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#55461 - 06/19/19 10:46 AM Re: Hiker fell on Whitney [Re: BFR]
Steve C Offline


Registered: 09/22/09
Posts: 7926
Loc: Fresno, CA
Note: This topic has resurrected since it appears a repeat death occurred in June, 2019:
    Recovered: Ling Dao - Missing Whitney Hiker, Last Seen 6/12

Originally Posted By: BFR
I am against unnecessary wilderness signs, but given the number of people who attempt Whitney who do not have experience, perhaps the government should consider putting warning signs specifically at the Notch and at the summit plateau with more signs toward the MWT.

I was think the same thing -- at the point where people leave the summit plateau and start descending the north side. A
"Stop - Read This" sign would possibly save lives.

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#55462 - 06/19/19 11:09 AM Re: Hiker fell on Whitney [Re: Steve C]
BFR Online


Registered: 04/07/16
Posts: 137
Loc: Santa Monica, CA
It bugs me that the government has the gall to charge for a permit to hike Mt Whitney but doesn't take some commonsense measures to protect human life.

Mt Whitney should probably be treated differently than any other Sierra peak given its appeal to the masses.


Edited by BFR (06/19/19 11:09 AM)
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#55463 - 06/19/19 12:05 PM Re: Hiker fell on Whitney [Re: BFR]
Clmbr Offline


Registered: 06/19/19
Posts: 5
Loc: CA
Ling Dao's accident happened Wednesday of last week. The previous Sunday (four days earlier) a friend and I summitted via the MR and descended via the main trail.

My initial reaction is that it is difficult for me to see how this could have been a mistake. There was a well-trodden boot path that went directly to the hut and this was what almost everyone was using. It did not follow the trail. It bypassed the section of the trail that jogs to the west and then east again-- that is, the section that contains the junction with the walk-off traverse.

We need to get more information regarding exactly where the accident happened (was it on the walk-off traverse variation of the MR, or on the "Final 400" couloir?) But we should consider the possibility that he intended to descend to via the MR.

Either way it would be amply obvious to anyone that they are NOT on the trail and NOT going back the way they came. I don't see how additional signage would have prevented this. And since the trail was buried in snow, not even people using the walk-off traverse would necessarily go by the junction (and any sign placed there.) I should add that the snow was think enough to bury signs in some places.

I think the FS was adequately briefing hikers, informing them that the trail was buried in snow and they were facing winter mountaineering conditions. This was indeed the case.

Short of closing of access to the mountain, I do not see how the FS can stop these kinds of accidents in these kinds of conditions. (Do not laugh--this has happened with Mt. Baldy. There have been times when the FS has just shut down all access do the mountain for this reason.)

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#55464 - 06/19/19 12:09 PM Re: Hiker fell on Whitney [Re: BFR]
Hobbes Offline


Registered: 03/28/14
Posts: 147
Loc: The OC
I've made it to the peak 7 times via every route (except east buttress), every direction, and every weather/trail condition.

Even though I know where I'm going and what I'm doing (sort of), I've still had moments of being slightly disoriented, and others where I've had to self-arrest.

When my buddy and I summitted last year on 5/5 (the day the prior north-west face fatality occurred), I distinctly recall having a conversation about noting where to turn back to the main trail.

It was days later when I found out a fellow hiker who had climbed the Chute next to us (ending up in a lot of photos) was the one who had taken a wrong turn and slipped & fell.

Whitney is no joke - the problem is it's easy to get to, moderately challenging to actually climb, but it's still @ 14.5k and still has areas with cliffs. If you are at all unprepared, or treat the risk lightly, things can go south in a hurry.

It took the parks/FS years to fix the 3-way sign @ the JMT/MMWT junction. Before, many people had turned right (downhill) since the old 2-way sign was fairly generic as to trail & peak directions.

I don't think it would take much to place a simple sign on the hut calling attention to the fact that the main trail was to the left (as you descend) and the dangerous NW side and MR are to the right.


Edited by Hobbes (06/19/19 12:16 PM)

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#55465 - 06/19/19 12:26 PM Re: Hiker fell on Whitney [Re: Hobbes]
bobpickering Offline


Registered: 02/07/10
Posts: 451
Loc: Reno, Nevada
Iím with Clmbr. This is the wilderness. The wilderness experience is all about self-reliance. The USFS warns people of the dangers and reminds us to do our homework and know what weíre doing. When signs donít prevent accidents, will we all clamor for guardrails?

