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#53080 - 05/10/18 11:45 AM Ice Axes and Crampons
Bob West Offline


Registered: 11/13/09
Posts: 825
Loc: Bishop, CA, USA
Sad that another climber has been killed on the MR. Not the first and most likely not the last.

Everyone climbing mountains in snow and/or icing conditions needs to be well practiced in the use of ice axe and crampons. If someone is using rental equipment, that is always a sign to me, as a former mountain rescue troop, that they are not at all familiar with or practiced in the use of that equipment. It is far better and safer to get expert instruction, then buy your own gear, and practice, practice, practice. You can't learn the proper and safe techniques by watching it on YOUTUBE.

Even experts have been killed in conditions similar to the present state of the MR. A number of years ago a June Lake SAR team member was killed in a fall in the same area as the recent accident, and in similar circumstances: tired during the descent on steep snow and ice.

Unfortunately, Mt. Whitney is so popular, being one of the big "bucket list" items, that many people are trying to climb it without proper equipment and training. It keeps our local SAR teams busy, but we're not at all happy about that.

Several times in this forum people have been encouraged to rent ice axes and crampons without knowing anything of the presence or absence of the skills of other posters. Posters here need to stop that kind of advice: SHAME ON YOU.




Edited by Bob West (05/10/18 11:46 AM)

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#53134 - 05/15/18 08:20 AM Re: Ice Axes and Crampons [Re: Bob West]
Steve C Offline


Registered: 09/22/09
Posts: 7481
Loc: Fresno, CA
Bob, I note your concern, and hope everyone will read what you have written. For people going up the main trail, I feel that first timers with crampons and ice axe might be able to learn and practice their skills on the snow along the way.

On the other hand, the Mountaineers Route requires much more skill, both in route-finding as well as snow and ice climbing skills. I never hesitate to warn people talking about going up the MR who sound inexperienced. It annoys me that Inyo N.F. refers to the MR approach as the North Fork Lone Pine Creek Trail

It is coming to light that the recent fall and death on the ice on the traverse just west of "the notch" on the Mountaineers Route was due to the hiker's taking the wrong route down. He intended on going down the main trail, but apparently followed the tracks down the north side. He needed to head down to Consultation Lake where his overnight gear was waiting.

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#53148 - 05/16/18 07:52 AM Re: Ice Axes and Crampons [Re: Steve C]
Bob West Offline


Registered: 11/13/09
Posts: 825
Loc: Bishop, CA, USA
Steve,

Practicing with ice axe and crampons along the way to the MR is not sufficient. People need to take a class in basic mountaineering with a good climbing school and then practice. But having said that, people will do whatever they "think" keeps them safe.

With Inyo SAR, every year we "re-qualified" and practiced our winter mountaineering skills, because MOUNTAINEERING IS DANGEROUS.

May I suggest that on your welcome page you also include a "what to bring" and "What to expect" page, with a special emphasis on safety - especially on the MR. There is plenty of information in this forum, but not in one place, so that people keep asking the same questions over and over.

Far too many people are trying to bag Whitney without sufficient knowledge and experience. It is sometime resembles a crowd of lemmings rushing to the sea.

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#53158 - 05/17/18 06:42 AM Re: Ice Axes and Crampons [Re: Bob West]
SierraNevada Offline


Registered: 09/05/11
Posts: 1128
Loc: NorCal
Bob's idea of a dedicated "sticky thread" for safety seems good to me, too. I suggest it be focused more broadly since this hazard applies to all routes - having the proper equipment, knowledge, and experience to travel safely on steep snow/ice slopes. I don't know for sure, but I suspect the trail crest chute has more fall accidents due to greater numbers of unprepared inexperienced people on that route.

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#53159 - 05/17/18 07:05 AM Re: Ice Axes and Crampons [Re: Bob West]
Hobbes Offline


Registered: 03/28/14
Posts: 124
Loc: The OC
Originally Posted By: Bob West
People need to take a class in basic mountaineering with a good climbing school and then practice.


Bob, I know your heart is in the right place, but some windmills just need to be avoided being tilted at. Human nature dictates that beyond cursory information, skills/safety advocacy isn't going to be effective. Therefore, spending mental energy only makes you aggravated; no one else is effected.

