply can't believe that people left an injured person to spend a whole night outside! Day or night and regardless of the conditions, the small group I mountaineer with would have done anything to get to this person.
Posted by Michael Tolchard, 06-23-03Hi JPR,
Questions are no problem at all. Hopefully everyone can learn from this accident.
Let me preface the answer to your question with this. I did not reach Trail Camp until 9am Sunday morning, 13 hours after the accident at 8pm Saturday evening. With this in mind, I can only relay what I was told about what actions were taken by others during those 13 hours as I had no first hand knowledge. My information may be wrong, partially wrong, or correct, I just don't know. Maybe others that were there during the rescue can shed some light. After 9am Sunday morning, I can give you a first hand account of what I saw and heard.
What I heard on the trail prior to my arrival as well as the rescuers themselves at Trail Camp was .... When the accident occured, people at trail camp heard screams from the area of the chute and went to investigate. They discovered the female victim, a loose pack, and a loose trekking pole, all of which were returned to Trail Camp, the female victim was transported with the aid of sleeping bag. I was also told a search was undertaken for the male victim. I don't know if this was at the same time the female was rescued or later. They knew there were two victims because the female victim told her rescuers. I assume the search for the female victim started at the time of the accident, 8pm. I don't know how long it took, or whether any seperate searches, at what time, and for how long were undertaken for the male victim.
Now for the first hand information. When I arrived at Trail camp at 9am there were about a dozen people floating around. The female victim was supposedly being treated behind the Solar Outhouse, although I didn't go over there. I was more concerned about the person that was still missing. I asked if the missing victim had been found. I was told no. I asked for more information about what side of the chute they came down. I was put in touch with some guys that had a better knowledge of the specifics and received detailed information about which side of the chute they came down and the location of where a trekking pole was found. When I asked if others were looking for the male victim, the response was something along the line of "I think so". I asked if anybody looking had a GFS radio and if so, what channel was everybody using. I was told that no radios were known to be in use, and no channel was designated by anybody. I indicated I would be using channel 10 as somebody thought that was a designated emergency channel (is it?), and for them to tell anybody else searching, or wanting to contact me, to use channel 10.
So off I went towards the switchbacks. Once I gained the elevation I wanted, I bailed off the switchbacks and headed for the bottom of the chute, periodically yelling "Robert". The rest was detailed in my previous post.
I have to admit the whole issue of what was not occuring at 9am when I arrived at Trail Camp did bother me. Once I got towards the chute, I was bothered even further by the fact that I saw nobody anywhere off the trail making any effort to find a 60 year old man that was, at best, seriously injured. I do believe at least some of the people on the switchback were aware that somebody was missing, and were making an effort to locate the victim as they headed up the switchbacks, as clearly shown by the ladies that yelled out to me they thought they saw something above me.
I don't know why so little effort was being made to locate the male victim during the day. It seemed real obvious to me that someone falling down the south side of the chute would probably end up near the bottom, as long as they didn't get caught up in the rocks on the way down. So, I decided at the obvious place to start was at the bottom and work my way up. If that didn't work, then there would be the possibility that he woke up, and had wondered off in a dazed state of confusion in god knows what direction (but probably downwards), which would make him harder to find, but I'd keep at it.
As it turns out I found him at 10:45, 1 hour and 45 minutes after I started my search. I found him just about where I would expect to find somebody that fell down that chute, but not quite at the bottom. No secret formula here, just gotta figure out which way gravity is going to make you slide.
So, I guess really I don't understand what issues people were having. Maybe people assumed he was already dead. I sure wouldn't want somebody making that assumption about me! Maybe folks just didn't want to get involved due to liability issues or out of fear of what they would find. Maybe many just didn't know that somebody was in need of their help. Maybe some felt making the summit was more important. Maybe some felt they couldn't deal with a little snow. Maybe some didn't have the skills to go off trail. Maybe some didn't want to get lost. Who knows?
I agree with you 100%. If somebody is missing or injured, they need my help, and nothing is more important to me, and I'll spare no effort. It would have made my day if I were able to help save this guy. Not to be this time around, but it won't stop me from trying even harder next time.
Interesting you caught my previous comment that prompted your question. Yah, the effort I saw during the day first hand bugs me.
From what I heard about the evening rescue, it was a great job all around, and those that were involved have my greatest appreciation and admiration.
Also, I would suggest that the SAR folks/chopper carry GFS radios. They are becoming quite popular and would be a great tool in an emergency. I had no contact with any SAR team member the entire day, other than flashing a mirror at their chopper.