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#55466 - 06/19/19 12:56 PM Re: Hiker fell on Whitney [Re: bobpickering]
BFR Online


Registered: 04/07/16
Posts: 137
Loc: Santa Monica, CA
Originally Posted By: bobpickering
Iím with Clmbr. This is the wilderness. The wilderness experience is all about self-reliance. The USFS warns people of the dangers and reminds us to do our homework and know what weíre doing. When signs donít prevent accidents, will we all clamor for guardrails?


I have a hard time disagreeing with you. My only comment is that Mt Whitney seems to be in a different category. There are all sorts of signs along the way. It has the nicest trail of any 14er to the summit. It invites all sorts of overambitious folks. Perhaps the right approach is to remove the trail and get rid of all the signs.
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#55467 - 06/19/19 01:11 PM Re: Hiker fell on Whitney [Re: BFR]
Clmbr Offline


Registered: 06/19/19
Posts: 5
Loc: CA
There is a middle ground between the two extremes.

I would be fine with better signage being put in at the Muir Trail / Whitney Trail junction (that is a real problem spot). The junction with the walk-off traverse is less problematic. It is pretty obvious where the trail is. The walk-off does not look like a trail, and isn't even noticeable to most people. But even here, a sign could be added. Just a sign with an arrow pointing left that says "Trail" would suffice.

I would not see the sign making a difference in this latest incident though.

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#55468 - 06/19/19 01:13 PM Re: Hiker fell on Whitney [Re: Hobbes]
jaym Offline


Registered: 09/10/18
Posts: 16
Loc: San Pedro
I was maybe 1/2 mile down the main trail from the summit when Mr Dao likely fell. I should have encountered him coming up as I was going down but I did not remember him clearly. The weather on the summit was beautiful. Sunny, warm, super clear and no wind with a very obvious way down to the main trail. I was thinking of going up the Mountaineering Route (MR) until I saw a post by here "Jeston" that described the "Easy Walk-Off" Traverse on the MR being "insanely sketchy". (The MR's final 400 climb is too technical for me and my dog). After further researching the posts in this forum, I dubbed the "Easy Walk-Off" as the "Easy Walk-Off of Death" (when not completely dry) and decided not to go anywhere near it. As demonstrated by my "Darwin Award" trip report, I am not so sure I would have been non-stupid enough to stop at the MR's Notch.

I think some temporary signs with wireless tracker device for retrieval/repositioning (e.g. www.breadcrumbtech.com) may be a good idea when trails are covered in snow. Especially, to lessen trail switchback cutting when trails become partially uncovered.


Edited by jaym (06/19/19 02:06 PM)

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#55471 - 06/19/19 02:43 PM Re: Hiker fell on Whitney [Re: Clmbr]
Jonathan C Offline


Registered: 03/03/19
Posts: 41
Loc: Los Angeles, CA
Originally Posted By: Clmbr
But we should consider the possibility that he intended to descend to via the MR.

My gut feeling based on everything I've read is that this is the case. He was apparently a marathon runner in great shape. The report above of great weather and visibility. He could have been looking to mix it up and do a loop. He may have done some amount of research, but not enough to be aware of the true nature of that path in snow-covered conditions. Perhaps we'll learn where he fell, which would indicate a lot more about what happened, but he could have gotten partway across the traverse and decided it would be safer to complete it rather than turn back. If I look at Gaia GPS right now this is what I see (below). All discretion is left to the user to know that some of those dotted lines are very different than others.

Unless if he fell close to the sharp turn or was suffering from extreme hypoxia, I agree it's hard to imagine that anyone with even a hint of hiking experience (assuming good visibility) would be disoriented once they started making their way east down the walkoff.


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#55473 - 06/19/19 03:09 PM Re: Hiker fell on Whitney [Re: Jonathan C]
Hobbes Offline


Registered: 03/28/14
Posts: 147
Loc: The OC
It looks like this thread could become yet another endless loop of speculation and assertion. So, perhaps we can agree to a set of certain stipulations in an attempt to narrow focus.

1. I have never heard of anyone intentionally going clockwise up the trail and back down the MR. While I'm sure someone will dig up some obscure reference example, anyone doing either cursory or in-depth research will immediately find out that counter-clockwise is the preferred direction if one is going to do a circuit.

