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#48740 - 11/14/16 11:50 AM Re: Fallen Hiker on Monday 10-17-16 [Re: CanadianGirl]
JPowell Offline


Registered: 10/27/16
Posts: 5
Loc: California
All,

I have written the following letter to the managers of the Inyo National Forest.

I invite others, especially those who have lost the trail above Mirror Lake, to join me in this effort.

November 14, 2016

Ed Armenta, Forest Supervisor (earmenta@fs.fed.us)
Paul Fuselier, Acting District Ranger (pfuselier@fs.fed.us)
Inyo National Forest

Dear Mr. Armenta and Mr. Fuselier,
As you already know, my son Michael Powell died in a tragic hiking accident on October 18, 2016.

This accident is disturbingly similar to those of John Likely in June of 2014 and Shyam Das in August of 2012. I've been reading the accounts of experienced Mt. Whitney hikers on the thread discussing Mike's accident at http://www.whitneyzone.com//Fallen_Hiker_on_Monday_10-17-1

From what I've been able to surmise from talking with Mike's hiking companion and reading about that location on the trail, I'm estimating that they lost the trail while descending in the dark (in the area of 36.567484 N; 118267251 W) and, while looking to find the trail, wandered out to the dangerous cliff area above Mirror Lake.

As discussed on the Whitney Zone website, this part of the trail is difficult to navigate on descents, especially in the dark, and has fooled even experienced hikers.

I am writing to ask you to take a look at this part of the trail with an eye toward improving the trail marking of the switchbacks in this area; there needs to be better visual cues (cairns, small signs) to guide hikers to keep them on the trail and away from the cliffs.

I appreciate your attention to this request and I ask to be kept informed of actions taken by the National Forest Service in this matter.

Sincerely,
James C. Powell, Jr.

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#48742 - 11/14/16 08:24 PM Re: Fallen Hiker on Monday 10-17-16 [Re: JPowell]
Steve C Offline


Registered: 09/22/09
Posts: 7740
Loc: Fresno, CA
James, I emailed my contact in Inyo N.F. and was told that SAR members had already added some rocks along the trail there. After John Likely's accident, I started a rock berm (small ridge) there, maybe a foot high. This past summer, I noted it had been diminished a little -- probably by people stumbling over it in the dark.

In your letter, you asked for better visual cues -- cairns, small signs. I disagree. In every situation where someone missed the turn, it was in the dark. Small rock walls won't help in the dark.

There needs to be a major wall of boulders moved into that spot!!!

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#48746 - 11/15/16 06:41 AM Re: Fallen Hiker on Monday 10-17-16 [Re: Steve C]
JPowell Offline


Registered: 10/27/16
Posts: 5
Loc: California
Steve, I can agree with your disagreement. We need to let Inyo NF that some changes need to be made.
Jim

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#48747 - 11/15/16 07:51 AM Re: Fallen Hiker on Monday 10-17-16 [Re: JPowell]
wbtravis Offline


Registered: 09/22/09
Posts: 1253
Loc: Corner of Jack Benny and Roche...
Mr. Powell, this said with no disrespect and with a heavy heart...

This is a Wilderness area under the Wilderness Act of 1964. As such, no structures can be built. This is the most obvious reason nothing is built here. Anyone who has been involved in the solar powered latrine controversy will know this.

Secondly, even if you were to put boulders in place...it has to be done with human power. This means volunteers with hand tools. What you are talking about is beyond this. Again, because this area is covered by the Wilderness Act

Over the past winter, we had 4 people die in the Southern California mountains in the same places they always die in the winter. The Devil's Backbone and Ice House Canyon. Most, off the top of their heads, can't name these names like many can here with this spot. We have the same do something, do anything about this problem cries but in the end the best you can do is limit the problem. This means in this case telling those who do not want to be told to be through this area before dark. As someone who has told many not to go where it unsafe for them go in winter, the response is almost universal. I know what I am doing, as they walk into an avalanche zone.

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#48748 - 11/15/16 08:39 AM Re: Fallen Hiker on Monday 10-17-16 [Re: wbtravis]
Steve C Offline


Registered: 09/22/09
Posts: 7740
Loc: Fresno, CA
wbt, a line of boulders at least knee-high is not prohibited in the wilderness. It is no more obtrusive than boulders moved around to create a switchback on the mountainside.

