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#8614 - 10/25/10 08:44 PM How not to die on Mt. Whitney (and elsewhere...
George Offline
Woodsy Guy

Registered: 10/22/09
Posts: 202
Loc: California
Wagga's post on the anniversary of this fine Forum and mention of it's origin (which I guess I missed) does remind me of these seemingly now-annual Fall SARs on Whitney and elsewhere. Three (Brunette last year and what we're calling Omaha and Meysan Lake SAR) this year) have cost probably over $50,000 (a Chinook adds considerably to an already high SAR cost...). To say nothing of the effort and danger to SAR people. These are our tax dollars at work -- or, arguably, just pissed away as a result of testosterone poisoning.

In each case, these individuals rescued or searched for were warned by experienced individuals to "Turn Around -- it's just going to get worse!!" They didn't and a major SAR (and one death) were the result.

How can we stop this sort of thing? What sorts of effort can the climbing community and agencies (NPS and USFS) put into effect to get people to pay attention to weather, to take seriously the dangers of hiking at altitude after about September 20th (+/- ...)???

Suggestions sought and hugely encouraged!

Thanks,

George


Edited by George (10/25/10 08:46 PM)
_________________________
None of the views expressed here in any way represent those of the unidentified agency that I work for or, often, reality. It's just me, fired up by coffee and powerful prose.

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#8619 - 10/25/10 08:58 PM Re: How not to die on Mt. Whitney (and elsewhere... [Re: George]
Bee Offline


Registered: 09/22/09
Posts: 1261
Loc: Northern California
From a fellow IDF veteran:

Equip the permit office with the NOAA weather mock-up/Sat imaging(available on-line). When a known whopper of a storm is coming in, and folks still insist on a permit to enter the mayhem, they should be 1)forced to sign off on a yes-I-am-an-idiot form that alerts the media that they knew what was coming 2)leave an open visa draft that allows the NPS/FS/SAR to fill in the $$$ blank if/when an extraction is required. This should (hopefully) cause people to think twice before entering hazzardous conditions (and possibly jeopardizing others when things go south)

Note the mention of known hazard; we do not advocate penalizing someone for an honest-to-goodness accident in the hills.

Permitting stops at -- I believe -- the end of October; however, I have noticed that once the trail freezes up, the idiot stampede is seriously curtailed, if not cut off altogether.
_________________________
The body betrays and the weather conspires, hopefully, not on the same day.

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#8627 - 10/25/10 11:03 PM Re: How not to die on Mt. Whitney (and elsewhere... [Re: George]
Steve C Offline


Registered: 09/22/09
Posts: 7191
Loc: Fresno, CA
It has been pretty well known that quite a majority of Whitney hikers don't even know about the Whitney Forums. I believe that the more people learn, the better prepared they will be.

I think links to this site (and WPSMB if need be) on the USFS and SEKI websites might help get more information to more people. And I mean links with all necessary disclaimers, of course.

Our primary goal here is to share information with other hikers.

I also hope to ask the permit office to mention this forum in the permit information that goes out with the reservations. George, lending your voice to that request would really help.

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#8628 - 10/25/10 11:31 PM Re: How not to die on Mt. Whitney (and elsewhere... [Re: Steve C]
Bee Offline


Registered: 09/22/09
Posts: 1261
Loc: Northern California
Originally Posted By: Steve C
It has been pretty well known that quite a majority of Whitney hikers don't even know about the Whitney Forums. I believe that the more people learn, the better prepared they will be.


I do not think that this was a factor in any of the three cases that George mentioned, as quoted below:

Originally Posted By: George
In each case, these individuals rescued or searched for were warned by experienced individuals to "Turn Around -- it's just going to get worse!!" They didn't and a major SAR (and one death) were the result.[


They were adequately warned. Most of them were experienced. They chose to ignore thee most pertinant information available: the deteriorating weather.

I believe that all the information and hand-holding in the world will not do the trick with this special breed of folk, rather, in this case, only the stick will do.



_________________________
The body betrays and the weather conspires, hopefully, not on the same day.

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#8629 - 10/25/10 11:33 PM Re: How not to die on Mt. Whitney (and elsewhere... [Re: Steve C]
Rod Offline


Registered: 09/22/09
Posts: 660
Loc: Santa Clarita, Ca. USA
George you know nothing will change.You can't legistrate morality,you can't educate idiots, and you can't disuade the testosterone induced summit driven macho men.Has it ever really been different? Except that now they send out SARs that recover bodies and rescue dummies instead of waiting till spring to collect the bodies.