Think about - it makes perfect sense: you want to be climbing up the e-ledges, you want to be climbing up the gully, and you want to be climbing up the final 400. After reaching the summit, anyone in pretty good shape can then literally jog back down the main trail (when dry) if so inclined.

2. If you have never been up on the summit when the trail/talus is covered by snow, then it would make sense to question how anyone could possibly get lost. However, when there is snow, there are dozens of separate snow tracks as each individual climber/hiker makes their own path. It's only when you get off the summit block that a consistent trail begins to consolidate, but ever then there can be variations until the main trail really (re)establishes itself further down by the needles.

Now, a 3rd element that hasn't been discussed is (a) each climber/hiker was solo; (b) it was their first trip/attempt; and (c) the journeys were conducted in alpine conditions. Doesn't this sound like a recipe for disaster? Who here commenting, including those who summitted before/after, were solo? OK, I know Bob was up there, so let's add another condition: who was up there solo for their first time? (See what I did there - Bob is a noted experienced mountaineer.)

By now I assume everyone is getting where I'm going with this. We can't put more responsibility on FS personnel - it's not their job to baby sit. A few years ago while picking up a permit, I lightly brought up the subject as someone else had recently walked off a cliff. Boy, did that immediately raise hackles; my guess is maybe an attorney was sniffing around looking for contributory negligence.

Anyway, the FS isn't going to eliminate the trail and it's not going to block access. So, the status quo remains. But, if a peak in perhaps the marque national park can have (safety) cables, why couldn't Whitney at least have a (modest) sign with a reminder of which way is which?


Edited by Hobbes (06/19/19 03:11 PM)

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#55476 - 06/19/19 05:24 PM Re: Hiker fell on Whitney [Re: Hobbes]
jaym Offline


Registered: 09/10/18
Posts: 16
Loc: San Pedro
"An air search located the body of Ling Dao on the north side of the 14,505-foot (4,421-meter) mountain in Sequoia National Park, according to a statement from the Inyo County Sheriff's Office."

"Dao was last seen alive at the summit by other hikers June 12, who informed authorities of the location which ultimately led them to his body about 1,900 feet (579 meters) from the summit at an altitude of about 12,600 feet (3,841 meters), Kawasaki-Yee said."

linktostory

This places him in the valley between Whitney and Russell I believe. So it would seem either he slipped while trying to get a "gander" at the Mountaineering Route or was actually trying to decend the MR.

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#55478 - 06/19/19 05:28 PM Re: Hiker fell on Whitney [Re: Hobbes]
Clmbr Offline


Registered: 06/19/19
Posts: 5
Loc: CA
>>>>". If you have never been up on the summit when the trail/talus is covered by snow, then it would make sense to question how anyone could possibly get lost. However, when there is snow, there are dozens of separate snow tracks as each individual climber/hiker makes their own path. It's only when you get off the summit block that a consistent trail begins to consolidate, but ever then there can be variations until the main trail really (re)establishes itself further down by the needles."

I have summitted Whitney more than 20 times using various routes, mostly the trail and the MR, but also the E. Face and the E. Buttress. I was on Whitney four days prior to Ling Dao's ascent. Above it is implied that it would NOT make sense to question how someone could get lost if you have been there when there is snow. Well, like I said, I was just up there in the snow a few days prior to Ling Dao, and I think this has it backwards. It would have been more difficult to get get lost.

There was a very prominent boot track (essentially a well-trafficked and very obvious trail, that went south). It would have been very difficult for any person in the presence of their mind to confuse the other isolated footprints going to the Final 400 or the walk-off traverse for the main trail.

Also, the main snow trail in use did not jog west to like the official constructed trail does. The official constructed trail takes you quite a ways towards the walk-off traverse, but was buried in the snow, and was not the way most people were going.

As to the other points:

From posts I read, I got the impression that maybe Ling had been intending to go up the MR all along but had missed the turn-off in the dark. If that was the case, it would make more sense for him to want to go down that way.

And while going up the MR and down the trail is more common, this is especially in summer conditions and especially among the "we have to save our knees crowd" (hey, there is no shame--I am car-carrying member :-). Hiking down the talus is hard on the knees, and so a lot of people opt to take the gentler trail. But in current conditions (with the talus covered with snow), I think it makes a lot of sense to down the MR. You can avoid the traversing trail (which has a lot of sketchy sections right now) and get a lot of glissading in. After going down the trail, we were somewhat regretting not going back down the MR.

