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#37738 - 06/21/14 12:12 PM Musings on Searches and Trails
Ken Offline


Registered: 10/29/09
Posts: 742
Loc: Los Angeles
I'm doing this as a separate thread from the current discussion about the Whitney SAR, as I don't want these comments mixed with those that might be read by any relatives.

There were a number of things that really bothered me related to it, though.

One, it was clear that where he fell was the most likely place, by far, for him to have had an accident, and the most likely place to look, and it took 5 days to actually look at the area and find him. I mean, we are actually posting pictures of the area!

I imagine part of that is due to the focus on "rescue" as opposed to "recovery". If you are hoping to rescue someone, you won't be looking at the bottom of cliffs, because that is not survivable---until you have looked in all the places where survival is a possibility (unless you have unlimited resources, and you never do). I find it hard to fault that sort of mindset.

So, I suppose it is better to look down at Crabtree area before looking at the bottom of cliffs.

Two, known problem areas not clarified for safety. It is certainly known that there are certain areas that are a problem. It is certainly known that these areas are descended in the dark. It is certainly known that people do this when they are exhausted. It is certainly known that people are doing this when their judgement is clouded due to lack of oxygen.

What would a reasonable person expect to happen? I would expect there will be occasional accidents, including fatalities. Maybe I'm not reasonable?

It seems that in this setting, placement of what the USFS calls "reassurance markers" to clearly mark the trail location when it might be lost in dangerous terrain is reasonable. You don't have to use signs, you don't even have to line the trail. Just some marking with a few rocks in the most troublesome places would greatly reduce risk. This ridge above Mirror Lake, with the trail drawn in, shows a number of places that look to be trouble.

The USFS would counter that their job does not consist of removing hazards in wilderness, that no matter what they mark, or move, or remove, there is an endless list of things that could be "improved" or "mitigated", or "made safer". If they block one chute, and someone falls down another, they've only increased liability, because they were not "complete" in removing hazards. So their policy tends to be that there are no hazards in wilderness, there is only "natural", and left to itself, nature creates situations that can be dangerous to the unwary or unprepared.

I don't quite buy that in a situation like Whitney, which is an "attractive nuisance" like a swimming pool. 20,000/year is not a wilderness experience, so they've already thrown that concept out. They say that you don't have to manage wilderness, it does fine by itself.....you have to manage *people* who traverse that wilderness.

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#37739 - 06/21/14 02:46 PM Re: Musings on Searches and Trails [Re: Ken]
wagga Offline


Registered: 10/07/09
Posts: 2183
Loc: (3 ˙dod) ɥɔ;...
Bravo!

What would be the consequences of a volunteer working party placing some "Reassurance Markers"? Especially if the individuals all frequented some Internet forum.
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#37740 - 06/21/14 03:11 PM Re: Musings on Searches and Trails [Re: wagga]
Marle Offline


Registered: 06/19/14
Posts: 7
Loc: Tahoe
I generally hike Yosemite or Tahoe. For Yosemite, especially, the volunteer placed "ducks" on long granite traverses are essential. I've spent lots of time wandering around on endless granite slabs in the hot sun, and occasionally in the dark looking for the next part of the trail. Even on these named and maintained trails, getting lost is always possible.

As the area where this occurred is notorious for misdirection, I can't see how a series of ducks would not be helpful and potentially life-saving. Not signs or permanent structures that would violate the wilderness rules, just a series of small rock cairns at really critical points.

We don't yet know details of this tragedy, but reading previous trip reports on the Trip Report forum documents that this area is particularly problematic, moreso than the cables.


Edited by Marle (06/21/14 03:36 PM)

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#37742 - 06/21/14 04:44 PM Re: Musings on Searches and Trails [Re: Ken]
Bulldog34 Offline


Registered: 11/12/09
Posts: 1247
Loc: Atlanta
Ken, I agree wholeheartedly with everything you wrote, and I do understand the difficult nature of trying to add any man-made improvement in the USFS's domain. The interminable wag bag vs solar toilet debate is an excellent example of the uphill battle here. Signage on the MWMT is, as best I can recall, currently limited to designations, trail junctions, and regulatory postings. What jumps out at me, though, is the cables themselves. This is an artificial device installed to promote safe passage in an area recognized for its dangerous conditions.