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#48749 - 11/15/16 10:47 AM Re: Fallen Hiker on Monday 10-17-16 [Re: Steve C]
wbtravis Offline


Registered: 09/22/09
Posts: 1253
Loc: Corner of Jack Benny and Roche...
Again Steve, you need people power, volunteers. Is there a trail building group in the Eastern Sierra? Even if there is, are there boulders that people can move into place without injury. Also, this does not sound like trail building, it sound more like structure building.

We have well publicized deaths here and as we have had on Mt. Baldy and in Ice House Canyon last winter. A week later people are back going through these areas oblivious to what happened or they assessed the danger and still went. You can't change things in the wilderness, all you can do is educate the people to the dangers and let them make the decisions. I have made the decision it is too dangerous to go through that area in the dark after going through in the late afternoon. Just like I have made a decision not to go back to Cucamonga Peak via the trail in the winter for the same reason. I made the decision in the summer when I saw the avalanche chutes. When asked about these area I tell people what I think and why. It's their decision from that point. What I have found people are going to do what they want to do no matter what you advise.

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#48750 - 11/15/16 11:10 AM Re: Fallen Hiker on Monday 10-17-16 [Re: wbtravis]
saltydog Offline


Registered: 02/03/11
Posts: 1565
Loc: Valley Ford CA!!!!
WBT: In this case, it is not a matter of advise. The problem is losing the trail accidentally, not leaving it deliberately. At the point Steve is discussing the route of the trail is deceptive. To correct that is no more intrusive on wilderness values than any other form of trail maintenance. There are signs, borders, buttresses, bridges, all kinds of structures placed by the land managers on under and around trails all over the wilderness. Not an issue.
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#48751 - 11/15/16 01:15 PM Re: Fallen Hiker on Monday 10-17-16 [Re: saltydog]
wbtravis Offline


Registered: 09/22/09
Posts: 1253
Loc: Corner of Jack Benny and Roche...
I have accidentally lost the trail up there more than once. I know the issue. I have not found the route deceptive. I found if you don't pay attention you can lose it, even in the bright shiney morning. At night with less than a good lamp, you are looking for trouble.

We live in the world of the possible. Explain to me how we get boulder delineators up there, please. This is a Wilderness, think volunteers qualified on various hand tools and the materials being there. Is there a there a volunteer trail building group up in the Eastern Sierra? Also, these delineators guarantee nothing.

A couple of people are going to die on the MMWT every year. Just as 2 to 4 people are going to die in the SoCal Mountains this winter. It is just the way it is, sorry if this sounds cold. These are facts. This is a Wilderness and it should be kept as close as it can be to this state.

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#48752 - 11/15/16 07:08 PM Re: Fallen Hiker on Monday 10-17-16 [Re: wbtravis]
Bob West Offline


Registered: 11/13/09
Posts: 828
Loc: Bishop, CA, USA
I agree with you, very much so. Just imagine the Whitney trail looking something like the trail to Vernal Falls, in Yosemite: paved, and perhaps benches every now and then for resting... Groan.

No volunteer trail groups over here. All trail work by the USFS is kept to a minimum: removing rock slides, cutting paths through fallen trees, etc. The biggest project in recent years was the construction of a bypass below Bishop Pass, to avoid a very dangerous rock slide area.

Try to imagine long pack trains laden with heavy equipment rumbling up and down the Whitney trail. And then the protests from people who want those nasty mules and horses banned from the wildness.



Edited by Bob West (11/15/16 07:08 PM)

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#48753 - 11/15/16 10:03 PM Re: Fallen Hiker on Monday 10-17-16 [Re: Bob West]
Sloper Offline


Registered: 09/20/12
Posts: 5
Loc: California
I tend to come down on the side of leaving the wilderness alone as much as possible, but I have to admit I have mixed feelings about that area. It sticks out in my mind as one of the most deceptive bits of trail I have encountered, and the whole Whitney trail tradition is pretty far from being a wilderness situation to begin with, not the same as doing something to the E-ledges on the mountaineers route or whatever (although it is my understanding that some effort was made to keep people from taking a low route on the ledges that people were falling off of).