Two examples of what happens when you attempt even the gentlest suggestions:

1. The two MR climbers who came up the final 400 and descended the 'walk-off' - thereby discovering the body - did so because they didn't bring ropes, harness, carabiners, etc to belay. How do I know? Because I spoke to them about the dangers of the walk-off in wet/icy/slippery conditions. (When I first heard the news days later, I thought it was one of them.) But they really didn't have any choice - they knew they couldn't risk descending the final 400 with the gear (ice axe, helment, boots & crampons) they brought.

When I repeated that the route they were taking was dangerous, and suggested the MMWT (they were day hikers) they replied that they saw boot tracks, so concluded that someone had made it and they could follow those. Of course, the tracks they saw (this was all within 10-15 minutes of the victim leaving and they arriving) were probably his. At that point, any further discussion was futile, because I would simply be viewed as a nag - perhaps I already was.

2. Practically every single person who reached the summit via the MWWT did so with their ice axes improperly stowed. (You didn't need an axe for the last 1/2 mile, so I assume everyone put them away.) Rather than pick side down on the outside of the pack (adze facing out/pick facing in), they all had them stored pick side up, with maybe half with axes on the side of the pack and picks directly facing their exposed necks.

One kid was actually attentive and excited to see his day pack actually had a axe loop AND a built in clip. Once he re-adjusted his axe, I mentioned he was now in charge of "being a dick". He took his new job under tow, and the first person he suggested changing immediately shut him down - stating he was fine. I had a laugh at my new acolyte with a "I told you so" smile. This is what he later wrote on FB, and some of my comments @ HST:

We met Lauren and Jordan on the summit and had some fun teaching them about how to carry their ice axes without getting hurt. Jordan posted on FB, " I’ll be sure to spread the ice axe knowledge far and wide!"

---

It's great to pass the mantle of "I'm not being a dick" to Jordan. Once seen, it cannot be unseen. An ice pick pointed at C7 to execute some kind of Spock like death blow upon the slightest stumble condemns one to constant mothering.

Still, the goofball who insisted on having his axe hoisted in the carabiner loop for a "quick draw" will forever elicit derision whenever the story is told.

http://www.highsierratopix.com/community/viewtopic.php?f=1&t=18106

People who want to learn will do so; those who don't, won't.



Edited by Hobbes (05/17/18 07:24 AM)

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#53160 - 05/17/18 09:49 AM Re: Ice Axes and Crampons [Re: Hobbes]
bobpickering Offline


Registered: 02/07/10
Posts: 342
Loc: Reno, Nevada
Half our society believes that “experts” are stupid elitists who don’t know what they are talking about. It’s much easier to believe whatever you want to believe than learn about a subject. No wonder so many people think you are “being a dick” if you point out their unsafe practices.

On the other hand, many people simply have no idea how much there is to know. If you strike up a conversation, it usually doesn’t take long before they want to learn everything you know.

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#53161 - 05/18/18 06:12 AM Re: Ice Axes and Crampons [Re: Hobbes]
SierraNevada Offline


Registered: 09/05/11
Posts: 1128
Loc: NorCal
Hobbes, your points are all well taken, especially on the actual climb where people tend to resent advice from strangers. I've been offered really bad advice in the wilderness, with strong conviction, so it goes both ways. At least the advice gets peer reviewed here on the Whitney Zone. Your example is perfect actually - the kid you educated really wanted to learn and he appreciated what you taught. Most people don't want advice, some just want to argue about things, but the information is valuable for some out there. And there's another group that will quietly learn but never acknowledge they read it on the internet.

Education is about creating the conditions for learning and providing the information in a non-threatening manner, but in the end, its up to people to teach themselves.

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#53162 - 05/18/18 06:13 AM Re: Ice Axes and Crampons [Re: bobpickering]
SierraNevada Offline


Registered: 09/05/11
Posts: 1128
Loc: NorCal
Originally Posted By: bobpickering
Half our society believes that “experts” are stupid elitists who don’t know what they are talking about. It’s much easier to believe whatever you want to believe than learn about a subject. No wonder so many people think you are “being a dick” if you point out their unsafe practices.