I don't know the history of the cables construction, and I'm certainly not equating the dangers of that area with the Mirror Lake slabs, but it brings to mind the concept of precedence in safety management on the trail. It's a known trouble spot and a reactive effort was made to improve safety by installing them. We've now had two consecutive years when hikers have (apparently) gone over the edge at the ML slabs, resulting in a serious injury and a fatality. A possible third event in the past few years is tickling the back of my mind, but I can't put details to it - maybe someone else can. It makes me wonder at what level of incidence it becomes reasonable - possibly incumbent on the FS - to do something to prevent more accidents from occurring in the area.




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#37743 - 06/21/14 05:10 PM Re: Musings on Searches and Trails [Re: Ken]
Bee Offline


Registered: 09/22/09
Posts: 1261
Loc: Northern California
Originally Posted By: Ken
I'm doing this as a separate thread from the current discussion about the Whitney SAR, as I don't want these comments mixed with those that might be read by any relatives.


Thank you very much for doing this, Ken.

The relatives always read the forums.
_________________________
The body betrays and the weather conspires, hopefully, not on the same day.

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#37744 - 06/21/14 06:08 PM Re: Musings on Searches and Trails [Re: Ken]
Marle Offline


Registered: 06/19/14
Posts: 7
Loc: Tahoe
Yes. Thank you Ken for this.

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#37746 - 06/21/14 06:36 PM Re: Musings on Searches and Trails [Re: Marle]
Harvey Lankford Offline


Registered: 11/10/09
Posts: 931
Loc: Richmond, Virginia
On the AT, there are white paint marks intermittently on trees, and at tight turns, or other areas of misinterpretation, there are two white marks on trees to alert one to an upcoming place to think before going ahead. On other routes, there are white or blue marks on rocks to do the same. Examples in VA include Old Rag, and Dragons Tooth.

To do this all along the Whitney Trail.... helpful?....eyesore?.... subject to defilement?.... maintenance?...liability? ....subject to interpretation? ....etc

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#37750 - 06/21/14 08:06 PM Re: Musings on Searches and Trails [Re: Harvey Lankford]
KevinR Offline


Registered: 11/03/09
Posts: 578
Loc: Manchester, NH
I've been on the MWT scores of times over the years, and was there again on June 9th. What I have noticed over the past few years or so is an increased number of rocks being placed, sometimes on both sides of the trail, to help define a hiking corridor. This additional marking includes the rock slabs above Mirror Lake.

Would painting a few blue dots on the slabs at strategic points as navigational aids, especially at night, help prevent such tragic incidents? If so, should they also be placed in other dangerous spots, such as the windows?

What I do know is that marking of trails varies enormously around the country, and that good ideas seldom seem replicated. For example - a friend and I did Shasta last week via AV Gulch, and was reminded of what great signage is used between Bunny Flats and Horse Camp. The signs are made of thick steel with laser cut lettering, welded to a sturdy steel post sunk into the ground. IIRC, they've been there at least 10 years - they'll never rot and seem imprevious to vandalism. I've seen other examples of steel signs, such as used by the USPS, but nothing close to these.

Why doesn't the USFS, USPS and BLM employ a best practices approach to something as basic as signage? And shouldn't that be extended to cairns/ducks, and all other methods of marking trails? I mean if 50 states can use nearly identical methods/practices of road markings, why can't we have something similar on trails?

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#37752 - 06/21/14 08:20 PM Re: Musings on Searches and Trails [Re: Harvey Lankford]
wagga Offline


Registered: 10/07/09
Posts: 2183
Loc: (3 ˙dod) ɥɔ;...
Below the tree line, it has been long accepted that switchback cuts, false trails and dangerous places are blocked with a log or branch. Natural material, and if artfully done, keeps hikers on the trail almost subliminally.
_________________________
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#37753 - 06/21/14 08:42 PM Re: Musings on Searches and Trails [Re: wagga]
tollermom Offline


Registered: 04/18/14
Posts: 23
Loc: Carson City, NV
I've looked over the satellite pictures with trail diagrams posted earlier of the area and tried my best to look at google earth. Can someone post the UTM coordinate of the approximate place on the slabs where one needs to head left (away from danger) and onto the trail again? I could plug that waypoint into my GPS.

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#37754 - 06/21/14 09:04 PM Re: Musings on Searches and Trails [Re: tollermom]
63ChevyII.com Offline


Registered: 08/07/12
Posts: 670
Loc: Colton, California
Originally Posted By: tollermom
Can someone post the UTM coordinate of the approximate place on the slabs where one needs to head left (away from danger) and onto the trail again?

I don't know what the coordinates are, but I could send you a gpx file for the area.