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#48755 - 11/16/16 06:50 AM Re: Fallen Hiker on Monday 10-17-16 [Re: IncredibleHuck]
RichardK Offline


Registered: 11/06/09
Posts: 96
Loc: East Coast Florida
About 10 years ago, on one of our Whitney dayhikes, we saw a trail maintenance crew working on the upper part of the 97 switchbacks. They were using 6 foot long pry bars to move large rocks. I don't know if they were forest service employees, contractors, or volunteers. We never had any trouble going up that difficult section at night by headlamp. Strangely, coming down in daylight was different. There are spots where you have to look ahead dozens of feet to see where the trail continues. Then, all you see are scuff marks on the granite. Once we were sitting on a large rock by the creek just past Outpost Camp about 3AM drawing water. A group of six hikers came by descending. They had started the day before on the Mountaineer's Route. They complained about how difficult the section above Mirror Lake was. They said they lost the trail several times.

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#48756 - 11/16/16 07:44 AM Re: Fallen Hiker on Monday 10-17-16 [Re: Sloper]
wbtravis Offline


Registered: 09/22/09
Posts: 1253
Loc: Corner of Jack Benny and Roche...
As a hiker, you bear the responsibility to know the dangers of any piece of real estate you hike. Sadly today, we have too many going out without many of the 10 essentials, let alone knowing anything about the area they are hiking through. This is a known problem and should be accounted for before you walk on the trail.

This trail is a part of the John Muir Wilderness, which means it is going to be kept as close to its nature state as possible. This does not include putting a bunch of rock delineators along the trail.

Over the years, we have discussed solar latrines up along the trail and how you need an act of God to get them put back in because this area is covered under the Wilderness Act of 1964. Personally, I have changed my position on this from putting them back in to leaving it as is. If anything changes are made, it should be access.

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#48757 - 11/16/16 07:51 AM Re: Fallen Hiker on Monday 10-17-16 [Re: Sloper]
wbtravis Offline


Registered: 09/22/09
Posts: 1253
Loc: Corner of Jack Benny and Roche...
Originally Posted By: Sloper
I tend to come down on the side of leaving the wilderness alone as much as possible, but I have to admit I have mixed feelings about that area. It sticks out in my mind as one of the most deceptive bits of trail I have encountered, and the whole Whitney trail tradition is pretty far from being a wilderness situation to begin with, not the same as doing something to the E-ledges on the mountaineers route or whatever (although it is my understanding that some effort was made to keep people from taking a low route on the ledges that people were falling off of).


The only solution in this regard is to cherry stem it but that is not going to happen. No California pol would propose it.

Much of what we are seeing today goes along with the new hiking ethos. Let's meet in the parking lot for the first time and go out as individuals, we share a permit but we are not a group. There is safety in numbers as long as the numbers are kept reasonable.

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#48759 - 11/16/16 08:07 AM Re: Fallen Hiker on Monday 10-17-16 [Re: Bob West]
wbtravis Offline


Registered: 09/22/09
Posts: 1253
Loc: Corner of Jack Benny and Roche...
Originally Posted By: Bob West
I agree with you, very much so. Just imagine the Whitney trail looking something like the trail to Vernal Falls, in Yosemite: paved, and perhaps benches every now and then for resting... Groan.

No volunteer trail groups over here. All trail work by the USFS is kept to a minimum: removing rock slides, cutting paths through fallen trees, etc. The biggest project in recent years was the construction of a bypass below Bishop Pass, to avoid a very dangerous rock slide area.

Try to imagine long pack trains laden with heavy equipment rumbling up and down the Whitney trail. And then the protests from people who want those nasty mules and horses banned from the wildness.



The only way things get done in the forest is with volunteers. The FS has no budget for this and will find no budget for this. Almost all the work done in our forests are done by volunteers from the visitors centers to trail crews.

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#48762 - 11/16/16 10:04 AM Re: Fallen Hiker on Monday 10-17-16 [Re: wbtravis]
Snacking Bear Offline


Registered: 08/09/11
Posts: 500
Loc: Nashville, TN
We're not asking the FS to make improvements because it will inexorably affect change. We try and petition because it might improve the situation.

We have some concerned parents who lost a son. If by virtue of petitioning we can affect the FS to make SOME improvements, it might prevent the loss of another life.