Nobody is jogging down the main trail right now--at least not until they get past Lone Pine Lake. (Like you said, jogging is for when the trail is dry.) The MR is the fastest, and most direct way down right now.

And as a marathon runner, I expect Ling was not part of the "save your knees" crowd.

Regarding going solo: Having partners definitely increases the margin of safety. Agreed. You have more people looking out for you. If you get hurt or have trouble, your buddies can help. If you start going the wrong way, hopefully one of your buddies has been more attentive and corrects your mistake.

But unless you are roped, the actual amount of safety you get from being part of a team on a snow/ice slope like this is illusory. People might *feel* safer because there are other people there with them, doing what they are doing, but essentially, absent a rope, when you are on a slope like this you are doing an unroped solo.

For better or worse, I have gone on many solo trips, and it would not bother me that it was a peak that I had not been up before. (If I encounter conditions I am not comfortable continuing solo on, I will simply turn around. No big deal.)

I agree this is not the FS's fault. If we make it their responsibility, they'd have to just shut down the mountain.

I would be fine with a sign being added with an arrow. But I don't expect it to stop accidents like this. I suspect that Ling knew where he was going. As to Eric, well maybe... With his gear near Trail Camp, he would want to go back that way. But at some point soon after leaving the trail, he must have realized that he was NOT in Kansas anymore and going down a different route from how he had come up.

Something we haven't discussed yet. A lot of people like shortcuts, especially going downhill. Look at all the use trails cutting switchbacks, including those in places were you can't even see the trail down below. Who knows why he went down that way. But it is possible he thought he was on a shortcut.

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#55479 - 06/19/19 05:38 PM Re: Hiker fell on Whitney [Re: Clmbr]
Clmbr Offline


Registered: 06/19/19
Posts: 5
Loc: CA
Another thought: Take non-climbers/non-mountaineers to the edge of a cliff. Without having any experience, they will automatically recognize it as dangerous and shy away from the edge. You will get this response almost 100% of the time.

Take the same person to a moderately steep snow slope. I submit that you will see a much greater variance in responses. Some will automatically recognize the slope as dangerous. But many will not--especially if they see other people on it, or the tracks of other people.

I think that snow slopes do not look automatically dangerous to many of us the same way vertical cliffs do. They look deceptively gentle and moderate. It's only with experience that we learn that moderate snow slope can be just as deadly as a vertical cliff.

That is why you see hundreds of people with no training or experience marching up or glissading down the Baldy Bowl or Whitney Chute without ice axes or crampons. If they had more experience or training would engender them with more respect and fear... For many this is a learned response. You don't see the same situation with cliffs, even those that are only third class with good handholds and footholds.

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#55480 - 06/19/19 06:35 PM Re: Hiker fell on Whitney [Re: Clmbr]
RenoFrank Offline


Registered: 08/06/11
Posts: 438
Loc: Reno, NV
Originally Posted By: Clmbr
Who knows why he went down that way. But it is possible he thought he was on a shortcut.


From what I read online...his itinerary - "According to the reporting party, Dao flew into Las Vegas on Tuesday, June 11, had planned to summit Mt. Whitney on June 12, drive back to Las Vegas after summiting and catch a red-eye flight back home, to be at work on Thursday, June 13.

Perhaps he needed a quick descent to maintain his intended schedule.

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#55484 - 06/19/19 09:03 PM Re: Hiker fell on Whitney [Re: Anton]
TrekkingPole Offline


Registered: 10/25/15
Posts: 3
Loc: California
Speculation, but worth mentioning. Perhaps he made it to the summit and saw some folks heading down the "Easy walk-off" and just assumed that was the proper way to go down and then headed that way.

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#55576 - 06/28/19 08:01 PM Re: Hiker fell on Whitney [Re: TrekkingPole]
nyker Offline


Registered: 07/26/12
Posts: 219
Loc: New York
Whatever the cause and reasoning, RIP Ling Dao.

For any of Ling's friends or family reading this, my thoughts are with you during this hard time.

Most of us here have had close calls in the mountains at some point and sometimes despite the best laid plans and preparation, bad luck strikes.

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