Be Safe All
Posted by Rick F, 06-23-03
If there was such a thing as a "Whitney Medal of Honor" I would nominate you for it. Thank-you for caring enough to help. Where ever Robert is now I know he appreciates the final act of decency and the dignity you provided to him. Good people like yourself usually dont want a big fuss made over something like this but you are an inspiration.
God Bless you!
Lets promote the designation of GMRS/FRS radio channel 10, code 00, as the hiker's volunteer emergency/rescue channel.
Posted by Michael Tolchard, 06-24-03Thanks, but the medal should go to the folks at trail camp that executed the night rescue. They made a difference. With night falling and temps dropping, who knows what would have happened to that lady had she been left on her own.
I think GMRS/FRS would be very helpful in contacting other hikers on this trail due to it's high use. In the backcountry, with it's limited range, it would probably be more useful for an injured or lost hiker to contact SAR folks as they flew over in a search of them.
For the Whitney Trail, a sign at the trailhead indicating which GMRS/FRS channel is to be used in an emergency would be just the ticket in my opinion, and would only cost a few bucks to erect or tack onto one of the exisiting signs.
Posted by Michael Tolchard, 06-24-03A quick search turned up this info regarding an emergency channel. Maybe the FCC should set a standard. GMRS radios (which include the FRS channels) are preferable over FRS radios as they transmit further. Then again, might be time for me to put my Amateur Radio License to use and get a real radio...
"Although there is no law or rule regulating it, many groups and users across the country have recommended that 462.675 MHz be designated a traveler's assistance and emergency only channel, similar to CB channel 9. Many areas have adopted this, while others have not and still conduct non-critical GMRS traffic on this frequency."
"There has been some interest on which channel might be considered a "travel channel, calling channel, or even and emergency channel." Since the range of a half watt radio is very limited the concept ONLY makes sense if you're within half a mile of the same vehicle going the same direction OR you are lost within a mile or so of an FRS station willing to help. Given those conditions it is probably best to try channel 1. I suggest you try saying something like, "travelers aid" anyone listening. Remember that FRS was NOT designed to provide emergency assistance. DO NOT expect to attract help in an emergency calling on any FRS channel. The best advice we can give is to carry a cellular phone."
"462.675 Mhz Nationwide emergency and road info calling. PL 141.3. "
"467.675(2) (2)Nationwide emergency and road information calling. Nationally recognized coded squelch for 675 emergency repeater operation is 141.3 Hz."
"Unless you know you have access to a repeater on this frequency pair, do not expect this channel to be of any practical use in emergencies. Low power simplex portables on 462.675 will not attract anyone's attention. Persons using repeaters on this frequency do not listen for simplex communication and the likelihood of you finding a CTCSS code in a hurry to access a repeater you have never used before is very remote. If you are using a portable radio set your CTCSS transmit tone for 141.3. Consider another radio service or better yet a cellular phone if you need personal emergency communication. Note also that GMRS repeaters may not have a phone patch facility as is common in the Amateur Radio Service. When you use GMRS for an emergency you must relay the information to another operator that has access to a telephone, providing someone actually answers your call. All stations should listen with squelch disabled before transmitting or activating a repeater. Some licensees use simplex communication on repeater output channels. Be courteous to other stations."
"462.675 is also available for any other GMRS traffic but, is the most common frequency monitored by REACT teams. GMRS does not use channel numbers like FRS and CB."
"Note that whenever possible, channels 1-7 should be used for Emergency communications that are to be relayed. These channels are universally accessible by General Mobile Radio Service & FRS, so can be accessed by each. "
Posted by Sierra Sam, 06-24-03At several ski areas I've seen signs posted that say the ski patrol monitor channel 9-11 for emergencies. Seems like a natural way to go. This works pretty well when you have many receivers all over the mountain. Not sure how well it would work on a place like Whitney where I have not seen as many people carry FRS radios and there aren't a few dozen safety personnel around to monitor. At the risk of opening up the can of worms again, cell phones are another possibility.
Posted by wbtravis5152, 06-24-03Sierra Sam,
Cell phones are so hit and miss on this trip it would give such a false sense of security. I've had a phone fully charge with a full signal strength and still could not get a call out up on the ridge. There are a lot of competing cells up on the ridge, I guess, because my phone kept bouncing between Roam and AT&T. If you are a backpacker and don't put the thing in the sleeping bag with you at night you can end up with a dead phone in the morning.
Anything that happens below Trail Crest you can forget about getting a cell call out.
To me they are more trouble than they are worth, and I know this statement will stir up a hornet's nest. But, one of the reason I go out is to get away for modern conveniences, like the phone and those two way radios, which are in vouge now.