Without a GPX file or coordinates though, I'll think you'll be fine. It sounds like you are careful and you know that there is a problem here. Instead of looking at a GPS unit, you may be better off keeping your head up and being aware of your surroundings. Take your time as you pass through this area. If possible plan your descent in the daylight, or at least be below Mirror Lake by sundown.


Originally Posted By: KevinR
The signs are made of thick steel with laser cut lettering, welded to a sturdy steel post sunk into the ground.


Are they like these signs?


It would helpful to know where the accident happened, as well as where the accident from two years ago happened. Since they are saying that the body was found down a steep chute, I wonder if he fell before the 'turn left' area. Google Earth distorts things a bit, but it seems that there are a couple of really steep chutes further up the trail. A couple of weeks ago, I vaguely remember getting off trail a bit on our descent, looking off a ledge to my left and thinking, 'We're not supposed to be here' then heading to our right until we found the trail.

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#37765 - 06/22/14 07:24 AM Re: Musings on Searches and Trails [Re: 63ChevyII.com]
KevinR Offline


Registered: 11/03/09
Posts: 578
Loc: Manchester, NH
63ChevyII - Yes, very similar. Glad to see them used elsewhere.

And the chutes you've shaded in maroon - the middle chute is sometimes used as a glissade chute in early spring.

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#37768 - 06/22/14 09:46 AM Re: Musings on Searches and Trails [Re: Ken]
wbtravis Offline


Registered: 09/22/09
Posts: 1239
Loc: Corner of Jack Benny and Roche...
Let's take a look at this point by point...

The search...It was apparent to most here after a few days this was recovery, not a rescue but people to don't like to say that on public forums. My guess is the search teams felt the same way. Also, the area in question is pretty damn big and there was a reason so many search teams were called out, only a few from each team came. They searched this area extensively according to someone I talked to who was involved.

Most likely place...I disagree with Ken's assessment. I view the area between Consultation Lake and Trailside Meadow that is highly exposed as the most likely place and I'm sure others have their areas that they view as most likely.

Known problem areas...how much of a problem are they. Most take a few steps off the trail and figure it out pretty quickly. The problem here is the problem as it has always been...ignorance. Should we put up a fence on the north side of Mt. Baldy because Michelle Yu walked off it a few Decembers ago? Many people who go up this trail with knowledgeable friends refuse to take the time to learn what it is all about...that is for someone else, not me. When they are 2 miles away from their knowledgeable friends and thing go sideways they do not have a clue what do next. This cannot be cured with rocks strategically placed.

Once they had signs, "People Die Here" on the patio cover and the John Muir Wilderness entrance. They are gone, in my mind, because they are not Chamber of Commerce friendly. You can put all the signs and barriers you want...just like verbal warnings, and still stupid people are going to do stupid things.

The sad thing is this will not be the last death here this season, it is just the first.

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#37770 - 06/22/14 10:30 AM Re: Musings on Searches and Trails [Re: wbtravis]
Ken Offline


Registered: 10/29/09
Posts: 742
Loc: Los Angeles
"Most likely place...I disagree with Ken's assessment. I view the area between Consultation Lake and Trailside Meadow that is highly exposed as the most likely place and I'm sure others have their areas that they view as most likely."

You may not have understood my perspective: The area where he was found was clearly and convincingly selected by the members of this forum as the most likely place, complete with multiple pictures, and recitation by many of their difficulties in the area. I saw neither of the two with your choice, and would advocate that your one vote does not outvote everyone else.

"You can put all the signs and barriers you want...just like verbal warnings, and still stupid people are going to do stupid things."

I am not sure that you can reasonably argue that the hiker in the recent incident did anything stupid. You certainly cannot argue that he was inexperienced.

In my mind, we have a situation with a hard-to-follow trail section, especially in the dark. This is a solvable problem, that is easy to do, costs virtually nothing, and fits within the legal things that can be done.

I guess your point of view includes not changing the signs below Trail Crest. "You can put all the signs and barriers you want....." But fixing that seems to have gone a long way towards solving that recurrent problem. We'll know better by the end of the season.

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#37774 - 06/22/14 10:56 AM Re: Musings on Searches and Trails [Re: wbtravis]
Bee Offline


Registered: 09/22/09
Posts: 1261
Loc: Northern California
*Yes, yes there are the "stupid people" out there that confound the situation/solution.

Interesting note about the subjectivity of what is considered a "stupid person".

Let's review:

The Solo Hiker: Stupidist of all!