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#8630 - 10/26/10 12:49 AM Re: How not to die on Mt. Whitney (and elsewhere... [Re: Bee]
Steve C Offline


Registered: 09/22/09
Posts: 7191
Loc: Fresno, CA
Originally Posted By: Bee
I do not think that this was a factor in any of the three cases that George mentioned, as quoted below:

Originally Posted By: George
In each case, these individuals rescued or searched for were warned by experienced individuals to "Turn Around -- it's just going to get worse!!" They didn't and a major SAR (and one death) were the result.


They were adequately warned. Most of them were experienced. They chose to ignore thee most pertinent information available: the deteriorating weather.


Bee, I think there is a difference between being warned at the last minute as they are preparing to step on the trail, and being informed via reading the information. (I believe you, too, were the recipient of well-meaning but a little overzealous warning last month when you picked up permits.)

A verbal warning at the last minute... can be blown off as some "Chicken Little" rant. Especially when you have all your gear there, ready to go. Warnings like those make some people want to prove the messenger wrong.

But if they have read the information, complete with examples of SARs and fatalities, there is a better chance of it's being trusted, believed and absorbed.

But if they have never heard of a site like this, all they have is those last minute warnings.

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#8631 - 10/26/10 01:09 AM Re: How not to die on Mt. Whitney (and elsewhere... [Re: Steve C]
Bee Offline


Registered: 09/22/09
Posts: 1261
Loc: Northern California
Originally Posted By: Steve
Bee, I think there is a difference between being warned at the last minute as they are preparing to step on the trail, and being informed via reading the information. (I believe you, too, were the recipient of well-meaning but a little overzealous warning last month when you picked up permits.)


I don't know how much more the point of the bad weather could have been driven home, seeing that the sky was falling in chunks as those guys were pushing forward. It seems to me that anyone who was going to choose to be that stubborn, obstinate, willful about pushing toward the summit would not have been dissuaded by reading about *the chance* of bad weather in a theoretical, informative format.

My experience/warning? Yes, when I went to pick up my permit, a well-meaning individual behind the desk sternly warned me that my plans to sleep on the summit could get me killed. Exact words: "You can die up there!!" Although I was, indeed, irritated over the fact that I seemed to be singled out for this predicted death, the point was taken -- even though the sky was crystal clear and had been all the prior week(and all day up the summit). The morning after sleeping on the summit, we did wake up to a nearby cell, and let me tell you, while everyone else was looking at the cell, I was back at camp stuffing everything like mad into my pack, so that I could make a hasty exit should I need to (I was, afterall, singled out for imminent death)As it turned out, the cell went north, I missed most of the sunrise, and everything went perfectly.....but I was still ready to make a hasty departure.

Steve, I am not saying that the message boards do not have their place in the information sphere, rather, I am saying that with the unique personality profile that George speaks of, reference material, weather models, & anecdotes are probably going to be ineffective. Such single-minded zealots exist in all avenues of the population (some of them become so fixated on their endeavor that they are willing to undertake exploits that have a 100% mortality failure). Luckily, we are just talking about hiking in this case.
_________________________
The body betrays and the weather conspires, hopefully, not on the same day.

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#8632 - 10/26/10 06:05 AM Re: How not to die on Mt. Whitney (and elsewhere... [Re: Steve C]
Bulldog34 Offline


Registered: 11/12/09
Posts: 1254
Loc: Atlanta
One factor common to Wade Brunette (from Washington) and the Nebraska contingent is that they were from out of state, and were making a special, concerted effort to do something that they had dreamed of for years. In both cases there was undoubtedly the underlying thought that, "If I don't do this now, who knows when I'll have a chance to come back and try again?"

That's not to suggest that those living closer to the Eastern Sierra don't make bad choices as well at times, but most don't have the added pressure of "now or possibly never" banging away in their heads.

Both cases were also a first attempt on Whitney, although all involved had a reasonable to impressive degree of mountaineering experience. This makes me wonder if a certain level of under-estimation was at play in the "Whitney Walk-up" mentality.

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#8633 - 10/26/10 06:31 AM Re: How not to die on Mt. Whitney (and elsewhere... [Re: George]
DUG Offline


Registered: 09/22/09
Posts: 358
Loc: Wildomar
The issue is a lot like wag bags - no easy fix. The public wants access to the mountains and they want a safety net if they get in over their heads. Just when you think - "no one is dumb enough to do xxxxxx", someone dumb enough will prove you wrong.