In my mind there is enough money generated by the permit fees to justify building and staffing a seasonal ranger station at Trail Camp for just this purpose.
Mt. Whitney and Eastern Sierra Blog
The Mt. Whitney Day Hike and Backpacking Page
Posted by Michael Tolchard, 06-24-03Maybe they should slap a solar powered radio phone onto the side of the solar outhouses at both camps. I think I recall seeing a setup like that in Round Valley near Mt. San Jacinto on the seasonal ranger station there. Even though no ranger was present, the radio phone was still available to campers/hikers for emergencies. With the volume of people on Whitney, I think it would be warranted.
The cell phone thing sure failed on Sunday. Everybody who had a cell was tryig 911 but nobody could get a signal.
I do think that those that wish to carry radios and phones should do so, but must be considerate of others.
Posted by Rick F, 06-24-03O.K. then, unless there are any objections it's 9-1-1. (GMRS/FRS channel 9, code 11). Do we need U.S. Forest Service permission to attach a sign panel to the existing trail-head sign?
Posted by MtnMark, 06-24-03God Bless all those who rendered assistance. Its a sad commentary on human nature that only a small percentage of people are capable of handling an emergency situation.
Not all FRS models have subcodes. If you designate an emergency channel with subcodes, it could eliminate those with the simpler models.
Good idea of an emergency communication link from the solar toilets. I suggest the Forest Service work out the details.
I did that glissade a week before this happened using hiking poles, as decribed in a June 14 Trip Report. One of my poles is still locked up and can't be adjusted.
Posted by Michael Tolchard, 06-24-03It would make more sense to designate a frequency/channel that supports both FRS and GMRS. It seems 462.675 Mhz is the emerging standard in the country, though I don't know how that translates to the channels on my Talkabout.
Posted by JSW, 06-24-03For the new motorola GMRS radios channel 9 code 11 is a half power channel. Therefore limiting distance to 2 miles or less.
However, they have a really great scan feature which allows for scanning all channels.
The forest service just needs to get their act together and designate a channel/code policy for emergency use. All hikers should be carrying one of these radios.
Posted by Michael Tolchard, 06-24-03And it would be really helpfull if their aircraft carried them .......
Posted by JPR, 06-24-03This thread has disappointed and disgusted me a great deal! The sad part is that even after a tragic death, most of you truly don't get it. Many of you are focusing on radios - that was not the problem. If everyone at trail camp had a radio tuned to the same channel would it have solved anything? NO, Absolutely Not! CMORE, you even have the audacity to blame the Forest Service! Your ignorance and lack of experience was clearly demonstrated in your post.
The first problem, based on what I read, is two inexperienced people tried to do something they didn't know how to do. What happened is very unfortunate, but quite clearly the case. Glissading can be very dangerous, end of story.
However, the bigger problem, again based on what I read, was that no one took charge after learning of the accident until Michael showed up the following morning. Michael did the right thing and conducted a search. Nevertheless, I can't believe that it wasn't done sooner! An injured person was left outside overnight and no one searched until the following morning! How on earth could those of you staying at trail camp on Saturday night sleep, knowing that someone could have possibly been alive that close to your campsite? Hypothermia doesn't wait until the morning! Anyone who camped at trail camp on Saturday night should be utterly ashamed of themselves. Anyone who headed up the trail past trail camp Sunday morning before the body was found should also be ashamed of themselves. You left someone to die! Someone who possibly could have been saved if reached in time.
In the mountains there is no ambulance or first response team. No going inside when you get cold. The forest service didn't get there until late, because they didn't know about the accident.
In the mountains there are only other hikers and mountaineers.
Those of you who didn't lend a hand should be very ashamed.
Posted by Computer Nerd, 06-24-03I just found out that the person that passed away was a co-worker here in Huntington Beach, Ca. I was also there Sat. and but was back at the portal at 8:30 pm. No, we did not know each other was climbing. There have been several stories as to what actually happened, including that she had slipped and in tring to help her, he fell. I would suggest that you all take the Radio conversation to a different thread out of respect. This is a huge loss and we already miss him here at work. Please pray for his wife and family. Thank you.
Posted by Michael Tolchard, 06-24-03First, I would caution y'all against jumping to conclusions about information that is not known first hand by anybody on this thread, which in this instance, includes what did or did not happen overnight at Trail Camp prior to 9am Sunday morning, and the inital cause. Appearances and wild stories can and frequently are deceiving, and I've already heard some in this case that were completely wrong.