Winter Hiking: A death wish!

The Mountain Climber (let's include Mountaineers for good measure): With or without a rope - STUPID!

The Explorer: She left the group for a moment? Deserves what she gets!

Hiking after age 70: (this one's for the Bobs, Ernie, Mike, & me, someday)

Volunteering for the military in a state of war: (Just threw that one in there for my mother)

....and all the other stupid things that involve planning, clothing choices, navigation deficiencies, weather, etc that we all can really agree on, that indeed, ARE stupid.

So we got that out of our system (feel free to refer back to this post when the urge hits you) We can now focus on practical solutions for common problems, as this semi-stupid individual could surely appreciate any help.

*Warning: bad mood due to reading comments at the end of the Karen Sykes article
_________________________
The body betrays and the weather conspires, hopefully, not on the same day.

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#37776 - 06/22/14 11:56 AM Re: Musings on Searches and Trails [Re: Ken]
saltydog Offline


Registered: 02/03/11
Posts: 1479
Loc: Valley Ford CA!!!!
I too agree with Ken's conclusions on better trail marking. But why so much discussion to get there? They are simple and obvious.

I also have to take exception to the premises that got Ken to these simple conclusions. First, that the family would not be reading this thread. Anyone reading this forum interested in the SAR process for any reason should be presumed to be reading this just as much as the other.

More importantly, I think the implication that the SAR was not looking in the right places is grossly unfair and unfounded. Just because we think a particular area was the highest probability does not mean that any other possible area should not also be covered. There is not the least evidence for Ken's presumption that "it took 5 days to actually look at the area".

The family can be assured that massive and highly competent resources were devoted to this effort: an Army Chinook for criyin' out loud, Sheriff, CHP and SEKI choppers, upwards of 70 people on the ground. And, sorry, but the idea that this being a rescue rather than recovery lead to overlooking the eventual location is just silly and shows a complete lack of appreciation or understanding of the effort that these teams made. ISO never said he was found at the bottom of a cliff, and the speculation to that effect is baseless. The SO release clearly said "in a steep chute", which implies to me a well-hidden spot that could quite reasonably take 5 days to locate given the amount and character of terrain that needed to be covered.


It comes down to very simple and obvious solutions: better trail marking in that area and more education on the importance of groups staying together especially descending late in the day. I don't think that the overwrought discussion at the top of this thread or second-guessing the magnificent SAR effort here contributes to that in the least.
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#37777 - 06/22/14 12:23 PM Re: Musings on Searches and Trails [Re: saltydog]
Harvey Lankford Offline


Registered: 11/10/09
Posts: 931
Loc: Richmond, Virginia
Originally Posted By: saltydog

It comes down to very simple and obvious solutions: better trail marking in that area and more education on the importance of groups staying together especially descending late in the day. I don't think that the overwrought discussion at the top of this thread or second-guessing the magnificent SAR effort here contributes to that in the least.

We do not stop driving because 50,000 people die on the highway every year. All we do is, similarly, signs and education. All we can do is try.

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#37781 - 06/22/14 02:11 PM Re: Musings on Searches and Trails [Re: saltydog]
Ken Offline


Registered: 10/29/09
Posts: 742
Loc: Los Angeles
"More importantly, I think the implication that the SAR was not looking in the right places is grossly unfair and unfounded. Just because we think a particular area was the highest probability does not mean that any other possible area should not also be covered. There is not the least evidence for Ken's presumption that "it took 5 days to actually look at the area"."

So now you are saying that they actually knew where the body was, and were looking at it for 5 days? I mean, they actually looked at it and found the body, or they did not look at it, or did so in a cursory way, and missed the body?

I suppose, given unlimited resources (50 helicopters and 1,000 searchers, the FIRST day), there is no reason to prioritize a search. But I don't think you generally have that.

So you HAVE to prioritize.

It seems that I was criticizing SAR for not looking in the right places, but you have to keep in mind that the whole thing started off with the best information being that he was within a 2-1/2 mile segment....and that was where he was, indeed, found.

So, obviously, they did not thoroughly search the 2-1/2 miles, at least the part where he was found. How could that be? Would you, the reader, send some of your people down the Mountaineers Route? Crabtree? Other side of Wotan's Throne? Hitchcock area? Lone Pine? The recreation trail below Whitney Portal? Or would you send them to do a foot-by-foot examination of the 2-1/2 miles?

