Musings on Searches and Trails

Posted by: Ken

Musings on Searches and Trails - 06/21/14 12:12 PM

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.
Posted by: wagga

Re: Musings on Searches and Trails - 06/21/14 02:46 PM

Bravo!

What would be the consequences of a volunteer working party placing some "Reassurance Markers"? Especially if the individuals all frequented some Internet forum.
Posted by: Marle

Re: Musings on Searches and Trails - 06/21/14 03:11 PM

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.
Posted by: Bulldog34

Re: Musings on Searches and Trails - 06/21/14 04:44 PM

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.



Posted by: Bee

Re: Musings on Searches and Trails - 06/21/14 05:10 PM

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.
Posted by: Marle

Re: Musings on Searches and Trails - 06/21/14 06:08 PM

Yes. Thank you Ken for this.
Posted by: Harvey Lankford

Re: Musings on Searches and Trails - 06/21/14 06:36 PM

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
Posted by: KevinR

Re: Musings on Searches and Trails - 06/21/14 08:06 PM

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?
Posted by: wagga

Re: Musings on Searches and Trails - 06/21/14 08:20 PM

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.
Posted by: tollermom

Re: Musings on Searches and Trails - 06/21/14 08:42 PM

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.
Posted by: 63ChevyII.com

Re: Musings on Searches and Trails - 06/21/14 09:04 PM

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.
Posted by: KevinR

Re: Musings on Searches and Trails - 06/22/14 07:24 AM

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.
Posted by: wbtravis

Re: Musings on Searches and Trails - 06/22/14 09:46 AM

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.
Posted by: Ken

Re: Musings on Searches and Trails - 06/22/14 10:30 AM

"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.
Posted by: Bee

Re: Musings on Searches and Trails - 06/22/14 10:56 AM

*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
Posted by: saltydog

Re: Musings on Searches and Trails - 06/22/14 11:56 AM

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.
Posted by: Harvey Lankford

Re: Musings on Searches and Trails - 06/22/14 12:23 PM

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.
Posted by: Ken

Re: Musings on Searches and Trails - 06/22/14 02:11 PM

"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.
Posted by: Bulldog34

Re: Musings on Searches and Trails - 06/22/14 03:55 PM

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!
Posted by: saltydog

Re: Musings on Searches and Trails - 06/22/14 04:50 PM

"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.

Posted by: Ken

Re: Musings on Searches and Trails - 06/22/14 08:41 PM

Originally Posted By: saltydog
"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?


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.



Yes, there are only three possibilities: They saw him, they looked and didn't see him, they didn't look. Tell me another.

I think it was number 2...and I think that was generally the right thing to happen, because they should have been prioritizing finding him where he might be alive, not at the bottom of a chute.

Since you are repeating the "cliff" comment over and over, I must have stated that in error. Let me acknowledge that, so you don't have to keep repeating yourself,taking this even farther off the issue.

But to say that this is a "low probability, obscured area" is crazy. For example on the first day this was announced in this forum, it was posted:

"Late in the day, the pound down the switchers and ledges from the "last foxtail" to Mirror Lake has claimed (and hidden) its victims. That's where I would concentrate this search."

Who would have been so stupid as to advocate that??? Oh, it was YOU. So much for a bizarre, crazy area to search.

SteveC said: "It is easy to lose the trail, especially in the dark in that area."

So stop with the stupid idea business.

As for the concept of very experienced people separating during their day.....that is essentially simultaneous solo hikes. This has come in for a whole lot of criticism on this website. Over on the WPS website, a prominent >100 summit climber stated that he thought it was "abandonment" on the partner's part. Inasmuch as you posted in that thread specifically on the issue, I'd assume that you would know that this issue is in play.

"missed despite a highly competent look directly at this area."

Who is speculating NOW? So if he was the subject of a "highly competent look directly at this area", then there needs to be rethinking of this approach, in what YOU describe as the most likely area, and exactly where he was found...eventually.

You correctly identified where his body was located within about 3 hours of the original post. I think that was sharp thinking, based upon knowledge of the mountain and the information presented.

We'll need to see the report as to whether they rapped the chutes in the area, or just took a more careful look via air.
Posted by: saltydog

Re: Musings on Searches and Trails - 06/23/14 08:09 AM

Sigh. Ok, Ken let's wait and see what further info comes out. If you would then like to continue based on what I have actually been saying, without the distortions, lemme know.
Posted by: wbtravis

Re: Musings on Searches and Trails - 06/23/14 09:17 AM

Vote...Who cares about a vote of forum members. I did not realize there was an official vote by forum members. Everyone has area on this trail they feel to be dangerous...most believe it to be at the cables and windows based on questions asked at this and other forums, not this area.

The advocacy to protect people based on one experienced person making a mistake in this area. I do not understand. I cited the Michelle Yu walking off the back side of Mt. Baldy. If you are going to do it here...why not everywhere you perceive danger on any of out urbanized trails like the MMWT. Pave paradise and put up a parking lot.

I don't know if a this place is all that more dangerous than other spots on this trail. We do not know why Mr. Lively ended up at the bottom of that chute, and neither do you. Also, your solution offers not guarantees. It cannot. Just as putting a similar set of boulders on the north side of Mt. Baldy would have saved Ms Yu that December morning a few years ago when visibility was marginal.

I have never had a problem figuring out north/south from west at Lower Trail Crest. And always knew to get to Mt. Whitney from Trail Crest you had to get from 13,600' to 14,505'. That does not include long periods of descent. People will continue to visit Guitar Lake on their way to Mt. Whitney no matter what kind of sign you put up. Most figure it out rapidly and do not end up at Guitar Lake or the seasonal ranger station at Upper Crabtree Meadow.
Posted by: wbtravis

Re: Musings on Searches and Trails - 06/23/14 09:31 AM

Bee...Did you ever think there is not a solution and there is not be problem?

185 MMWT permits per day, 155 days of quota season...and this does not include those with permits outside the Inyo or day hikers to the Whitney Zone Boundary. Potentially 30,000 people. How many people die here during quota season a year 1 or 2...3 in a bad year?

Personally, I find 38 people with rented crampons on the chute in May to be more dangerous than this area during the summer, like there was one day this year. Yet, not one is advocating having a test of winter skills before can conquer the chute.

People are going to do what they want to do not manner what barriers you put up.
Posted by: Chicagocwright

Re: Musings on Searches and Trails - 06/23/14 10:16 AM

Side question: Why are the windows considered dangerous?

I think I recall you had to climb up to get a view out of the windows. But they could easily just be walked by with no danger at all. Am I missing something?
Posted by: Ken

Re: Musings on Searches and Trails - 06/23/14 11:04 AM

Originally Posted By: wbtravis
Vote...Who cares about a vote of forum members. I did not realize there was an official vote by forum members. Everyone has area on this trail they feel to be dangerous...most believe it to be at the cables and windows based on questions asked at this and other forums, not this area.



And yet....when the search began, virtually everyone noted this exact place where he was found. Not the cables, not the windows.

there were pictures of the chutes involved, no pictures of cables or windows.

I'm amused that you state that there is no formal vote (I was expressing an observation of what was posted), and then you proceed to post your "formal vote" of the cables and the windows.

NO ONE mentioned those on this SAR.....weren't you paying attention?

Originally Posted By: wbtravis
The advocacy to protect people based on one experienced person making a mistake in this area. I do not understand. I cited the Michelle Yu walking off the back side of Mt. Baldy. If you are going to do it here...why not everywhere you perceive danger on any of out urbanized trails like the MMWT. Pave paradise and put up a parking lot.


No, I think there should be limits. Let's start with trails with 10,000 people a year, to start, where there have been multiple accidents. And lets make them site specific. Your "one size fits all" absurdity of putting rocks everywhere, even when no one considers them the right thing to do, is the kind of "gov't think" that has ruined this country.

Unlike yourself, I have actually talked to the Rangers about Baldy and the north slope. You seem to have forgotten the Russian who is still up there.

Lead, follow, or get out of the way.
Posted by: Ken

Re: Musings on Searches and Trails - 06/23/14 11:05 AM

Originally Posted By: wbtravis
Bee...Did you ever think there is not a solution and there is not be problem?

185 MMWT permits per day, 155 days of quota season...and this does not include those with permits outside the Inyo or day hikers to the Whitney Zone Boundary. Potentially 30,000 people. How many people die here during quota season a year 1 or 2...3 in a bad year?

Personally, I find 38 people with rented crampons on the chute in May to be more dangerous than this area during the summer, like there was one day this year. Yet, not one is advocating having a test of winter skills before can conquer the chute.

People are going to do what they want to do not manner what barriers you put up.


Ah, the "they are just collateral damage" argument against doing anything to avoid civilian deaths.
Posted by: Ken

Re: Musings on Searches and Trails - 06/23/14 11:10 AM

Originally Posted By: Chicagocwright
Side question: Why are the windows considered dangerous?

I think I recall you had to climb up to get a view out of the windows. But they could easily just be walked by with no danger at all. Am I missing something?


There are descriptions of the windows that are very frightening to people who have problems with heights or edges....at least in the abstract when they read about them. They visualize getting blown down to Lone Pine.

There are some windows that are right on the trail, and the *thought* of that is just terrifying to people with these concerns.

Of course, the reality is quite different, and most people who actually walk past on the trails say "what was the big deal"??

I got the question so often in my Whitney talks, I finally incorporated a slide to address the issue.