On the other hand, many people simply have no idea how much there is to know. If you strike up a conversation, it usually doesn’t take long before they want to learn everything you know.

Looking for the LIKE button.

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#53164 - 05/18/18 07:59 AM Re: Ice Axes and Crampons [Re: SierraNevada]
Bob West Offline


Registered: 11/13/09
Posts: 825
Loc: Bishop, CA, USA
You and Hobbes are correct in that folks either don't trust or perhaps resent advice from strangers, even if those offering advice are former SAR team members. Active SAR people would probably offer the same advice regarding safety, and even they might be ignored; I have had that experience in years past.

People are going to do whatever they want in the mountains unless they are physically or legally prevented from doing so. Even if permit applicants were verbally questioned by the USFS regarding their experience, they can still fudge the facts or refuse to answer. Even requiring applicants to sign a document indicating their experience might be beyond what even the nanny state would consider. The former USSR had strict regulations regarding who could do mountaineering in their countries, but I for one would not want to see this country go in that direction.

I don't know what the answer is, if there is one. In the meantime SAR members continue to risk their lives climbing and going on helicopter missions to retrieve the living and the dead from our mountains...and do it without complaint or reward.



Edited by Bob West (05/18/18 08:09 AM)

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#53165 - 05/18/18 09:44 AM Re: Ice Axes and Crampons [Re: Bob West]
Hobbes Offline


Registered: 03/28/14
Posts: 124
Loc: The OC
Originally Posted By: Bob West
I don't know what the answer is.


Perhaps the answer is to terminate volunteer SAR efforts. The FS could charge $50 for a Mt Whitney permit, with the proceeds going into a common pool to finance/subsidize LEO/ranger/EMT staff.

If that were to occur, then there would no longer be any point of comment. Police & EMT may privately express disgust cleaning up after traffic accidents, but when it's paid compensation, it just becomes "their job".

Sh!t goes down every single day on our roads. It's why we must exercise alert 'defensive driving'. Sometimes arguments aka road rage ensues, but in general, most people try to avoid dangerous driving. For instance, when was the last time you said something to a motorcyclist lane splitting in a dangerous situation? "Young man, you're weaving & riding really fast and taking crazy chances" said no one ever.

Perhaps the same would be true of back country activities; don't say anything, just try to get away so that you're not involved. Let LEO/EMT clean up the mess if anything happens.

To conclude, we should all note that at a 2% annual growth rate, population levels double in 35 years. That means California's population will be 80m, while the US will be 600m. If you think Whitney is a popular bucket list item now, if will only continue to experience more pressure each and every year, with a commensurate increase in accidents.

Perhaps at some point, SAR itself will throw in the towel and admit it's too overwhelming to deal with on a voluntary basis.

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#53166 - 05/18/18 11:52 AM Re: Ice Axes and Crampons [Re: Hobbes]
Steve C Offline


Registered: 09/22/09
Posts: 7481
Loc: Fresno, CA
Meanwhile, none of this will ever prevent people like Eric J from going down the wrong side of the mountain and falling.

Even people who should know can get lost.

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#53167 - 05/18/18 03:04 PM Re: Ice Axes and Crampons [Re: Hobbes]
Bob West Offline


Registered: 11/13/09
Posts: 825
Loc: Bishop, CA, USA
The local Sheriff in any county is responsible for rescues and cannot legally abandon that. Not all SAR teams are volunteers, some are paid professionals. As long as there are good people willing to volunteer, SAR will continue it's work. Have you ever considered becoming a SAR volunteer?

Your fee plan might have some effect if it was a very large fee; $50 is way too little. There was a time when every Eastern Sierra trail had a wilderness ranger doing daily patrols, but budget constraints have killed that.

How about closing down access to Mt. Whitney and post a gate-keeper at the trailhead? Yikes! Oh, I can hear the screams of protest.

Here's a really radical idea. Refuse permits to anyone not possessing a certificate that they have received current survival/mountaineering/etc. training from a legitimate outfit. That at least might cut down on the number of people going to Whitney without the necessary training and skill sets.