The chopper was red and white in color with no agency markings that I could make out. My first guess would be an Inyo County SAR team, but I have nothing to base that on. It's arrival was pretty much in the time frame I expected if the guy I met at Outpost Camp that was hiking down to the portal to call 911 was the first to make contact, and they were flying from say, maybe, Independance or even Bishop.
Of course radios were not the cause of the accident. In the end, even if they were in use, it would not have made a difference in this particular case. I feel it's a usefull discussion in the learning process because it is a tool that is available but was not being utilized. The next time this happens, and you know it will, maybe the victim will be hanging on by a thread, and every second counts. They could easily save a life if everybody is on the same page, and this is as good a place as any to get on the same page.
My personal opinion is that this thread is not a memorial, but a place for all of us to learn how to do better next time around.
Posted by Mike00, 06-24-03A very unfortunate and preventable accident. Don't glissade without an ice axe and solid experience with all 8 self-arrest positions. If you hit ice and don't know what you're doing the results can be tragic.
Posted by JSW, 06-24-03Amen!
I as well as about 8 other well trained, very experienced trauma care, OEC certified, first responders were hiking up on Sunday. I can concur and have pictures of helicopter. We hit the camp around 2pm.
Incredible tragedy! No questions, all of our thoughts and prayers went out to the victim and family all day Sunday.
If we had been there, there is no way any of us would have gone to bed Sat. night...
Someone would have been dispatched immediately down trail to get help and a night search would have found the man. We ALL carry radios and I was able to reach the portal from trail camp. There were also several GPS units to give Lat/Long info to the helicopter dispatch. Leadership and communication is key!!
JPR, however disgusted you are with people and their inexperience or lack of action what's done is done lets stay on the same page and learn from this.
This trail attracts the inexperienced. Whatever help, suggestions, ideas, are not meant to disrespect but rather to remember and learn.
Posted by markskor, 06-24-03hi, I was coming down from the top and noticed all the heliocopter activity below--when we got down to camp, below the switchbacks, we asked about, but nobody knew anything--I can understand the problem about lack of ways to communicate effectively.The snow was sharp ice at 6:00.It was windy. The cables are not yet up, and a lot of people are up there without proper equipment. It is not a easy climb people--Wake up. Another climber came down past us at 7:30-- In shorts.--he asked for a doctor for himself-He was just bone tired-We tried to raise help, but no way to get a message out-We got him fixed up but there should be a way to get help up there if needed. Yes there is a phone up in San Jacinto for just the same sort of emergencies. maybe all the motels and food places that profit from the mountain could give something back. Set up a emergency phone service. Being realistic, It is not the hikers job to provide aid when there is no way to assess what is going on. It is a bit of a zoo up there. All will gladly help if some way is provided to get out an accurate message. This was my first time on this mountain, and I was amazed at the carnaval attitude that exists in a place where death is a small step away. Why are not the cables up? Pipes are clear but no work is being done. It is an ice field above and below and nothing is being done to prevent any more deaths. Someone is dropping the ball here. Many thanks to all who came up and assisted in the rescue. I had to arrive home in Sacramento to get a real story of the facts. Nobody knew anything at the camp. I also have some SAR experience but without an accurate information setup, experience is useless. It was cold, windy, and dangerous. Lone Pine makes a lot of money off the mountain. Are they going to sweep this under their rug? Just adding my 2 cents worth, but these conditions need looking into.
mountain man who swims with trout
Posted by JPR, 06-24-03I think instead of asking why weren't the cables up, the question should be, "why were people with insufficient experience heading up past the snowfields?".
Also, instead of insisting on putting in telephones, taco stands and a Starbucks at trail camp, people should discuss what to do in case of an emergency. In all reality this is a remote wilderness area, not the mall. If you get hurt how are you going to get out? Tell people, help is a full day away.
I have noticed, especially on this site, a sort of overly supportive "go for it" attitude. While it's nice to be supportive, I think more caution and greater explinations of potential risks need to be shared. Remind people that safety is their personal responsibility, not that of the lone pine ranger station.
Posted by Got Pain?, 06-24-03Exposure + Probabability (conditins & experience) x Siverity of Injury = Course of action
Posted by JPR, 06-24-03Ed,
What the he$$ is that supposed to mean?
Exposure - Yes, leaving someone outside overnight subjects them to exposure.
Severity of Injury - No one found the guy until the next day, how could anyone assess the severity of injury?
Probability - Seeing that the woman survived the slide down the chute with relatively minor injuries tells me that there is a HIGH probability that the guy also survived the slide.
Course of Action -- Go to sleep.... Doesn't seem to fit with your formula, does it?
Sorry Ed, but your clever little formula doesn't excuse people who were at trail camp Saturday night from doing more.