But there is a truth to the danger, and that is that rarely, a person befuddled by medical issues thinks that is the route down, and attempts to go that way (through the window), with tragic results. (Of course, we don't actually know what happened, but there have been situations involving very experienced hikers who ended up at the bottom of one of those chutes. No way they got there accidentally). The trail through the talus is so clear on the backside, and the windows are so obviously not a route, it's hard for me to believe they accidentally make that choice with a clear head.
Posted by: 2Old4This

Re: Musings on Searches and Trails - 06/23/14 02:06 PM

Lol, I'm one of those people with a fear of the Windows. At least there were a few spots where I thought , "gulp, that's a long way down." I like to say I have a fear of falling, not heights. For instance I have no idea what the big deal is about the Cables. I could see the worry there if there were no cables - believe me, that's coming -but with the cables I don't see the big deal. We all have something that bothers us, does that mean all of those fears should be addressed? No, that's part of the challenge in hiking. Without it the accomplishment would be reduced. If the challenge us too much for you, you find something else. I for instance will never climb El Capitan, and I'm fine with that.

Back to the point at hand, I don't see the danger above Lake Helen. You can't prevent people from making poor decisions when tired. Anyone who accidentally walks off that ledge is really out of it, and their mistake was starting out on the hike in the first place, not missing the trail. How can we reasonably prevent that?
Posted by: Bee

Re: Musings on Searches and Trails - 06/23/14 04:26 PM

Originally Posted By: wbtravis
Bee...Did you ever think there is not a solution and there is not be problem?

185 MMWT permits per day, 155 days of quota season...and this does not include those with permits outside the Inyo or day hikers to the Whitney Zone Boundary. Potentially 30,000 people. How many people die here during quota season a year 1 or 2...3 in a bad year?


I may be obtuse, but what is your message/question in this part of the statement?

"1,2 or 3 (deaths)in a bad year?"

Totally "acceptable" ratio per captita?

As discussed -- at length -- the area in question (above) Mirror Lake seems to give many folks more than the usual amount of trail issues (meaning that I do not advocate signs everywhere). Are these people all stupid? Should they all be considered as disposable?

Call me silly -- or stupid if you like -- but if just one person can be saved with a small sign, I would consider it well worth the effort
Posted by: Ken

Re: Musings on Searches and Trails - 06/23/14 05:02 PM

Originally Posted By: saltydog
Sigh. Ok, Ken let's wait and see what further info comes out. If you would then like to continue based on what I have actually been saying, without the distortions, lemme know.


Salty, I must be hallucinating, but when I see you write:

"Probably on 90% of the MWMT, some form of prudent HYOH-and-meet up would do, but there are sections - and the rock above Mirror is one - where having each others back can make a big difference especially descending late in the day. Windows and ledges on the crest is another such stretch. I hiked the JMT solo last year, and in 221 miles there were two places where I was seriously concerned that the trail was not clear enough: in the jumble on the south side of Muir Pass and above Mirror Lake. Had minor backtracking to do in a bunch of other places, but these two stand out."

I am purplexed as to why you are resistant to giving a good look at the Mirror Lake ridge segment.
Posted by: saltydog

Re: Musings on Searches and Trails - 06/23/14 05:21 PM

I am even more perplexed as to why you think I am perplexed or resistant. That's what I mean by distortions.

Well that's not strictly true, either. I am not really perplexed, I think I understand the distortions.
Posted by: wbtravis

Re: Musings on Searches and Trails - 06/23/14 05:31 PM

Bee,

You seem to be stuck on the stupid word...does foolish work better for you?

Do I find one to three death here acceptable?. All things considered, I find it acceptable when you consider who comes to Mt. Whitney. People who rent crampons and ice axe to climb the chute, people who do not train properly, who are unwilling to turn around when an alien is trying to crawl out of their right eye, they have not been able to eat since Trailside Meadow but continue to climb, refuse to carry enough clothing, refuse to carry the 10 essentials, refuse to study a map, refuse to carry enough water for the Trail Camp to Trail Camp round trip and walk into lightning storms to summit. Do I like the fact that people die here? No but the will continue to do so.

Let's see, there are numerous websites, message boards, facebook groups, trip reports galore and then there is the patio cover with all it graphics about what and does go wrong on this mountain...yet people die here every year and will continue die here because few listen when you tell them what is obvious to you and me. The accident remain the same, only the names change.

They put a sign at LeConte Falls in Yosemite...something along the lines of the granite is polished from the river water do not venture out...there were a bunch of people out on the granite to get better pictures...there are others. Mt. Baden-Powell has its danger sign but people go up it every winter, who are clueless and end up with a free helicopter ride.

Another sign will make some feel good but it will accomplish next to nothing. We have signs here...what have they accomplished?
Posted by: wbtravis

Re: Musings on Searches and Trails - 06/23/14 05:42 PM

Originally Posted By: Ken

Ah, the "they are just collateral damage" argument against doing anything to avoid civilian deaths.


We don't know why he died...do we? Not a stinking clue but you have a solution. We will put some rocks up and maybe a sign. People will ignore the sign...just as they have ignored all signs on patio cover and they will most likely stand on the rocks to take pictures.

Prove to me how your solution will save anyone.
Posted by: Marle

Re: Musings on Searches and Trails - 06/23/14 05:49 PM

I'm sure glad this thread was started away from the thread about John Likely's disappearance.

We don't yet know what exactly happened to him, but he was certainly experienced, fit enough to summit, and had companions who did attempt to look out for him, even though they didn't walk the trails hand-in-hand.

Some of the attitudes posted here are really arrogant and insensitive. Not everyone who gets into trouble is a naive, underprepared newbie.

I think it's only decent to recognize the difficulty of this part of the trail and pose some reasonable solutions to point out this particular hazard.
Posted by: Steve C

Re: Musings on Searches and Trails - 06/23/14 06:49 PM

> Some of the attitudes posted here are really arrogant and insensitive. Not everyone who gets into trouble is a naive, underprepared newbie.

like! +1

I think it's only decent to recognize the difficulty of this part of the trail and pose some reasonable solutions to point out this particular hazard.

like! like! +2
Posted by: Bee

Re: Musings on Searches and Trails - 06/23/14 07:01 PM

Originally Posted By: wbtravis


Do I find one to three death here acceptable?. All things considered, I find it acceptable when you consider who comes to Mt. Whitney.


Thank you for the clarification.
Posted by: wagga

Re: Musings on Searches and Trails - 06/23/14 11:44 PM

This picture may be helpful.



Found at The Daily News
Posted by: Ken

Re: Musings on Searches and Trails - 06/24/14 12:39 AM

Picture very helpful. So was the article.

So he fell 50 feet INTO a steep chute. That sounds like he went off into space for 50 feet, off of something and into nothing....sort of like....a cliff.

Wow, now I have to guarantee results. That's a high hurdle.

I don't think a sign is the way to go, but I think a little delineation of trail path would be reasonable. I know I've only spent 12 years building trails on forests, but it seems that this is a common remedy for such situations that I've had to do, what, 100 times? So I think it is likely to work.

In my regular line of work, if I had to wait for certainty to do things, I'd have a lot of blood on my hands.

Guarantee? Sure, I'll give a guarantee. If it doesn't work, you can cut the pay I get for the thousand or so hours of volunteer work I've done on trails, in half.

I'd start with a site assessment, including considerable observation of hikers making their way down. Generally, I'd consider using the techniques discussed in the official Trail Notebook, starting on page 128:

USDA Forest Service Trail Maintenance Notebook
Posted by: Ken

Re: Musings on Searches and Trails - 06/24/14 12:43 AM

BTW, I can't help but wonder where this chute is in comparison to the Rockwell "shortcut" in this area. I've never taken it, but I'd guess it was behind the pine tree, and guy with the colored helmet somewhere. Wouldn't want to do that in the dark for the first time.
Posted by: Bulldog34

Re: Musings on Searches and Trails - 06/24/14 02:54 AM

"Authorities believe Likely saw the lake and tried to take a more direct route to his destination - Outpost Camp - before falling."

Understanding that we'll never truly know what happened, this seems a likely scenario for someone with John's experience. If the XC was truly deliberate on his part, at least it takes some heat off the slabs. I still think it would be prudent to establish a reassurance barrier or two along the faintest areas, as Ken and others have suggested. I generally have a pretty good nose for trail but these slabs have tricked me out more than once, and apparently I'm in good company.

On the subject of the Rockwell shortcuts, I'd be curious to know more details for the one in this area. Bob described them to me once, but I can only recall the route from Bighorn Park to Outpost, and Trailside Meadow to Trail Camp. I'm drawing a blank on this section.
Posted by: Steve C

Re: Musings on Searches and Trails - 06/24/14 06:42 AM

I am pretty sure there is no shortcut in this area.
Posted by: Akichow

Re: Musings on Searches and Trails - 06/24/14 07:20 AM

Bulldog, I am pretty sure I found the Rockwell shortcut through the slabs that avoids the Mirror Lake switchbacks when I was on my unplanned detour and frolic on the way down that time (once I saw the stunning stealth campsites, I had an "aha" moment). However, the shortcut gets you back on the trail past the slabs at the point you and I had been discussing that is above Mirror Lake. The picture depicts an area much higher above that and I, too, doubt there is a summer shortcut in this area.
Posted by: psychler

Re: Musings on Searches and Trails - 06/24/14 09:01 AM

"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. "

That shaded area does not appear to line up with photos of where SAR was descending to retrieve the body. I think the deviation point may be at the hairpin turn on the small ridge dividing the Wotan' Throne drainage from the Lone Pine Creek drainage (aka dividing the Mirror Lake bowl from the Consultation Lake side). It's at about 11,482 (3500 meters) or so. He was found at an elevation just below that: 11,450. Coming down, if you missed the hard right switchback, you'd walk right down into that chute. Maybe that's what you have in the photo, and it's distorted? It's hard to tell, but the placement of the trail seems off - it would be on the other side of that ridge.
Posted by: wbtravis

Re: Musings on Searches and Trails - 06/24/14 09:05 AM

Bee,

Thanks for taking what I said out of text. How many deaths on this mountain a year do you find acceptable and what would you do to get them to that number? Also,Could you tell what caused this accident? If you can maybe you can get me on board for a solution. So far, that can be remotely be construed as a cause is hiking alone.
Posted by: wbtravis

Re: Musings on Searches and Trails - 06/24/14 09:13 AM

Bulldog,

I thought that shortcut was to bypass Mirror Lake on the way to Outpost Camp. I know in the winter, we cut down somewhere and ended up below the Mirror Lake but I can't rememeber where. It's been a good 10 years since we did it.
Posted by: Bulldog34

Re: Musings on Searches and Trails - 06/24/14 09:43 AM

It sounds like this may be a snowpack-shortcut, but not really do-able in summer. God knows the MMWT has a few of those - the chute above TC being the most obvious.