The answer, of course, is that they were maximizing the possibilities of SURVIVAL. You first send your people to where a LIVING hiker could be, perhaps severely injured, so that you could SAVE HIS LIFE. If he is dead, he will still be dead in 5 days. I speak with some authority on that. wink

I don't know if the family will read this thread, and I tried to keep my comments rather general. Perhaps it would have been better to wait a month, or year, or five. What I chose was so that any lessons to be learned could be learned for THIS season.

I am much more bothered by this death, than I might be by a 20 y/o hiker who tripped on their high heels. He was 61, I am 60. He has a lot of climbs of Whitney, so do I. He has a long experience hiking and backpacking, so do I. I have descended the front side of Whitney with two long-time companions, and we strung out widely because of longstanding differences in hiking speeds, and we have been comfortable doing that. I wouldn't do that with newbies, though. In other words, it could have been me.

One attempt I made was with a friend and I who were doing an early spring climb, intending to meet another friend at TC. Well, it snowed like hell, and we never met up with that third person. We looked out for him on the descent, and to do that we split up in the storm so as to cover "shortcuts", but never saw him. The two of us regrouped at the Portal. His truck was at the Portal, and I left a note on the windshield. I never worried that Bob Rockwell would not be able to find his way down.

I would never think twice about doing a solo summer ascent of Whitney. The concept that it is an unacceptable risk to experienced hikers seems bizarre to me.

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#37787 - 06/22/14 03:55 PM Re: Musings on Searches and Trails [Re: Bee]
Bulldog34 Offline


Registered: 11/12/09
Posts: 1247
Loc: Atlanta
Originally Posted By: Bee
The Solo Hiker: Stupidist of all!


Guilty as charged. Several thousand trail miles logged, and probably 70% solo. A couple of broken toes was the worst outcome of all that solo hiking, and having people with me wouldn't have changed that one bit. I still had to walk out with broken toes. I once descended Whitney solo with the only case of AMS I've ever experienced, but I knew I was suffering from altitude illness, knew I had to walk myself out, and took it slow and steady. I like to think I've been generally incident-free over the years because I constantly pay attention to my surroundings, utilize my experience, and exercise common sense.

However, regardless of experience and caution, stuff happens. I can think offhand of two instances I've seen with uber-experienced mountaineers taking tumbles that left me shaking my head. One was due to a trekking pole collapsing at the worst possible time, and the other was a freak situation where the looped laces of one boot got tangled in a lacing hook of the other. Neither of these could have been predicted or prevented. No real damage done in either incident, but both could have been deadly if they had occurred in just slightly different circumstances. Could happen to any of us, of any skill level.

The solo hiker is always easy fodder if something goes wrong, but often it would not have made a whit of difference if others were with that hiker. Of course AMS is a big exception, as is noob status or injury - any of these in a group should never be left to fend for themselves, especially on descent. And children, obviously. I saw a case on Whitney a couple of years ago where a 13 YO boy had completely given out on the switchbacks - possibly with AMS complications - and the parents continued to push for the summit. They asked a descending group they had just met to escort their son back to their camp at Trail Camp. Parents of the Year candidates . . .

And yes, Bee, I know you were bee-ing facetious!

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#37789 - 06/22/14 04:50 PM Re: Musings on Searches and Trails [Re: Ken]
saltydog Offline


Registered: 02/03/11
Posts: 1479
Loc: Valley Ford CA!!!!
"So now you are saying that they actually knew where the body was, and were looking at it for 5 days? I mean, they actually looked at it and found the body, or they did not look at it, or did so in a cursory way, and missed the body?"

Seriously? Those are the only possibilities?

None of the above. In fact I am puzzled by where any of those inferences come from. They are all silly. Ken is missing the obvious alternative; they looked at it in a very competent, responsible way, but didn't see it in the first few passes because it was hidden in a very steep chute.

What I am saying is that the presumption that SAR didn't even look at the area for five days is absurd: it assumes that any cursory look would have been successful. Mr. Likely was found "in an extremely steep chute", not "at the bottom of a cliff" and so could have been (and I think obviously was) missed despite a highly competent look directly at this area. As these things go, the granularity of the search increases over time , precisely because of prioritizing: you look not only at the higher probability areas, but the higher probability locations within those areas.Yes he was in the high probability area, but at very obscured, low probability point.

The other inference that puzzles me is: "I would never think twice about doing a solo summer ascent of Whitney. The concept that it is an unacceptable risk to experienced hikers seems bizarre to me." Where does THAT come from? I don't see any such concept in anything anyone has written on this forum.

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