Posted by markskor, 06-24-03To JPR--get realistic fool--Nobody wants a taco bell or a starbucks--just some way to get help if it is needed. Someone got a heliocopter up there--How? If it was you, lying in the snow, you might reconsider the odeous answer. Who elected you god? yourself? Go back to your mall. We know it is dangerous--There has to be a way to provide aid if really needed. Any system that provides a lottery for admission should have some provision for accident.
mountain man who swims with trout
Posted by Icculus2003, 06-24-03JPR...I agree with you 110%
Anyone who wishes to assess blame or point fingers is out of line.
Traveling in the backcountry is inherently dangerous.
One's safety in the mtns is primarally the responsability of oneself and/or partner(s).
People seem to take this mountain a bit lightly without realizing that it can really unleash pain and death on you in a flash.
Most of them get away with it...tradgicaly in this case, someone did not.
Good decision making is the most important thing, both prior to the trip as well as on the mtn. These two made some bad decisions on that trip and it lead to injury and death.
Those of you who want to ***** about the SAR Rangers or the frakin' cables not being up are totally missing the point...YOUR IN THE *****IN' WILDERNESS!!!
YOUR SAFETY IS YOUR OWN RESPONSABILITY!!!!
If people on the mountain can help you out then great, but I would say it is to expect to rely on that.
As for you Michael, you are an outstanding human being and I very much appreciate what you did. I also agree that people should not judge what was going on prior to your arrival without first hand info. I can say for myself that I would have looked for the guy all night long. Howver, if the people at Trail Camp did not have the gear or skills or confidence to conduct the search off trail in the dark then it might be better that they did not since there could have been more victims.
I once rescued a fellow off of Long's Peak who got lost at the Keyhole and was wandering around with no warm clothes, food, light, etc... @ ~12900 ft.
We took him down the mountain FIRST that night and then went back up, from the bottom again, the next day to summit.
I am a bit dismayed that some might have chosen to continue to climb the switchbacks the next day with a missing person just at the bottom of the slope, but as you were saying Michael, who knows who knew what and when and passing judgement is not helpful.
Posted by Icculus2003, 06-24-03Enough with the hostile and clever retorts....
markstor...the lottery system is there to protect the wilderness from us humans and has nothing at all to do with anyone's responsability to get our sorry butts out of a jam that we should be prepared to deal with ourselves. If it was me lying in the snow, I would hope that my climbing partner would have the skills to help me out or vise versa. A phone at Trail camp would probably help...but is it really wilderness experience then. I say no and you can keep your phone at the mall or along the highways.
I say opt for skills and caution.
This mentality of "hey, let's go out in the backcountry unprepared and expect that someone will help us out if something really bad happens" is absurd and far to common these days.
Self reliance, challenge, and personal responsability my friends...this is why we love the wilderness.
Posted 06-24-03Glissading is an activity that is a great deal more dangerous than it seems to be. Even if you have an ice axe and know how to use it, there is always the danger of encountering unexpected ice patches that dramatically increase your speed to the point where you can no longer stop yourself. Another danger -- perhaps even more insidious -- is that you will encounter snow that is full of air. Under these conditions, the pick of the ice axe can zipper right through the snow and not slow you down at all.
If the accident occurred at 8:00 p.m., it's possible that it turned dark by the time potential rescuers got to the accident zone and began their search. This doesn't excuse people who didn't bother searching at all or searched for 5 minutes and then quit, but it might have made the search more difficult.
Posted by wbtravis5152, 06-24-03First I have sympathy to the family and the love ones of the person who died in this accident. Was it a preventable accident? Well, based on what I have read here, I've seen no reports in any paper, I honestly can say I don't know. The orginal post mentioned this couple attempted to glissade from Trail Crest, in a latte post someone mentioned a fall. There is no mention of the equipment they had or their mountaineering experience, or lack there of. So how can anyone come to a conclusion whether this was preventable or not, they can't in my mind. JPR says they people were inexperienced, where is the evidence? He also takes the position that people at Trail Camp should have done more. Exactly how many mountaineers were there at Trail Camp that evening with gear that would allow them to go out on that snowfield? My guess is not that many. How many hikers, as opposed to mountaineers, even know where the chute is or how to get there in the dark. A lot of these people there probably just got done carrying a 50 pound pack for the first time up 6 miles and +3,600'. By the time the news got to Trail Camp of this accident most of these exhausted people were in the tents asleep, this is a guess on my part.
Is the forest service responsible for any of this? Absolutely not. Could they do more considering this route is wilderness in name only? Yes, as I mentioned in a previous post a seasonal ranger station at Trail Camp paid with Whitney Zone fees would probably be good enough but it wouldn't have saved this man.