As I recall, Bob had mentioned several direct lines that avoided endless switchbacks or meandering trail. I'm guessing these were primarily summer cuts along steeper ridges or slabs. The first was above Lone Pine Lake, to maybe Bighorn Park or somewhere in the vicinity below Outpost Camp. Then a straight shot between Trailside Meadow and Trail Camp. Another was more or less a direct line to the summit from the western crest trail that cuts out that big, winding loop to the left - the one that makes you scratch your head and wonder why you're being directed away from the summit. And, of course, starting at the old trailhead and bypassing the North Fork.

The next time I'm not hauling a 35-pound pack up Whitney, I'd like to check out these two in the middle section of the route.

And Akichow - did you notice the stealth campsite on the 97 switchbacks? Honest. South of the trail, somewhere in the high 70s or 80s, as I recall.
Posted by: wbtravis

Re: Musings on Searches and Trails - 06/24/14 10:08 AM

That 35# pack thing gets in the way of exploring...sometimes. However, my winter pack is close to 30# on very cold full gear days...and that does stop me from exploring.
Posted by: 63ChevyII.com

Re: Musings on Searches and Trails - 06/24/14 10:34 AM

Originally Posted By: psychler
Maybe that's what you have in the photo, and it's distorted? It's hard to tell, but the placement of the trail seems off - it would be on the other side of that ridge.


If by 'placement of the trail' you mean the red and blue lines, those were placed there automatically by Google Earth. Their placement is based on the coordinates that my GPS recorded... of course there is a margin of error with any GPS. Google Earth distorts things also. They're basically taking a 2D satellite photo and stretching it over a 3D model.


Comparing the picture above to what I see in GE, this looks like it could be the area. Once again though, this is just a guess...



The topic of abandonment and sticking together on hikes has me thinking about my next Whitney hike, coming up in September.

A little background info...
In the spring on 2011, I did not hike and really had no interest. My good friend, JP, got Whitney permits and spent a couple of months convincing me to go. If Whitney wasn't the highest peak in the lower 48, I don't think he would have convinced me. Fast forward to 2014. I'm the one that's organizing and planning all of the hikes. We go back to Whitney together every year, but JP has not hiked above Trail Camp since 2011. He has known issues with AMS, and since he has already summited, the struggle is not worth it to him. However, he does enjoy the hike up to Trail Camp and the acclimation hikes I plan before Whitney. I enjoy having him along for the hike; he's a good friend and I enjoy his company. He knows the trail. If someone has AMS issues in the group, we have someone that is ready to descend with them. If we need to drive home after the hike, we have someone to drive who didn't just finish a 20+ mile hike.

Now, my question is, going into the hike and knowing there's a 75% or greater chance that JP will turn around at Trail Camp...

What would the perception be if he descended alone and something happened to him. Would we be accused of abandoning him or being irresponsible?
Under what circumstances should someone descend with him? There are obvious circumstances (vomiting, mountaineer's foot, etc). But what if he says, 'I have a bad headache?' What if we make it to Trailside Meadow and he decides to turn around b/c the 'AMS headache' hits earlier and harder than normal?
Posted by: Ken

Re: Musings on Searches and Trails - 06/24/14 10:57 AM

This is the shortcut I'm thinking about, 4B. I think the one WB described is 4A:


============================

4A (300) (Ascending or descending) The “Peach Mango” shortcut leaves the Main Trail at Mirror Lake, just after the Mirror Lake sign, and ascends sharply up on nice slabs, to rejoin the Main Trail before it heads up and west over the long bench toward Trailside Meadow. There is a big bottle of orange drink under a tree about a third of the way up. Here and there you can see the Main Trail a couple of hundred feet to your right, switching gently back and forth while you continue your upward progression.

4B (400’) (Descending) The “Tin Pie Plate” shortcut saves only a few minutes if that, but it is a refreshing change from the monotonous Main Trail, and there is a nice class 3 section near the bottom. If you are in a hurry, take 4A down instead.

On the bench overlooking Mirror Lake, the Main Trail gains 5’ in elevation, loses it, then gains 5’ again. 100’ past the top of this second rise, slant sharply left for 50’ and drop to a sandy ledge containing several small pine trees. Turn hard left (west) to enter a now obvious couloir, and descend it for ~300’. Upon reaching a ledge from which further progress seems unlikely, turn right. Passing a duck with a tin pie plate is the key. Descend class 3 the rest of the way, ending about 100’ above Mirror Lake. Now traverse to the Main Trail.

=========================

Description of "sandy ledge containing several small pine trees" makes me think of where the SAR Rap picture was taken.
Posted by: Ken

Re: Musings on Searches and Trails - 06/24/14 11:10 AM

What would the perception be if he descended alone and something happened to him. Would we be accused of abandoning him or being irresponsible?

>>>you can count on it. In fact, if you carry him down on your back, you can STILL count on it. Something happens=kneejerk response of criticism, particularly in the lay media.

>>>>>Reasoned, experienced people might have a different response.


Under what circumstances should someone descend with him? There are obvious circumstances (vomiting, mountaineer's foot, etc). But what if he says, 'I have a bad headache?' What if we make it to Trailside Meadow and he decides to turn around b/c the 'AMS headache' hits earlier and harder than normal?

>>>here is where judgement comes into play. Generally speaking, I think if a person turns around for a medical issue (AMS is one), they should be accompanied. The problem is, it can get worse very fast, making them incapable of walking. No way of knowing. I think of the young guy in a guided trip who died over on the Cottonwood Lakes trail, at a little over 10K.

I'd feel pretty comfortable, if because of a HA at TM, he decided to stop there for an extended rest, accompanied, the HA resolved, but he decided to go down instead of up, letting him go alone. At that point his problem seems to have resolved, but he knows what he faces up higher. Probable exception would be if he had to descend in the dark. I'd definitely have him accompanied.

DONT have him take the shortcuts from TM to Mirror Lake!
Posted by: Snacking Bear

Re: Musings on Searches and Trails - 06/24/14 11:21 AM

63Chevy

Since you are the man with the tech...

"An aerial crew spotted the chute, located at 11,450 feet."

Maybe this can narrow the area down.

From the LA Times Artice yesterday:
http://www.latimes.com/local/lanow/la-me-ln-remains-identified-mt-whitney-20140623-story.html
Posted by: Ken

Re: Musings on Searches and Trails - 06/24/14 11:34 AM

63, that's nice photo work!
Posted by: 63ChevyII.com

Re: Musings on Searches and Trails - 06/24/14 11:53 AM

Originally Posted By: Ken
63, that's nice photo work!

Thanks Ken.

Originally Posted By: Snacking Bear
63Chevy

Since you are the man with the tech...

"An aerial crew spotted the chute, located at 11,450 feet."

Maybe this can narrow the area down.

From the LA Times Artice yesterday:
http://www.latimes.com/local/lanow/la-me-ln-remains-identified-mt-whitney-20140623-story.html


Snacking Bear - I thought of that also, but the elevation readings in GE didn't match up with the area I had been looking at previously. Your post, prompted me to look a little further up the trail. Thoughts?



Here's screenshot of the area with a topo map layered over it.

Posted by: 63ChevyII.com

Re: Musings on Searches and Trails - 06/24/14 01:36 PM

Originally Posted By: Snacking Bear

"An aerial crew spotted the chute, located at 11,450 feet."


Do you think they mean 10,450?

Wouldn't 11,450 put the chute somewhere between Trailside Meadow and Trail Camp, unless he climbed up from the MWMT?
Posted by: saltydog

Re: Musings on Searches and Trails - 06/24/14 02:34 PM

Originally Posted By: 63ChevyII.com
Originally Posted By: Snacking Bear

"An aerial crew spotted the chute, located at 11,450 feet."


Do you think they mean 10,450?

Wouldn't 11,450 put the chute somewhere between Trailside Meadow and Trail Camp, unless he climb up from the MWMT?


No, 10450 would put it just above Outpost, which is at 10,400, but yes 11450 would put it higher than TM. But, 11450 does seem high: there is a very important feature in the published photo: the (whitebark?) pine in the foreground. The highest tree along the trail used to be a krumholz whitebark just about at the top of the switchers above ML. Pretty unlikely to find another one significantly higher than that. Lining up the angles between ML and Big Horn park and a couple of other features, I put the POV of the published shot much lower than the x in the above photos. Another strong possibility is that the photo shows an exploratory rap in a different location, not the recovery operation itself. IF this were the actual recovery, there should be a lot more people and equipment in the shot.
Posted by: 63ChevyII.com

Re: Musings on Searches and Trails - 06/24/14 02:49 PM

Originally Posted By: saltydog
IF this were the actual recovery, there should be a lot more people and equipment in the shot.


Good point!
Posted by: Ken

Re: Musings on Searches and Trails - 06/24/14 03:46 PM

Personally, I think the thing that is going to revolutionize SAR is drone technology.