In this case it is worth asking the FS to make a change to the trail. It is not harmful to petition and ask. It is not harmful to be heard.

Not petitioning because it might not change anything, best case scenario, is ineffective. Worst case scenario, it is harmfully negligent. This fact is indisputable.

Perhaps our area of dispute may be better spent proffering effective solutions, i.e. building a volunteer force for trail improvement under the auspices of the USFS approval.
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#48764 - 11/16/16 12:45 PM Re: Fallen Hiker on Monday 10-17-16 [Re: Snacking Bear]
wbtravis Offline


Registered: 09/22/09
Posts: 1253
Loc: Corner of Jack Benny and Roche...
Originally Posted By: Snacking Bear
We're not asking the FS to make improvements because it will inexorably affect change. We try and petition because it might improve the situation.

We have some concerned parents who lost a son. If by virtue of petitioning we can affect the FS to make SOME improvements, it might prevent the loss of another life.

In this case it is worth asking the FS to make a change to the trail. It is not harmful to petition and ask. It is not harmful to be heard.

Not petitioning because it might not change anything, best case scenario, is ineffective. Worst case scenario, it is harmfully negligent. This fact is indisputable.

Perhaps our area of dispute may be better spent proffering effective solutions, i.e. building a volunteer force for trail improvement under the auspices of the USFS approval.




I have asked for the better part of two day how this gets done. There are no trail maintenance volunteer groups in the Eastern Sierra. You have to use materials that are there. And there is the question of it being a structure. This is after all a Wilderness...see the Wilderness Act of 1964.

The only thing that has been suggested that can work immediately is hiker education. I know enough not to go through this area after dark. I learned that the first time up. All you need to do run a search deaths on Mt. Whitney and John Likely shows up. Part of the problem here is most coming here are willfully ignorant of the dangers from the moment quota season begins..."Where can I rent clampons and a ice pick?" sound familiar? and continues into October where people have been killed glissading the chute using trekking poles as a break.

There used to be a sign on the patio cover and at the John Muir Wilderness entrance...PEOPLE DIE HERE!!! God, I wish these signs were never taken down.

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#48765 - 11/16/16 01:28 PM Re: Fallen Hiker on Monday 10-17-16 [Re: wbtravis]
JOHN heinz Offline


Registered: 11/16/16
Posts: 6
Loc: Nor Cal
Everybody let me just end this topic now. The wilderness is the wilderness, you cannot protect those who go out there unprepared, with no experience and very poor judgement. I just learned that another hiker died on Whitney late last night. The female was unprepared. Like someone mentioned above, hikers should research areas and know what they are getting themselves into before a tragedy occurs. You can build all the walls and signs you want but hikers will still climb even with bad weather or no gear or knowledge to hunker down. I'm sorry for those who want more safety out there, the number one safety tool is your HEAD...

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#48766 - 11/16/16 01:31 PM Re: Fallen Hiker on Monday 10-17-16 [Re: JOHN heinz]
JOHN heinz Offline


Registered: 11/16/16
Posts: 6
Loc: Nor Cal
Snacking Bear, the person who perished last night did not have an ice axe, helmet or crampons. Do you see the severity of this up the mountaineers route??? Any changes to the trail cannot avoid this stuff.

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#48768 - 11/16/16 01:42 PM Re: Fallen Hiker on Monday 10-17-16 [Re: JOHN heinz]
Steve C Offline


Registered: 09/22/09
Posts: 7740
Loc: Fresno, CA
Originally Posted By: JOHN heinz
I just learned that another hiker died on Whitney late last night.

JH, is there a report somewhere of this?

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#48769 - 11/16/16 01:43 PM Re: Fallen Hiker on Monday 10-17-16 [Re: JOHN heinz]
Snacking Bear Offline


Registered: 08/09/11
Posts: 500
Loc: Nashville, TN
Yes. Not every issue is an issue of hiker experience. The experienced die all the time

In the case of Mirror Lake switchbacks, some trail improvement can help. It won't solve it, but it can help. To argue that trail improvement won't help at all, is untrue. Ergo, worth petitioning.

Nothing helps like experience, but even experience falls to tragic mistakes, and even bad timing.
_________________________
@jjoshuagregory (Twitter & Instagram) for landscape and mountain photo spamming...

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