Edited by Bob West (05/18/18 03:04 PM)

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#53170 - 05/19/18 07:30 AM Re: Ice Axes and Crampons [Re: Bob West]
SierraNevada Offline


Registered: 09/05/11
Posts: 1128
Loc: NorCal
Bob, I think you have a good idea to add safety information specific to steep slopes on snow/ice somewhere here. It's a good opportunity to provide information to thoughtful people who want education and a better sense of what they're getting into. There will always be a lot of people think they already know everything, but even a few of them will secretly appreciate it. If it helps even just a few people over the years, then its worth it.

The heavy lifting is to gather the information, which could be as simple as links to things like: mountaineering guide services, courses/training opportunities, books, accident reports, rescue stories, even videos, etc.

If Steve is considering this, perhaps there could be a thread posted to solicit such links, take some of the burden off Steve. People could comment on the quality of the information as a sort of "peer review" to filter it.


Edited by SierraNevada (05/19/18 07:31 AM)

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#53171 - 05/19/18 07:36 AM Re: Ice Axes and Crampons [Re: SierraNevada]
SierraNevada Offline


Registered: 09/05/11
Posts: 1128
Loc: NorCal
As a starting point, here's the info under "What can go wrong on Whitney"

Ice/Snow

Ice can be a unexpected problem on the 97 switchbacks of the main trail, particularly in the cables area. As noted in Fall Conditions on the Main Whitney Trail, the switchbacks are mostly north facing and can hold on to ice longer than other sections of the trail. The switchbacks are dangerous to hike in icy conditions without the proper mountaineering experience and equipment. In the spring months, some people are tempted to glissade down the chute below Trail Crest. That is a very dangerous area and people have died sliding into the rocks below. See the reports 2003 Glissade Fatality and 2005 Glissade Fatality. Only people with the proper mountaineering training should attempt that route and then only in favorable snow conditions. See Bob R's reports Glissading from Trail Crest and Bob R. glissade video, Mt. Whitney June 22, 2006 for more information. Also check out the report on the 2005 MR fatality.

Snow can also be a hazard in the non-summer months. Only people with winter mountaineering experience should attempt to hike in snow. See the reports Accident on Whitney, Slipped in the cables area, and Whiteout Incident on Whitney.

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#53173 - 05/19/18 09:49 AM Re: Ice Axes and Crampons [Re: SierraNevada]
Steve C Offline


Registered: 09/22/09
Posts: 7481
Loc: Fresno, CA
Nice work, SierraNevada. I appreciate the time you spent finding the links. I'll put a link the "Links for Safe Mountaineering" thread in the reference. In fact, I will replace the "what can go wrong" link in the Feature Topics with it. We can put the what can go wrong link in the Safe Mountaineering thread.

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#53179 - 05/20/18 09:31 AM Re: Ice Axes and Crampons [Re: Bob West]
wbtravis Offline


Registered: 09/22/09
Posts: 1251
Loc: Corner of Jack Benny and Roche...
Bob,

I have been involved in hiker safety in SoCal for many years. I consider Mt. Whitney to be Mt. Baldy North. Whatever foolishness you see on Mt. Baldy travels north to Mt. Whitney in the spring.

It seems most every year any more, I have been involve in either a rescue...not on Nixle or film at 11 or a major assist. Everyone of these events involved someone who is unprepared for what they wanted to accomplish.

On Mt. Whitney and Mt. Baldy, they die. They should not die but they do. They die because they unprepared with not only gear but they lack the requisite skills. Rarely, do they die if they are skilled. However, you hear all the time it does not make a difference people who are skilled die. The fact is 9 people have died the last 3 winters in SoCal, 8 had light traction devices on their feet and trekking poles in their hand. The one skilled person that died did something stupid...on a 50* F day he attempted to go across a cornice...I watched the recovery helicopter from a few miles away.

All you can do is offer advice. If the person wants to learn, he will talk to you for 10 to 15 minutes. If not, just keep moving and don't take it personally. We live in a era of I did this way and you can, too. Carnage to follow.

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#53195 - 05/20/18 11:52 PM Re: Ice Axes and Crampons [Re: wbtravis]
wagga Offline


Registered: 10/07/09
Posts: 2235
Loc: Humbug Reach (Pop. 3)
I recommend that anybody untrained person planning to take an ice axe out in steep snow just lookup "Caltrop" - not the weed.
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