I'm thinking of a recovery that took place in one of the couloirs of the needles, that was very dangerous to rap. It could have been up or down flown in about a minute, with no risk at all.

With the current episode, all the likely fall areas could have been carefully searched in a day by one person, with no risk.

One might say that drones would be that much more additional weight, but if it replaced a bunch of climbing gear for exploration.....
Posted by: Jim Means

Re: Musings on Searches and Trails - 06/24/14 09:00 PM

Originally Posted By: saltydog
Originally Posted By: 63ChevyII.com
Originally Posted By: Snacking Bear

"An aerial crew spotted the chute, located at 11,450 feet."


Do you think they mean 10,450?

Wouldn't 11,450 put the chute somewhere between Trailside Meadow and Trail Camp, unless he climb up from the MWMT?


No, 10450 would put it just above Outpost, which is at 10,400, but yes 11450 would put it higher than TM. But, 11450 does seem high: there is a very important feature in the published photo: the (whitebark?) pine in the foreground. The highest tree along the trail used to be a krumholz whitebark just about at the top of the switchers above ML. Pretty unlikely to find another one significantly higher than that. Lining up the angles between ML and Big Horn park and a couple of other features, I put the POV of the published shot much lower than the x in the above photos. Another strong possibility is that the photo shows an exploratory rap in a different location, not the recovery operation itself. IF this were the actual recovery, there should be a lot more people and equipment in the shot.


I wouldn't rule out that the photo was of the recovery operation. This same photo was posted on the Inyo Register site last Friday (beating the LA papers by several days), and the captioning there says that the photo was Friday and that they were preparing to rappel down the chute where the body was sighted from the air Thursday night. The SAR team may not have thought to put all of their gear into the photo to satisfy the speculators on the WWW.

In the photo it appears that a line drawn from the trees on the north side of Bighorn Park through the southwestern corner of Mirror Lake would pass pretty close to where the SAR team is located.

Here's my attempt at this in Google Earth, red line showing approximate photo line of sight:



SAR team appears to be on north side of ridge from the point where the trail starts to switch down to Trailside Meadow. There is a very deep chute near there.
Posted by: saltydog

Re: Musings on Searches and Trails - 06/25/14 08:46 AM

Very informative shot, Jim Means. I think the red line is very close . I put it rotated maybe a degree to the south, nearer the base of the cliff in the right of the news photo. there is a later version I think in the Inyo paper that shows a few more people and their gear, and its clearly labeled as the recovery.

Two things stand out from your shot: first, the apparent location is right off a very sharp right hand switcher above TSM. Miss that turn and the line takes you right to the top of the chute indicated in your GE shot. Makes me think this is much more likely a missed trail than a deliberate shortcut.

Second, this location is not in any of the trail photos or GE shots we were looking at, even after the press release of last Friday announcing the find and describing it as in a steep chute above Mirror Lake. The description was accurate, but it is not where we were looking before we got the news photo.

Oh, except for wbtravis: " I view the area between Consultation Lake and Trailside Meadow that is highly exposed as the most likely place ".
Posted by: 63ChevyII.com

Re: Musings on Searches and Trails - 06/25/14 08:51 AM

Originally Posted By: Jim Means


Here's my attempt at this in Google Earth, red line showing approximate photo line of sight:


That red line passes close to the area that I marked with a red X in the last series of screenshots.

I was unsure if there was a steep chute though looking at a topo map and I'm not familiar enough with the area to know what's there.

Here's another view using your red line and assuming that hard right turn was missed and someone continued walking:
Posted by: wbtravis

Re: Musings on Searches and Trails - 06/25/14 09:31 AM

Originally Posted By: 63ChevyII.com

Now, my question is, going into the hike and knowing there's a 75% or greater chance that JP will turn around at Trail Camp...

What would the perception be if he descended alone and something happened to him. Would we be accused of abandoning him or being irresponsible?
Under what circumstances should someone descend with him? There are obvious circumstances (vomiting, mountaineer's foot, etc). But what if he says, 'I have a bad headache?' What if we make it to Trailside Meadow and he decides to turn around b/c the 'AMS headache' hits earlier and harder than normal?


You and your partner JP most likely will have talked about where he is going to turn around. If at the time of turn around he says I would like you to go back with me...you go back. If the says go ahead you go ahead. Ultimately, we are all responsible for our decisions.

When I am by myself, I throttle back what I will attempt. If my written at home itinerary says directly to Mt. Whitney and back...I will not do a side trip to Mt. Muir, etc. I limit myself to trails and off trail things I have done before.

Also, knowing I will be without a partner for mutual assistance, there will be no short cutting clothing, gear or food. This makes for a heavier pack.

As for perception, who cares. That is between you and JP, not you and the comment writers at the Los Angeles Times or your local paper. Most them don't know a hiking trail from the I-405.
Posted by: saltydog

Re: Musings on Searches and Trails - 06/25/14 12:13 PM

Don't want to start an argument with ChevyII, because he has done some really nice work on this. But the red x is on the scree slope in the couloir well to the NW and below the rescue site and the sharp right switcher. In this later pic, though, the yellow map pin I think is right on: exactly where this hike probably went wrong, to the NE and above the switcher, and almost on the red line. Now that we have a better idea of the critical point, I wonder if there are experiences of others losing the trail in this section.
Posted by: 63ChevyII.com

Re: Musings on Searches and Trails - 06/25/14 12:42 PM

Originally Posted By: saltydog
Don't want to start an argument with ChevyII, because he has done some really nice work on this. But the red x is on the scree slope in the couloir well to the NW and below the rescue site and the sharp right switcher. In this later pic, though, the yellow map pin I think is right on: exactly where this hike probably went wrong, to the NE and above the switcher, and almost on the red line. Now that we have a better idea of the critical point, I wonder if there are experiences of others losing the trail in this section.


No worries, nothing to argue about! I agree with what you've said. If this is the area where things went wrong, it all seems to make more sense to me.

I could be thinking of a different spot, but if you missed that hard right turn (assuming you're headed down), I believe that there is a path in this area, leading out towards a dropoff. I've missed that turn in the past as well as walked out there to take pics around sunrise.
Posted by: Dave F

Re: Musings on Searches and Trails - 06/25/14 01:05 PM

"I could be thinking of a different spot, but if you missed that hard right turn (assuming you're headed down), I believe that there is a path in this area, leading out towards a dropoff. I've missed that turn in the past as well as walked out there to take pics around sunrise."

This sped-up youtube video (no commercial for me) shows the area in question - at least in the uphill direction.

Whitney Video

I'm pretty sure the hard-right occurs at roughly 22:20 in the video. It's not easy to see the perspective of a downhill traveler, but at least in the daylight the trail seems reasonably well defined for an uphill traveler. I've seen suggestions here that rocks could be used to better mark the trail. Watching the video makes me realize how difficult it might be to use rocks to "better define" unclear areas that are so rocky to begin with.

I'm a newbie here, so if I didn't link the url properly, the youtube address is:

www.youtube.com/watch?v=9ivibvFeuFA

Posted by: 63ChevyII.com

Re: Musings on Searches and Trails - 06/25/14 01:39 PM

Originally Posted By: Dave F


Great idea Dave (using the video). I think the area we're talking about is here( 22:53-22:59). At 22:50 you see a large rock. I believe I've passed that rock with it on my right instead of my left when descending.


Here's another GE image. I tried approximate Jim Mean's placement of the red line and my previous placement of the yellow pin. The green line is my track from when I missed the turn in 2012.
Posted by: saltydog

Re: Musings on Searches and Trails - 06/25/14 02:18 PM

Also look at 22:50-55 and you will see another sharp turn with a clear gap in the rock border. I think this is the spot Chevy shows he got off the trail, or the little jiggle just above it.
Posted by: 63ChevyII.com

Re: Musings on Searches and Trails - 06/25/14 02:20 PM

Originally Posted By: saltydog
Also look at 22:50-55 and you will see another sharp turn with a clear gap in the rock border. I think this is the spot Chevy shows he got off the trail, or the little jiggle just above it.

I'm fairly certain that's the spot, behind the boulder at 22:53.
Posted by: saltydog

Re: Musings on Searches and Trails - 06/25/14 03:46 PM

Originally Posted By: 63ChevyII.com
Originally Posted By: saltydog
Also look at 22:50-55 and you will see another sharp turn with a clear gap in the rock border. I think this is the spot Chevy shows he got off the trail, or the little jiggle just above it.

I'm fairly certain that's the spot, behind the boulder at 22:53.


Yep: looks like an invitation to wander. Easy fix.
Posted by: Bulldog34

Re: Musings on Searches and Trails - 06/25/14 04:30 PM

I'm thinking this almost certainly had to be in the dark if it was an off-route accident, but that would put it later in the evening this time of year. I have a hard time imagining a hiker with John's experience just wandering off a snowless trail in daylight and falling down a chute. Of course, possible AMS and exhaustion are two factors that can complicate the equation, but again I keep going back to his experience level. Thirty years hiking. Sixth trip up Whitney. The guy was no noob - he knew what he was doing on a mountain or a trail.

Unless the group got an egregiously late start from Outpost, or a similarly late departure from the summit, I have difficulty digesting a scenario that would have John in this area after nightfall. Assuming you're leaving the summit at, say, 1:00, and moving down at an absolute snail's pace of 1 mph, you'd still be here at around 7:00. It wouldn't begin to dusk until about 8:30, right? Full dark around 9:00? Add in the fact that nobody on the trail that day reported noticing him between TC and OC - and a hiker in trouble usually will draw some attention - and it still mystifies me. I haven't seen a time of day listed in any article for when his group saw him at the cables - that would be a nice fact to have while we're speculating. Which is, of course, what we're doing.
Posted by: saltydog

Re: Musings on Searches and Trails - 06/25/14 06:19 PM

Bulldog:

I know: its a tough one, isn't it? I think we could use a lot more information in order to draw real lessons from this.
Posted by: Akichow

Re: Musings on Searches and Trails - 06/25/14 08:09 PM

He was wearing shorts, was alone, and dark was probably falling by the time he hit the area.