Unless you restrict access when "someone" decides it's too dangerous or you stop bailing them out when they get over their heads it will remain as it is.

I don't have any good ideas or answers - I just know for every great idea there will be five "reasons" why it won't work.

In the meantime let's give thanks for the brave SAR folks who save not only those who had an accident, but those truely stupid who pressed on way past their limits.........................................DUG

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#8634 - 10/26/10 07:11 AM Re: How not to die on Mt. Whitney (and elsewhere... [Re: Bee]
tdtz Offline


Registered: 08/26/10
Posts: 511
Loc: CA
"It seems to me that anyone who was going to choose to be that stubborn, obstinate, willful about pushing toward the summit would not have been dissuaded by reading about *the chance* of bad weather in a theoretical, informative format."

I agree somewhat. Those guys were keeping track of their mileage and they were probably thinking "it's only one more mile, that's nothing. We can make it."

The problem arises when putting that one mile into the context of 14,000' and a snowstorm. Hell, it's probably even worse when there is good visibility, and weather is moving in. "I can see the summit, it's right there. I'll beat the storm"...but again the context of 14,000'+ makes a big difference.

Watching the series on the guys climbing Mt Everest we saw the same thing there with very experienced climbers. I imagine hypoxia has a role in a lot of the bad decisions that are made at higher altitudes.

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#8635 - 10/26/10 07:22 AM Re: How not to die on Mt. Whitney (and elsewhere... [Re: George]
Bob West Offline


Registered: 11/13/09
Posts: 768
Loc: Bishop, CA, USA
Perhaps the only sure way of preventing people from walking into danger on the Whitney trail wouild be to post rangers at the trailhead to prevent hikers from continuing. That would have been possible in the old USSR, but this is a free country; that idea would never fly. Just think of the law-suits! Unfortunately, people are free to do very stupid things. It's a pity that others have to put their lives on the line to rescue them, but that's a fact of hiking life.

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#8638 - 10/26/10 07:47 AM Re: How not to die on Mt. Whitney (and elsewhere... [Re: Bob West]
KevinR Offline


Registered: 11/03/09
Posts: 578
Loc: Manchester, NH
Until reliable field tests are developed for TT (Testosterone Toxicity) and/or CSD (Common Sense Deficiency), education will continue to be the best method.

At certain trailheads in New Hampshire's White Mountains you will see signs similar to this link. They also appear at treeline on some trails. I don't know how effective they are in practice, but at least for me they remind me to do a mental, and sometimes physical, inventory of clothing and safety gear in my pack. Perhaps the Inyo US Forest Service and/or Park Service should consider their use on the Mt Whitney Trail.

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#8639 - 10/26/10 08:23 AM Re: How not to die on Mt. Whitney (and elsewhere... [Re: Bob West]
tdtz Offline


Registered: 08/26/10
Posts: 511
Loc: CA
Originally Posted By: Bob West
Perhaps the only sure way of preventing people from walking into danger on the Whitney trail wouild be to post rangers at the trailhead to prevent hikers from continuing. That would have been possible in the old USSR, but this is a free country; that idea would never fly. Just think of the law-suits! Unfortunately, people are free to do very stupid things. It's a pity that others have to put their lives on the line to rescue them, but that's a fact of hiking life.


And frankly, I wouldn't have it any other way.

Someone here on WZ has part of the JFK quote as their sig "We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard"

Take the risk out of equation and the accomplishment isn't quite the same.

Realistic expectations and proper preparation will mitigate risk much more than a warning the day of the hike. This website and the WPSMB definitely helped me to set my expectations and prepare for my first successful summit this year.

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#8640 - 10/26/10 08:59 AM Re: How not to die on Mt. Whitney (and elsewhere... [Re: KevinR]
Steve C Offline


Registered: 09/22/09
Posts: 7191
Loc: Fresno, CA
Thanks for the link to the sign, Kevin. Maybe a sign at the base of the switchbacks would be helpful, just during the fall.

And thanks for the votes for more education and information.

Here's a clip of the sign, originally from Wikimedia Commons.



Of course, I've advocated for a sign on the west side, too, somewhere between the JMT / Portal trail junction and Guitar Lake to warn disoriented hikers from the summit that they are on the wrong trail if they are trying to get to Whitney Portal.