When it comes down to it you must be responsible for yourself in the backcountry. This place has a circus atmosphere but no one says you have to join the circus.
Mt. Whitney and Eastern Sierra Blog
The Mt. Whitney Day Hike and Backpacking Page
Posted by JPR, 06-24-03Markskor -- you stated "any system that provides a lottery for admission should have some provision for accident." Bad grammar aside, what do you mean by this? It sounds as if you are saying Rangers should be on call 24/7 to all assist hikers who are victims of accidents, poor planning, or get in over their heads at a moments notice.
Your turn to get realistic! Do you have any idea how many thousands of dollars helicopter flights cost? Imagine how many calls the rangers would get from hikers who were tired, had a headache, sprained ankle, got cold, were wet, etc. if a phone were put in. So no, I think a phone at trail camp would only encourage novices to get in over their heads and in turn, put them at a greater risk. Personal responsibility and teamwork, that's how things work in the mountains. That's why I always go on my trips with a small group of experienced close friends. If one of us gets hurt, there is always someone there who will help.
You also state "we know it is dangerous" but you still seem to expect some governmental figure to bail anyone out when having problems. A phone, yeah, turn the place into even more of a zoo!
BTW, no one elected me god. I am just very upset about this whole issue and an unnecessary death. I go into the backcountry very frequently, trad climb, ice climb, etc, and far too often with Whitney I see a caviler attitude and high level of disregard for safety.
Posted by markskor, 06-24-03the fact is, this is not a wilderness adventure. It ceased to become a wilderness when 120 people a day are allowed to "challange" the highest mountain in the lower 48. Wilderness is solitude and this trail does not qualify for any of that. Nobody is pointing fingers at anyone and I do apologize if I appear to be, but the area actively touts this trail and all that it entails. It encourages all to try it, bag it, be a hero. Telescopes are trained on it, money is made off of it. Cables are provided for safety so somebody realizes that some provision for security is required. Most of the "challangers" are not mountainers in any sense. Nike shorts and gatoraid water bottles are not the equipment that any mountaineers I know use. This is a unique situation and some provision must be made to provide a quick response to a disastrous situation. Either pre-qualify all to ascertain their experience level, make a decision who can or cannot go, and leave it as it is, and lose the cables, (they are not natural you know) or realize that this is what it is- a brass ring for anybody to grab at, An adventure that anyone with a bit of luck can try for, and make an allowance for safety within reason. Education is a first priority but you can't tell some people anything. Anybody who considers this a pure wilderness adventure also thinks the matterhorn at Disneyland is pristine.
mountain man who swims with trout
Posted 06-24-03To those of you who feel the need to criticize the decisions made by those at trail camp on the night of the accident, from somebody who was there:
-It's easy to say what you "would have done" when you were not there. Having all the information, in hindsight, it's much easier for you to make an informed decision than it was for those at trail camp.
-What sense does it make for people who have never been on the mountain before, with no SAR experience, and no night routefinding experience to head out in the cold, dark night and risk becoming victims themselves??
It may be easy for you to say what you would have done if you had been there, but you were not there, and you don't know the experience of the people that were there.
Posted by MtnMark, 06-24-03Lets all cool down until we get enough information to assess the situation and all learn something.
Can we transfer the hotly debated phone/radio thread to another post. Last time I believe it went over 100 posts on that topic with a lot of strong opinions and even insults (its still going if you want to vent there). I think this is a disservice to the topic of someone dying on the mountain we all love to visit. Please stick to the topic of what happened, its more serious than our petty differences. Just the facts, please.
Can we drop the blame game, especially at this early point, it doesn't solve anything. It been my experience that most people are incapable of taking effective control of an emergency situation, for a variety of reasons. That's just the way it is. It an interesting topic but I don't think that is the issue here, and it might be intimidating people from supplying additional information.
My condolences go out to the grieving wife and her family.
Posted by icantiwont, 06-24-03Nec, I agree with you. What sense does it make for people at trail camp to head up and do SAR when they are not experienced? SAR should be left to the experts. There's a reason they train and train. Especially, in the dark. I would hate to see others get hurts due to lack of experience, even if their motives are altruistic.
JPR, I can understand your frustration with people at trail camp, but without accurate info., training, equipment, etc, do you really think novices should mount a SAR? I respectfully disagree with you on this topic.
The fact of the matter is that this was a very tragic event. One can argue radio, slow response, etc. all they want. My heart goes out to the family. I hope this tragdey serves to remind all of us that it only takes one moment of being lax to get into a whole lot of trouble.