I imagine, for myself, being cold, tired and/or exhausted, maybe somewhat dehydrated after a long day, and alone, and possibly feeling rushed (to join friends? to get down before dark? to get warm? just to end the tedium?). I question the kind of decisions I might make, and the actions I might take, in that situation. I hope I'd have a bivvy sack and headlight with me, so that I'd at least have the option of taking a nap, if I needed one. And the clarity of thought to make good decisions viz whether to rest or push on.

I cannot speculate beyond my own weakness, strengths, experience, skills, equipment, and judgment, to extrapolate what occurred with this gentleman. We don't know this gentleman. We do not know what he had in his day pack. We do not know his friends. We just know that this is a very sad story with a tragic end.



Posted by: wbtravis

Re: Musings on Searches and Trails - 06/26/14 09:45 AM

Akicow,

I always stop at Trailside Meadow on the way down. I take my boots off put my feet in the water, eat and dunk my head. This does wonders. I am refreshed for 2nd half of the trip down.

My position here has been we do not know jack about what happened to Mr. Lively. He could have tripped or slipped, he could have stroked out or had a heart attack...my guess is if the latter is the case, we will not see it in the papers or on the news.
Posted by: Akichow

Re: Musings on Searches and Trails - 06/26/14 01:47 PM

I have the same routine. Trailside Meadow is a beautiful place to recharge.
Posted by: SierraNevada

Re: Musings on Searches and Trails - 06/27/14 07:32 AM

Here's another locator alarm case to banter about from yesterday. A solo hiker hit the Spot button because she was lost for 24hrs while doing what seems to be an off-trail traverse. As usual, the details are sketchy, but it's in the gray area of whether this classifies as a true emergency or not.

I'm taking off for a 100-mile week on the JMT. Yeah! Group of 4, so probably leaving the PLB behind.
Posted by: Steve C

Re: Musings on Searches and Trails - 06/27/14 07:37 AM

Where is Cascade Valley / Silver Peak?
Posted by: Akichow

Re: Musings on Searches and Trails - 06/27/14 07:47 AM

On one thread, we are telling a hiker, whose experience, skills, equipment, and condition, are completely unknown to us, "sure, go hike Whitney solo -- you're never really solo on Whitney anyway -- go for it, just turn back if you don't feel good." Though solo hikers get into trouble on Whitney all the time.

And on every other thread, we are dissecting, or at least making assumptions about, the decisions and judgment of hikers who run into trouble, again, whose experience, skills, equipment, condition are completely unknown to us.

I think there is a disconnect.
Posted by: saltydog

Re: Musings on Searches and Trails - 06/27/14 08:03 AM

Cascade is the upper reaches of Fish Creek, below Tully Hole and Silver Pass/Divide (not peak). Silver Peak is near Tahoe
Posted by: saltydog

Re: Musings on Searches and Trails - 06/27/14 08:14 AM

AKi: that is a little disturbing. The thread on solo hiking might bear some review.
Posted by: wbtravis

Re: Musings on Searches and Trails - 06/27/14 08:24 AM

I don't see the disconnect. One is off route, the other is a hiking trail. Two entirely different disciplines. I would never recommend anyone do a new off trail route solo...heck, I will not even do a new off trail route solo. Are there risks? Yeah, we have had two people walk down to San Antonio Falls off the Ski Hut Trail in SoCal. 2 out of God knows how many thousands. Nothing is without risk...it is how you manage risk
Posted by: saltydog

Re: Musings on Searches and Trails - 06/27/14 08:33 AM

I don't know: I looked at the Hiking Whitney Alone thread again, and I don't get a "just go for it" message. I think the iPod advice is a little off point, which was safety, but I see a lot more caveats and parens around things than just "in case of AMS turn back". Your first post there connected soloing with skill and experience pretty well, in fact, and others emphasized experience and skills as well.

Maybe the thread could do with some more direct references to the other threads where we are analyzing mistakes and gleaning some of the lessons from: such as: "many experienced hikers have done it safely, but even for them, there are hazards (citing recent SAR and other cases".

BTW, in the current PLB case, the hiker is reported as sick as well as lost.
Posted by: saltydog

Re: Musings on Searches and Trails - 06/27/14 08:39 AM

Originally Posted By: wbtravis
I don't see the disconnect. One is off route, the other is a hiking trail. Two entirely different disciplines. I would never recommend anyone do a new off trail route solo...heck, I will not even do a new off trail route solo. Are there risks? Yeah, we have had two people walk down to San Antonio Falls off the Ski Hut Trail in SoCal. 2 out of God knows how many thousands. Nothing is without risk...it is how you manage risk



Uh, WB, this entire thread has been about an experienced hiker on route. From the Fresno Bee story, I am not sure that hiker was off route. The reporter certainly was: Silver Peak?
Posted by: wbtravis

Re: Musings on Searches and Trails - 06/27/14 09:10 AM

Aki said off trail traverse...this ain't exactly trailwalking. That is what I based my reply on.

Again, how many people get lost on MMWT vs. how many hike it? Ultimately, anyone considering this has to weigh the risks. My response lists what I do on all solo hikes...not just the MMWT.

I hike Mt. Baldy occasionally the trail is ill defined through the bowl, there is the big building with solar panels on it that is one big visual clue where you need to be, yet, people end up at the top of San Antonio Falls 1,200' below. How two groups got there this year, I do not rightly know but I would not recommend against solo hiking Mt. Baldy because two group made an an error in navigation. The same holds true for the MMWT.

As long as you do your homework...map study, trail reports, perusing this and other Whitney related websites, asking questions of the experts and setting hard fast rules for yourself, doing Mt. Whitney with 200 of your nearest and dearest newest friends should be a problem. With that said, you will never eliminate risk, only minimize it.
Posted by: Harvey Lankford

Re: Musings on Searches and Trails - 06/27/14 09:31 AM

I don't mean to be silly here, but

(1) getting lost and losing the trail(even for 10 ft) are two different things. Either can be dangerous.

and

(2)a WAG sidetrip could put you in jeopardy.

There are even stories on Everest of people going 2 feet outside the tent to relieve themselves, slipping, and dying.
Posted by: saltydog

Re: Musings on Searches and Trails - 06/27/14 09:53 AM

Not silly at all, Harvey: there are lots of risks related to MWMT, not the least of which is trying to follow certain discussions. For example, I am having a hard time following wb here: I think he has a point, but I can't find, for example, where Aki said anything like "off trail traverse".
Posted by: wbtravis

Re: Musings on Searches and Trails - 06/27/14 09:56 AM

My fault...it was SN, "Here's another locator alarm case to banter about from yesterday. A solo hiker hit the Spot button because she was lost for 24hrs while doing what seems to be an off-trail traverse."
Posted by: Bee

Re: Musings on Searches and Trails - 06/27/14 10:06 AM

Originally Posted By: Harvey Lankford


There are even stories on Everest of people going 2 feet outside the tent to relieve themselves, slipping, and dying.



My hiking buddy did Shasta many years ago. He woke up in the morning, starting his trek, and shortly thereafter discovered a body clad only in thermals. The guy had gotten up in the night.....and fell about 1,000 ft.
Posted by: Steve C

Re: Musings on Searches and Trails - 06/27/14 10:12 AM

> ...a body clad only in thermals. ...fell about 1,000 ft.

Mercy! I'd heard about the Everest one, but not Shasta.
Posted by: wbtravis

Re: Musings on Searches and Trails - 06/27/14 10:18 AM

Saltydog,

What dangers are there on the MMWT that are out of the ordinary? I hike trails all the time where rockfall is an issue, with exposure and risk of AMS for me starts at 7,500'. During the three seasons, I have not experienced any pucker moments on this trail.

There is a certain measure of safety with there being upwards of 200-250 people on the trail any given time...all permits and routes considered. To hike solo here, you must set limits. I always list mine when I suggest someone go among the masses.
Posted by: Harvey Lankford

Re: Musings on Searches and Trails - 06/27/14 10:21 AM

more musings

it would be instructional to know what the relative risks are, for example, dying on a Whitney trail hike, getting hit by lightning on a golf course, driving drunk, or tripping on the sidewalk outside Starbucks.

The latter may sound frivolous, but listen to this. I once reviewed the medical aspects of a lawsuit. Little old lady tripped on sidewalk outside mall, broke hip, months of hospital and rehab. I asked the lawyer what was the size of the hole she tripped on? Aha! he says. That is the crux of the case. Tiny insignificant hole would not trip her - she is a goldigger. Large hole any fool would see and avoid. But, sounding like the three bears story, just the the right size hole could be overlooked yet large enough to trip and fall.

Same for a minor but wrong turn off the trail, or just a stone in the trail. It does not take darkness, AMS, fatigue, or skedaddled partners to explain any of this.
Posted by: Bee

Re: Musings on Searches and Trails - 06/27/14 11:21 AM

Originally Posted By: Steve C
> ...a body clad only in thermals. ...fell about 1,000 ft.

Mercy! I'd heard about the Everest one, but not Shasta.


Many decades ago -- ask Mike C. about it sometime (He and his buddy immediately abandoned their climb!)
Posted by: saltydog

Re: Musings on Searches and Trails - 06/27/14 11:36 AM

Originally Posted By: wbtravis
Saltydog,

What dangers are there on the MMWT that are out of the ordinary? I hike trails all the time where rockfall is an issue, with exposure and risk of AMS for me starts at 7,500'. During the three seasons, I have not experienced any pucker moments on this trail.

