This 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 ½ 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 ½ 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: ½ 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…