Please stop the flaming, it serves no purpose. Be safe everyone.
Posted by JPR, 06-24-03I think many of you have valid points about lack of rescue experience and the hazards of mounting a search at night. However, I have been through this area in all types of conditions and I really don't feel a search would have been all that technical -- for someone with at least a small amount of back country experience. That's what my arguments all boil down to -- people without enough experience going where they shouldn't and getting in trouble because of it. If none of the people at trail camp had the experience to conduct such a search, then they had no business being there.
I don't mean to be insulting to any of you. It's just that I know what happens on this mountain. In fact, I almost lost a friend from hypothermia on my first winter mountaineering trip on Whitney. After that and other experiences I've had, I really have become very safety conscious -- even as I take more and more demanding trips. Some of what I see on this message board also bothers me a great deal -- post like "I bought an ice axe, can I glissade the east face now?" Yeah, an exaggeration, but any of you who do this sort of thing regularly know what I am talking about.
First of all,I fully agree with you regarding the fact that there are a LOT of dumba$$es on whitney who have no business being there. The mountain attracts a great deal of inexperienced persons who definitely have no business being there.
You claim that one is not qualified to go backpacking on whitney unless they have the ability to perform nighttime SAR? ("If none of the people at trail camp had the experience to conduct such a search, then they had no business being there"). Yes the mountain may be familiar to you (having been there several times), but i'm sure that was not the case for several people at trail camp.
I disagree with your assertion that in order to hike mt whitney you must be proficient in nighttime SAR. YOU may indeed possess these skills, but that does not make them requisite for safely enjoying the mountain.
I believe that the people at trail camp did what was possible with the information and experience they possessed. Please do not make this tragedy any worse by blaming others for an unfortunate outcome.
Posted by SponsoredByDuctTape, 06-24-03Check the other "Fatal Accident" thread - it answers a lot of questions.
Posted 06-24-03I have read many assumptions in this forum, a few of which have angered me into writing briefly. JPR, it is insensitive of you to assume nobody did anything at Trail camp. The accident didn't occur at 8pm. It was around 9:30pm to the best of my recollection - maybe closer to 10. 8 of us were camped together about 1/8 mile away from the outhouse and we were apparently the only people to hear Jackie Larkin scream for help.
We responded right away by yelling to her that we were coming. We quickly got 2 packs together with emergency equipment (extra headlamps and batteries, one of our sleeping bags, 2 emergency blankets, those breakable hand/feet warmers, water, a first aid kit, etc.) 2 folks from our camp headed off to Trail camp to get more help. Steve, from our camp, located David and Randy who ascended with him. David turned back to try to get someone with a radio when it became apparent that the emergency was serious. He attempted to make his way down to Whitney Portal, but the trail was too difficult in the dark. No one with phones could get reception.
David recruited a doctor and his son who volunteered to help with the SAR up the mountain. All five of those rescuers/heros were on the mountain until 4:30am. Many of us were below watching the lights of the rescuers and hoping for the safe return of 7 hikers. Some folks boiled water to warm them when they returned. The rescuers on the mountain searched for Robert for a long time in the dark. Jackie had wandered away from him and they were not sure where to look. The conditions were icy. They can hopefully fill you in on more details.
At sunrise, Tim from our camp ran down to the bottom of the mountain to contact a ranger. Later in the morning, some campers who slept through the event packed up Jackie and Robert's gear for them. When the sun came up we could see Robert's body on the mountain through binoculars. He was lying in the snow and did not appear to be alive.
Forgive us for not launching another SAR first thing in the am after our luxurious 2 hour sleep. I cannot speak for others camping there, but we all did our best after summiting earlier in the evening.
My condolences to Jackie Larkin. I feel your pain and sympathize with your terrible loss and the trauma of the long night.
Posted by blaze_whitney, 06-25-03OK lets all get on the highway after a few drinks, drive 110 miles an hour, roll our car, and die. Then our family can blame, the emt's for not driving the ambulance quickly enough, the family in the car just behind them for not knowing CPR, the CHP for not being there to pull us over. The other paople who stop and try to call for help from their cell phones and have no reception. The fact is this was an unfortunate accident. Where is the compassion for the family? I know this doesn't have anything to do with climbing the mountain, however it does show that every once in while, an accident happens and there is no one to blame.
Posted by Richard, 06-25-03Alli - Thank you for posting the details of what happened Saturday night. The early posts left an impression that everyone in Trail Camp just rolled over and went back to sleep resulting in the outpouring of emotional responses. You and your friends are to be commended for your efforts. You saved one life.