There is a certain measure of safety with there being upwards of 200-250 people on the trail any given time...all permits and routes considered. To hike solo here, you must set limits. I always list mine when I suggest someone go among the masses.


Aha! First "out of the ordinary" makes no difference: they are there, and none of the discussion I have seen assumes or depends on any of the dangers being out of the ordinary - for a climb of over 6000 feet in the Sierra. But what IS out of the ordinary - unique in fact - is that 6000+ gain, combined with the highest possible elevation in the Sierra. That creates a much higher risk of things like AMS and exhaustion. Add to that its accessibility and wide notoriety, and the fact that it is all class I trail. As anyone descending on a summer day can attest, all this attracts an extraordinary number of obviously unprepared visitors. 200 other people on the trail didn't mean a thing in any of the fatalities I am aware of. 2 or 3 a year among 20,000? Doesn't sound like much until you compare it with Yosemite, yahoo central all summer, which gets 5 or ten in an average year out of 4 million visitors and a lot more wilderness miles than MW. And that includes the big walls and idiots playing around waterfalls.
Posted by: Akichow

Re: Musings on Searches and Trails - 06/27/14 08:55 PM

Anyone remember any stories of solo hikers getting into trouble ON THE WHITNEY TRAIL? Let me repeat, ON THE TRAIL. Anyone?

I recall quite a few such stories, both from this site and the other one. It happens. Even to people who have climbed Whitney 100+. Or people who started out a day hike up Whitney with friends, but ended up lagging behind toward the end of the hike. Or a woman who experiences a seizure somewhere near Trail Camp (with no prior history of seizures), and happens to stumble into the campsite of a doctor, who stabilizes her and facilitates a helicopter rescue.

So, here's my thinking about solo hikers: the risk faced by the hiker depends on variables that are usually unknown to us. The fact that hiking Whitney solo may be "safe" for you does not mean that is safe for everyone.

If you are hiking Whitney and experience AMS, dehydration, fatigue, or cold, you may lack (or have reduced) capacity to exercise good judgment for yourself. In that case, it may be helpful to have someone there who can help you make good decisions. Who can help keep you calm if it is needed. Who knows you and your personality well enough to recognize a change in behavior that is cause for concern.

But if you are an experienced hiker, have good equipment, are familiar with the effects of altitude, have good skills, maybe even already know the mountain, then maybe you'll make good decisions if/when you find yourself solo and in trouble on Whitney, whether due to fatigue, exhaustion, dehydration, AMS, or something else. Maybe you'll recognize the situation sooner than would a less experienced/skilled/knowledgeable hiker, while the situation is still easy to manage. Maybe you'll identify a broader range of options, then would a less experienced/skilled/knowledgeable hiker. Maybe you'll have more options than would a less experienced/skilled/knowledgeable hiker because you made wise choices viz what is in your daypack. Put simply, maybe hiking Whitney solo is something that presents a reasonable risk, for you, due to all your knowledge, experience, skills, preparation, etc.

But, back to the disconnect.

We may tell a solo hiker, whose experience/skills/knowledge/equipment are unknown to us, yes, go hike Whitney solo, just turn around if you get sick. (Which assumes capacity to make such a decision, when the anecdotal evidence is that such capacity should NOT be assumed.) That person gets the benefit of the doubt. The hiker doing Whitney for the first time solo question has come up several times in the past, and so I am not thinking only of the recent thread, but also several that preceded it.

But the solo hiker who gets in trouble and hits the spot button, we may assume that person was a dolt and being irresponsible.
We seem, sometimes, to be a little quick to judge, is what I am saying, when someone gets into trouble, when again, we lack information about their experience/skills/knowledge/equipment/condition.

Well, people see these issues differently. That is what makes for a discussion board.
Posted by: Bee

Re: Musings on Searches and Trails - 06/27/14 09:51 PM

Originally Posted By: Akichow


But the solo hiker who gets in trouble and hits the spot button, we may assume that person was a dolt and being irresponsible.



.....or "stupid"

Why do I seem 'fixated' on that word? Because every time there is a rescue/incident, there always has to be at least one mention of "stupid people" etc, etc.

Nice post, Akichow.

My own selfish reasons for not liking to hike alone? I carry more than my share paranoia and neurosis, and the more experience my buddy has, the less aforementioned psychological affliction I suffer.
Posted by: Bulldog34

Re: Musings on Searches and Trails - 06/28/14 06:02 AM

Excellent post, Karin. As I've mentioned, I do a lot of solo hiking so I have to be careful in offering advice to others. This is not a one-size-fits-all endeavor, and so many factors come into play with individual experience, fitness levels, personalities, phobias, etc. As I've come to know Whitney and developed a comfort level with the trail, I'm sure I've been guilty of underestimating dangers or challenges that don't register very high on my radar screen but may be significant to others.

Before my first attempt at Whitney in 2009, I did a lot of research on the mountain. This site didn't exist and the WPS was going through a transition with its first-timer materials. Ultimately, I found the best scoop on the pages of wbtravis' Mt. Whitney website. I used a lot of Bill's suggestions and information - which were laced pretty heavily with good, common-sense cautions and warnings - as my guide for that first trip. Solo trip, I should point out.

I had been above 14K' several times in the years prior, with no ill effects. The year before I had even traveled from essentially sea level to above 14K' in less than 24 hours, with absolutely no acclimation and no issues. I had this (admittedly ridiculous) idea that altitude didn't affect me. I was overconfident - and that first trip up the MWMT brought me back to earth with a hard crash.

I cruised up the mountain to Trail Camp feeling great, but by the time I stopped at the switchbacks spring to refill water a headache had started. By the time I hit the cables it had morphed into by far the worst headache I had ever experienced. Then came the nausea and sleepiness. Not fatigue necessarily, but sleepiness - I just wanted to lay down and go to sleep, and to hell with the consequences. I began to tremble and became unsteady on my feet (Harvey's oft-mentioned "mountaineer's foot"). I was not that far from Trail Crest when I yakked for the first time. I sat down somewhere around the 75th switchback and took stock of my situation. In the space of a single hour I had gone from feeling fine to becoming a huge liability to myself.

I admitted to myself that, yes, I really was suffering AMS and needed to turn back. I had invested a couple of grand and a lot of training in this attempt and really didn't want to go home defeated, but I made the decision to call it a day and descend. I had promised my wife I would take no chances. Now, here's the thing: I got up from that rest stop and ostensibly acted on my decision. Fifteen minutes later I realized I was still ascending the switchbacks. My mind had made the logical decision to turn around but my body had subconsciously acted on its own and kept going up. It was at that point that I began to think that maybe I shouldn't be alone.

I really did do an about-face at that point and - very, very slowly - walked my way out. It had taken me about 4.5 hours to climb from the Portal to Trail Camp. Trail Camp to the Portal lasted about 5 hours at the snail's pace I was moving. I typically jet downhill but, aside from the physical challenges I was experiencing, I was extremely concerned about my decision-making and went super-slow. That sudden awareness on the switchbacks that my mind was semi-scrambled had rattled me badly.

By the time I reached Outpost Camp I was feeling better (and, yes, I had to backtrack on the slabs after missing that hairpin left we've been discussing). By Lone Pine Lake most of the symptoms had disappeared. I was feeling well enough by the Portal to have a burger and a beer. I told my story to Doug and the first thing he asked me was where I had spent the previous nights. When I said Lone Pine, I got the friendly acclimation lecture. And I took it to heart. Based on that personal experience, whenever I advise anyone on their first Whitney attempt, or any other first try at altitude, I probably overemphasize acclimation.

Although that was my one and only experience with the perils of AMS, it has stayed with me ever since. Yes, it was the worst I've ever felt in my life, but the mental circus I went through is what still scares me to this day. Most people who know me would describe me as level-headed, logical, practical, and not given to taking unnecessary risks in the mountains. The fact that I would do something so stupid (for you, Bee) as succumb unconsciously to summit fever chills me when I recall it. What if I had not had that moment of clarity and turned around? The potential scenarios go from bad to worse.

That same trip I did a few pre-Whitney warm-up hikes in the Cottonwood area and ran across a group with a teenage boy who was suffering from altitude symptoms. They decided to press on while keeping an eye on him. I remember reading in the Inyo Register the day after I had come down from Whitney that this boy had eventually died from either HAPE or HACE. For me, that put the exclamation mark on the dangers of altitude, which I had been somewhat ambivalent about before.

I still do a lot of solo hiking, but since that episode I've never gone above 12K' alone, and I make damn sure I and my family get really good acclimation before doing so. My daughter was 11 when she first went up Whitney, and my wife and I watched her like hawks. She's always handled elevation well but when she began to slow down noticeably as we passed the windows, we stopped, took stock of the situation, and decided to turn back. That was a tough call with the summit hut in sight, but I've never regretted the decision. She said she only had a mild headache and could go on, but she was stopping to rest every 15 minutes or so after cruising up the switchbacks like a trooper. Her safety was absolutely Job One and it was getting later in the day than I liked. Also, Rob from the Crabtree ranger station had warned us about dangerous icing on the 97th switchback above the chute if we weren't back over it by the time the sun went off of it (this was the heavy snow year and the chute and trail above it was still heavily packed in July).

I had also exercised questionable judgment in even heading up Whitney that particular trip. A few days earlier I had suffered a shoulder injury during a technical climb of Cathedral Peak in Yosemite, and was still in an arm sling the day before we loaded up packs for Whitney. In retrospect maybe not the greatest decision, even though it presented no real difficulties for me during the trip. One little thing going wrong where I really needed the full use of that arm, and the story could have been quite different.