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#8642 - 10/26/10 09:38 AM Re: How not to die on Mt. Whitney (and elsewhere... [Re: tdtz]
AlanK Offline


Registered: 09/22/09
Posts: 583
Loc: Glendale, CA
Originally Posted By: tdtz
Someone here on WZ has part of the JFK quote as their sig "We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard"

Take the risk out of equation and the accomplishment isn't quite the same.
Sometimes our stated motivations distort reality. For example, we chose to go to the moon not because it was hard but because we feared that the USSR would get there first.

Maybe some people choose to do Whitney under risky conditions not because it is hard but because they totally underestimate the danger. And, needless to say, the danger that their rescue will represent for others.

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#8643 - 10/26/10 09:52 AM Re: How not to die on Mt. Whitney (and elsewhere... [Re: AlanK]
Rod Offline


Registered: 09/22/09
Posts: 660
Loc: Santa Clarita, Ca. USA
How about if they left the bodies where they died on the trail as they do at Everest. Might have some impact. Throw a little lime to keep the maggots down.Nothing is going to stop the hell bent summit fever driven climber.Why do climbers continue to climb Mt. Hood in full on storms during winter? Especially when they know the forecast?

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#8645 - 10/26/10 10:19 AM Re: How not to die on Mt. Whitney (and elsewhere... [Re: Rod]
tdtz Offline


Registered: 08/26/10
Posts: 511
Loc: CA
hey, we're not even supposed to throw peach pits away in the wilderness, those bodies would really mess with the ecology.

smile

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#8646 - 10/26/10 10:31 AM Re: How not to die on Mt. Whitney (and elsewhere... [Re: Rod]
DUG Offline


Registered: 09/22/09
Posts: 358
Loc: Wildomar
Originally Posted By: Rod
How about if they left the bodies where they died on the trail as they do at Everest. Might have some impact. Throw a little lime to keep the maggots down.Nothing is going to stop the hell bent summit fever driven climber.Why do climbers continue to climb Mt. Hood in full on storms during winter? Especially when they know the forecast?


This is the best idea I've heard. As I take scouts up in July or August I could explain what happens if you push beyond your abilities. But, since we live in a PC world it won't happen. smile

And as for more signs - Steve, you're my bud and I value your input, but LESS signs are better. Make people learn to use a compass, map or even a GPS. Plenty of SIGNS on the PCT/JMT, why did the Meysan Lake duo go all the way over Glen Pass? Probably because they didn't have a map. The signs were useless to them. I've said it before and I'm saying it again - if you get lost coming DOWN from Whitney you - 1. Haven't done your homework and studied the maps, 2. Are light headed because you went up too fast, 3. Are exhausted because you pushed yourself too far, 4. Are an ID 10 T.

I often joke that the MT is "a punk hike" and it's usually my 2nd hike of the season. I still don't take it lightly. If you are prepared and show the mountain some respect while using common sense your odds of coming home safely are very good. Odds of making the summit are pretty decent as well.

A real hiker knows when to pull the plug and come home safely. Let's try to use SAR for actual emergancies and accidents - not summit fever.

Just my thoughts, your mileage may vary, to each his own, etc............................................DUG

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#8648 - 10/26/10 10:39 AM Re: How not to die on Mt. Whitney (and elsewhere... [Re: Rod]
AlanK Offline


Registered: 09/22/09
Posts: 583
Loc: Glendale, CA
Originally Posted By: Rod
How about if they left the bodies where they died on the trail as they do at Everest.

There are times when this approach appeals to me, as when people make really dumb decisions that put others at risk. However, the truth is that this is not Nepal or China. As in most first world countries, we are going to have SAR teams that will work, in the face of personal expense and risk, to rescue even the dumbest. I am glad that these folks are out there and glad that I live in a place that has such priorities.

Let's face it, people who work in coal mines know that it is risky. China just accepts thousands of mining deaths per year. Chile goes to enormous trouble to rescue 33 miners. Where would you rather live?

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#8649 - 10/26/10 11:00 AM Re: How not to die on Mt. Whitney (and elsewhere... [Re: Rod]
smithb Offline


Registered: 10/04/10
Posts: 80
Loc: ventura county, ca
Originally Posted By: Rod
How about if they left the bodies where they died on the trail as they do at Everest. Might have some impact. Throw a little lime to keep the maggots down.
i'm with you on this one. however, there are over 100 bodies on everest. many in plain sight. doesn't stop anyone from going.

apparently when you die up high enough you are freeze dried and don't decompose. so much for the maggots.

but i agree, leave them in place.

reader's digest, indeed!

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