Posted by Tom, 06-25-03Firstly, my condolences to Jackie Larkin and Robert's family and friends (I hope I got the names correct). While the rest of us need to tear this accident up and analyze it in the hopes that we can learn from it, in no way does this diminish the bottom line that Robert did not come home from what should have been a fun trip in the mountains.
To the discussions of what happened and what to do or not do about rescue availability, differing abilities on the mountain, and the accidents that always happen up there: does anyone else see this as a sort of parallel to what happens on other higher mountains? Everest in particular comes to mind. I realize Everest is in a much different league from Whitney, but there are a number of parallels: the main route has become a sort of tourist trail, the abilities range from experts down to people who have no business being there, the mountain can turn deadly in an instant, etc.
The point to the parallel for this discussion is to show the lack of learning from mistakes - Everest had the '96 disaster and today, most things are the same up there. Whitney has usually between 1 and 3 deaths a year, and yet they still happen. As the community of people who go up there, we need to take this opportunity to learn from what happened as much as we can and do what is right the next time we go up.
Is some sort of proficiency exam the way out? I don't think so, I believe this would cause more problems than it would solve. Who would decide what things are fair questions to ask, who would translate it into 900 different languages for all the people who go up there, and most importantly, who would pay for all the infrastructure of doing this? Not to mention lawsuits when someone passed the test, but went up and still died.
Is installing safety devices and emergency phones all along the trail the way out? Probably not, many of us like the area (as oft trodden as it is) to remain semi-pristine and these still wouldn't prevent accidents and lawsuits.
Maybe there is some sort of middle ground that can be reached. First of all, it is our responsibility as the people who go up there and members of this board where people come for advice on getting to the top to get the word out - yes it's not very hard and you will really enjoy the accomplishment, but just because someone else made it in January without crampons and ice axe and while wearing sandals and a tutu doesn't mean everyone should try it that way. This mountain can be very dangerous, and deadly if you are not aware and not prepared. You can make it pretty easily if you are a beginner, but listen to the experienced, get the right gear, train, know some basic wilderness and 1st aid skills, then go for it. This should not be something you decide to do next weekend after having spent the past 20 years watching football every week. We need to get the word out to those who ask us that this can be a great experience, but get prepared first!
Second, maybe there is some more that could be done by the government agencies involved - a single emergency phone stuck on the outhouse might be a good idea - with some information about what constitutes an emergency and who will have to pay for actions resulting from non-emergency use (such as a SAR team sent in for someone with a headache). Establishing FRS radio frequencies for emergency monitoring would be helpful. Perhaps sending a gear list, list of specific problems on this mountain, and recommended skills list to those getting permits would help. It can get very sticky doing these types of things though as if someone still dies, the family will have an opening for a lawsuit in this sue-happy country.
Is it possible for us to come up with a list of suggestions for the government agencies to follow that would increase safety on the mountain? (sometimes with this many people of wide-ranging backgrounds, such a thing will end up being 7,000 items long)
Sorry for the length, but I felt this needed to be said.
Posted by ScottHiker, 06-25-03As a side note, I would like to remind all the intermedate to expert hikers/packers that we need people from all walks of life to experience the sierra's (and Whitney is a lightning rod). Remember, that these are the same types of people who undoubtably had a role in creating these National Parks to begin with. I would compare this with the Zoo analogy in that if a child never sees an elephant, how can they hope to have any active empathy for saving the species. You just never know when that novice hiker will some day have a major role in formulating future policy for this range (water issues, funding, wildlife preservation, etc.)
It would be great if all hikers on Whitney had some high altitude experience. The reality is people come from all over the world to take on the Whitney challenge. Those that succeed (or fail) may never climb another 14'er in their life, but they will always remember the beauty and strength of this mountain range.
We need people like this to help preserve these places for our children/grand children.
I just want to thank those involved for the detailed information and sacrifices you have provided regarding this tragic event. We who have worked and known Bob for many years are shocked and in grief from this accident and hope that he is in a better place. He lived life to the fullest and that's what I admired and will remember most about him. My condolences to Jacqui and their family. Let's all learn from this accident and to appreciate and enjoy our lives together with our friends and loved ones.
Posted 06-29-03To all who assisted in the rescue of Jacqui Larkin and Bob, thank you. Bob's friends and co-workers at the Boeing Co. in Huntington Beach are greatly saddened at the news of his death. Bob was the resident adventurer, health advocate, and genuine personality. He lived life large, always off on vacations that were exciting and challenging. I would find it hard to believe that Bob was not an experienced climber, he had experience in everything and loved life. Whatever the circumstances of his death, his friends are comforted by the fact that he was doing something that he loved. We will all miss him.