I try to keep these things in mind when discussing someone else's first attempt at Whitney or offering an opinion on someone's bad luck on the mountain - but I also know that if I had the opportunity to do Whitney solo next week I'd likely talk myself into it pretty quickly. Thanks, Karin, for shining a light on this inconsistency in some of our posts. I could certainly be more consistent in my opinions, and I'll try to bear your points in mind in the future.


Posted by: Harvey Lankford

Re: Musings on Searches and Trails - 06/28/14 08:45 AM

time for a mountaineering literature musing....

One may pass beneath a tottering serac nine times, to be buried by it on the tenth.
Eric Shipton, Upon That Mountain, page 42
Posted by: saltydog

Re: Musings on Searches and Trails - 06/28/14 08:48 AM

Another key fact has emerged throwing light on the particular dangers of hiking solo on MWMT, and I think tragically makes Karin's point. It also says a lot to me about the relative importance of the fact that the trail is crowded. Steve has posted a video, from Inyo Sheriff's office, which reports that on his descent, John Likely appeared so fatigued that one group of hikers offered him help. He refused the assistance. There is not one other report of anyone seeing him between the cables and where his body was found.
Posted by: Bee

Re: Musings on Searches and Trails - 06/28/14 04:23 PM

I am going to throw this recent experience that I had into the conversation(recent as a few hours ago)

I drove to a wooded gated community that I had been to several times before, and on my way out, I got "lost" amongst the few roads that encircled a fairly small area. I called a friend of mine and told him that I could not find my way out of this #$%&^*!! little revine. I was having trouble thinking straight. Finally, my buddy asked me when was the last time I ate? Oh, yeah....yesterday at 5:00pm (It was now 1:00pm the next day) Deprived of food, I could not even make simple decisions about how to exit a small community with limited choices.

I can only imagine what it would be like to add fatigue, cold, darkness, AMS etc to the mix.

I eventually made a complete loop of the community and by default, found the exit.
Posted by: Harvey Lankford

Re: Musings on Searches and Trails - 06/28/14 05:56 PM

Originally Posted By: Bee
I I was having trouble thinking straight. Finally, my buddy asked me when was the last time I ate? Oh, yeah....yesterday at 5:00pm (It was now 1:00pm the next day) Deprived of food, I could not even make simple decisions

Bee, take a look at my new post earlier today, especially the second case - neurological impairment on Whitney

Neuro cases on Whitney
Posted by: Bee

Re: Musings on Searches and Trails - 06/28/14 06:25 PM

I may have to re-think this whole topic/discussion, Harvey.

I was not at altitude, nor did I even have to put forth any physical effort, yet, I could not make a simple decision as whether to turn left or right on a very simple course (after 5 minutes, I could not remember how to backtrack to begin at the house that I had departed) Quite frankly, I was getting ready to pull over and knock on someone's door for assistance.

How did this all happen? I ate an early dinner and fell asleep soon after (not feeling 100% from excessive exercise all week) I overslept breakfast & had to make a meeting that was only supposed to take a short time. At 1:00pm (20 hrs after my last meal), I left the meeting feeling fine, until I entered the "Labyrinth".

My basic decision making skills were shot.

Applying this whole episode to the trail leads me to believe that yes, something very bad can happen to a seemingly rational individual under somewhat "normal" conditions shambling along not in the backcountry, but a trail.

For a little history, I have a reputation for being able to go inordinate amounts of time without eating, but it looks like I hit the wall(unintentionally) at 20hrs
Posted by: Chicagocwright

Re: Musings on Searches and Trails - 06/28/14 07:49 PM

Originally Posted By: Bulldog34
Excellent post, Karin. As I've mentioned, I do a lot of solo hiking so I have to be careful in offering advice to others. This is not a one-size-fits-all endeavor, and so many factors come into play with individual experience, fitness levels, personalities, phobias, etc. As I've come to know Whitney and developed a comfort level with the trail, I'm sure I've been guilty of underestimating dangers or challenges that don't register very high on my radar screen but may be significant to others.

Before my first attempt at Whitney in 2009, I did a lot of research on the mountain. This site didn't exist and the WPS was going through a transition with its first-timer materials. Ultimately, I found the best scoop on the pages of wbtravis' Mt. Whitney website. I used a lot of Bill's suggestions and information - which were laced pretty heavily with good, common-sense cautions and warnings - as my guide for that first trip. Solo trip, I should point out.

I had been above 14K' several times in the years prior, with no ill effects. The year before I had even traveled from essentially sea level to above 14K' in less than 24 hours, with absolutely no acclimation and no issues. I had this (admittedly ridiculous) idea that altitude didn't affect me. I was overconfident - and that first trip up the MWMT brought me back to earth with a hard crash.

I cruised up the mountain to Trail Camp feeling great, but by the time I stopped at the switchbacks spring to refill water a headache had started. By the time I hit the cables it had morphed into by far the worst headache I had ever experienced. Then came the nausea and sleepiness. Not fatigue necessarily, but sleepiness - I just wanted to lay down and go to sleep, and to hell with the consequences. I began to tremble and became unsteady on my feet (Harvey's oft-mentioned "mountaineer's foot"). I was not that far from Trail Crest when I yakked for the first time. I sat down somewhere around the 75th switchback and took stock of my situation. In the space of a single hour I had gone from feeling fine to becoming a huge liability to myself.

I admitted to myself that, yes, I really was suffering AMS and needed to turn back. I had invested a couple of grand and a lot of training in this attempt and really didn't want to go home defeated, but I made the decision to call it a day and descend. I had promised my wife I would take no chances. Now, here's the thing: I got up from that rest stop and ostensibly acted on my decision. Fifteen minutes later I realized I was still ascending the switchbacks. My mind had made the logical decision to turn around but my body had subconsciously acted on its own and kept going up. It was at that point that I began to think that maybe I shouldn't be alone.

I really did do an about-face at that point and - very, very slowly - walked my way out. It had taken me about 4.5 hours to climb from the Portal to Trail Camp. Trail Camp to the Portal lasted about 5 hours at the snail's pace I was moving. I typically jet downhill but, aside from the physical challenges I was experiencing, I was extremely concerned about my decision-making and went super-slow. That sudden awareness on the switchbacks that my mind was semi-scrambled had rattled me badly.

By the time I reached Outpost Camp I was feeling better (and, yes, I had to backtrack on the slabs after missing that hairpin left we've been discussing). By Lone Pine Lake most of the symptoms had disappeared. I was feeling well enough by the Portal to have a burger and a beer. I told my story to Doug and the first thing he asked me was where I had spent the previous nights. When I said Lone Pine, I got the friendly acclimation lecture. And I took it to heart. Based on that personal experience, whenever I advise anyone on their first Whitney attempt, or any other first try at altitude, I probably overemphasize acclimation.

Although that was my one and only experience with the perils of AMS, it has stayed with me ever since. Yes, it was the worst I've ever felt in my life, but the mental circus I went through is what still scares me to this day. Most people who know me would describe me as level-headed, logical, practical, and not given to taking unnecessary risks in the mountains. The fact that I would do something so stupid (for you, Bee) as succumb unconsciously to summit fever chills me when I recall it. What if I had not had that moment of clarity and turned around? The potential scenarios go from bad to worse.

That same trip I did a few pre-Whitney warm-up hikes in the Cottonwood area and ran across a group with a teenage boy who was suffering from altitude symptoms. They decided to press on while keeping an eye on him. I remember reading in the Inyo Register the day after I had come down from Whitney that this boy had eventually died from either HAPE or HACE. For me, that put the exclamation mark on the dangers of altitude, which I had been somewhat ambivalent about before.

I still do a lot of solo hiking, but since that episode I've never gone above 12K' alone, and I make damn sure I and my family get really good acclimation before doing so. My daughter was 11 when she first went up Whitney, and my wife and I watched her like hawks. She's always handled elevation well but when she began to slow down noticeably as we passed the windows, we stopped, took stock of the situation, and decided to turn back. That was a tough call with the summit hut in sight, but I've never regretted the decision. She said she only had a mild headache and could go on, but she was stopping to rest every 15 minutes or so after cruising up the switchbacks like a trooper. Her safety was absolutely Job One and it was getting later in the day than I liked. Also, Rob from the Crabtree ranger station had warned us about dangerous icing on the 97th switchback above the chute if we weren't back over it by the time the sun went off of it (this was the heavy snow year and the chute and trail above it was still heavily packed in July).

I had also exercised questionable judgment in even heading up Whitney that particular trip. A few days earlier I had suffered a shoulder injury during a technical climb of Cathedral Peak in Yosemite, and was still in an arm sling the day before we loaded up packs for Whitney. In retrospect maybe not the greatest decision, even though it presented no real difficulties for me during the trip. One little thing going wrong where I really needed the full use of that arm, and the story could have been quite different.

I try to keep these things in mind when discussing someone else's first attempt at Whitney or offering an opinion on someone's bad luck on the mountain - but I also know that if I had the opportunity to do Whitney solo next week I'd likely talk myself into it pretty quickly. Thanks, Karin, for shining a light on this inconsistency in some of our posts. I could certainly be more consistent in my opinions, and I'll try to bear your points in mind in the future.



Just chiming in with a slightly different but similar story that I have previously talked about here. My dad and I were headed up Mt. Whitney a couple of years ago. I had moved to Alaska six months earlier and was in the best hiking shape of my life. I took a red-eye from Alaska to CA and the next day (one night in CA) set out on Whitney. My dad had trained for this hike for months and it never dawned on me that I would be the one to bomb out. At Trail Camp we were filling water up, "we" meaning my dad because I was lethargic, sleepy, and starting to feel headachy. He did all the work and we started up the switchbacks. I think we made it twenty or so, and looking back, in one of my proudest hiking moments, I had to tell my dad we had to turn back. About 20 minutes later, descending as quickly as we could, I got sick and started vomiting. I guess I'm taking "pride" in making the decision to turn back before unmistakable visible signs of sickness.

The story continued a week later when I was back in Alaska talking to my dad on the phone. He was looking at the full moon schedule and contemplating trying the hike again solo. The story ends on a good note when I was able to find a reasonable flight, and complete the hike with my dad. I still didn't have a good acclimation schedule but used Diamox on the second trip.
Posted by: saltydog

Re: Musings on Searches and Trails - 06/28/14 08:28 PM

Bee:

Wow. Thank you. Not only for the objective insight but for the candor in sharing a moment that many of us (the eating schedule element aside) might be very familiar with. I am right now reconsidering my breakfast routine. Or lack of it.

Thanks, again.
Posted by: 63ChevyII.com

Re: Musings on Searches and Trails - 06/28/14 08:46 PM

Excellent post Akichow!
Originally Posted By: Akichow
Who knows you and your personality well enough to recognize a change in behavior that is cause for concern.

It seems that this is overlooked, at least with many of the people I hike with. If I am organizing a Whitney hike it is rare for me to allow anyone to come that I have not personally hiked with. Primarily due to not having first-hand knowledge of their abilities and secondly for the reason you listed above.

Originally Posted By: Bulldog34
...my first attempt at Whitney in 2009...

Thanks for sharing this story - Very interesting, sobering and thought provoking. A couple of the hikers on an upcoming Whitney trip aren't too worried about AMS because they've never had it before. I am going to share your story with them!
Posted by: wbtravis

Re: Musings on Searches and Trails - 06/29/14 10:04 AM

SD,

Out of the ordinary makes no difference? A climb of 6,000' is not out of the ordinary in SoCal but not to 14,500'. Do you have to take any special precautions...sure, more clothing and a watch on the weather. But this is still a hiking trail with all the problems you have with hiking trails...not any of them extraordinary.

AMS happens in SoCal all the time, seen it and have had it. As a SoCal, I know and have written about the unprepared in SoCal. This is nothing new and no matter how much is written about them not much is going change. I have seen people walk into the electrical storms, when I have already have turned around, seen a person walk towards a mountain lion, when I already turned around and have seen people in canyons and ridges that did not know where they were. Mt. Whitney is not special in this regard, it just reflects how people hike in their local areas.

I've said and was chastised for saying 2 to 3 deaths here was an acceptable number all things considered, tragic but acceptable considering who hikes here. People die in our local SoCal mountains every year because they do nothing wrong or something very foolish...these are wild places. Nothing is going change it.

These threads about John Lively have been trying to find a solution to a problem that might not exist, since no one was there when Mr. Lively slid down that chute. The only thing that is certain is if his friends waited for him and they hiked down together, Mr. Lively most likely would be alive today.
Posted by: 2Old4This

Re: Musings on Searches and Trails - 06/29/14 12:41 PM

I hike almost entirely solo, and I realize that I am at higher risk because of it. Nonetheless, the point that this is the wild and there is increased risk to begin with is valid. Death is tragic but not always avoidable. I realize that I am increasing those risks by hiking solo. My problem with what happened here is Mr Lively may not have known he was taking that increased risk and that is my big problem with his hiking partners leaving him.
Posted by: saltydog

Re: Musings on Searches and Trails - 06/29/14 07:04 PM

Originally Posted By: wbtravis
SD,

Out of the ordinary makes no difference? A climb of 6,000' is not out of the ordinary in SoCal but not to 14,500'.


That's right: whether risks on this trail are out of the ordinary compared with other trails makes no difference. The very important issues that Aki raised were not whether there is something special about the risks on MWMT, but (1) whether our advice and comments on solo hiking are consistent with the actual risks and (2) whether our cautions to those considering a solo are consistent with our judgment of those who run into trouble while soloing. I don't happen to see quite as big a disconnect in what has actually been posted, but the point has to do with what the risks actually are and how we treat them, not how they compare to other hikes.

Posted by: wbtravis

Re: Musings on Searches and Trails - 06/30/14 10:07 AM

Why not comparison to other hikes? The MMWT is a hiking trail which draws comparisons...how does it compare to Half Dome, San G's Vivian Creek Trail, Village to Mt. Baldy, etc? These questions are asked every year here and on other boards.

In a lot of ways all these highest something or other peak compare to in the same way to one another, that being, they get a lot of traffic. They get a lot of people who are not prepared to do them physically, the don't have proper gear, they don't take enough water because it is too heavy and the don't bring the right types of food or enough of it. If you are not prepared, problems occur at a higher rate than those that are prepared. The problems experience people have are different than those who are not, they take more risk. Then there are problems with groups...or should I say faux groups like Mr. Lively's, where you the numbers but there is no mutual support.

Lightning is not unique to this mountain, most summer monsoonal days clouds build to 30,000' to 40,000' at Mt. San Gorgonio...I see it from my house. As I pointed out, people walk in to storms here just like Mt. Whitney and they fight AMS here just like Mt. Whitney, there are exposed area just like Mt. Whitney and there are short cut routes along the trail system that can get people into trouble, just like Mt. Whitney.

If you hike solo, it is incumbent on you to recognize the problems with hiking as a solo...anywhere you hike solo. Yes, it is riskier but the risk is manageable. This is why list a bunch of caveats when suggesting to someone you can go up the MMWT solo. Many people find what I say is too restrictive, which may be true but they make for safer hiking and...it worked for me for many years.
Posted by: saltydog

Re: Musings on Searches and Trails - 07/01/14 03:06 PM

There are lots of good reasons to compare our trail to others. The disconnect that Aki identified is not one of them.
Posted by: Ken

Re: Musings on Searches and Trails - 08/09/14 11:08 PM

It occurs to me that we have now had two deaths on the Main Trail in the last month or so.

I can't think of similar issues with other "comparable" trails in Ca. Certainly one could compare snow climbs, where fatalities are not uncommon, but not summer climbs of Baldy, San G, Bear Canyon....even C2C during benign conditions (I think C2C is more dangerous, for a variety of reasons)

It's easy to think of the Main Trail as a tourist route, but that is probably not a reasonable description.
Posted by: Steve C

Re: Musings on Searches and Trails - 08/10/14 12:03 AM

Ken, the common thread I see with this year's fatalities and earlier ones too is: These are people from out-of-state, not familiar with Mt Whitney, not familiar with the Sierra, little or no experience on other Sierra trails. Maybe these things add up to a higher possibility of making big enough mistakes to lead to disaster.

Of course the other part of the equation is that the Mt Whitney trail sees nearly 100 times more traffic than almost every other trail in the Sierra. It goes higher than all the others, too. So in that light, more accidents (...and deaths, too) is not so surprising.

By the way, I am pretty sure I could identify the spot where John Likely lost the trail: Just above Trailside Meadow, there is a point where the descending trail (and ascending, too) makes a U-turn switchback. I myself missed it. It is not in steep ground, but the route needs to "turn around" to connect with the main route. On the descent, the trail is heading east, and looking ahead, there is what looks like the trail. Well-trodden (from everyone missing the turn), and just a step up (about 10") on a boulder to continue on the WRONG path. People ascending missed the hard left turn, stepped up on the boulder and continued east, too.

If it were dark, someone trying to descend could follow this, and I am pretty sure it leads out onto a talus and rock-covered bench that descends nicely toward Mirror Lake. Someone tired and wanting to get down quickly might mistakenly think the bench would lead to the bottom.

I didn't take a picture of the spot, but I DID build a wall of rocks at least a foot high across the boulder, pretty-well closing off the inviting wrong path. So people will have a much harder time taking the wrong route.

Once below Trailside, I DID take pictures of the bench that Likely might have followed. Then I noticed at the bottom, the bench dead ends! Descending more would be treacherous, but turning around would mean half an hour of climbing back up. At that dead end, there is a crack that drops 30-40', into green bushes! 20 yards or so from the bushes was what appeared to be two items, like a pad or something. I think SAR may have left them after transporting the body.

I think those bushes were the only thing that could have concealed a body for the days Likely was missing.

Here are two pictures. The odd pad/items are in this one link. A composite picture shows the lines and the pad/items at the bottom: link
Posted by: Bee

Re: Musings on Searches and Trails - 08/10/14 12:23 AM

Thanks for taking the time to fish out the pictures, & work up an explanation. I think you are spot on, and the pics are of great assistance in understanding the area.
Posted by: JoB

Re: Musings on Searches and Trails - 08/10/14 09:47 PM

Steve,

I was on the trail last week and paused for a moment at the u-turn above Trailside Meadow to send a prayer for the family of John Likely, and to thank you for building the rock wall. It was clearly a blockade. I am hopeful to return for my first solo hike in about two weeks, if I can secure a permit, and I am paying close attention to the safety issues. I am very familiar with the trail, I don't seem to suffer from altitude and I turn around on hikes more often than I care to admit so I'm hopeful for my odds for a safe and successful hike. Thanks to all for the valuable discussion.
Posted by: wbtravis

Re: Musings on Searches and Trails - 08/11/14 08:05 AM

Originally Posted By: Steve C
the common thread I see with this year's fatalities and earlier ones too is: These are people from out-of-state, not familiar with Mt Whitney, not familiar with the Sierra, little or no experience on other Sierra trails. Maybe these things add up to a higher possibility of making big enough mistakes to lead to disaster.



The only common thread this year is they were hiking alone. Mr. Likely had experience on Mt. Whitney. I do not know enough to say anything about Mr. Johnson's experience in the Sierra or experience in general.

A SAR friend of mine has switched away from solo hiking is ok after rescuing too many solos.