Mt Whitney Zone
Posted By: Rod Who is to say when someone is in trouble? - 10/27/09 04:30 PM
Along the lines of using SPOT or any device to call for help for someone else.I just read a post by Doug Sr. on WPSMB asking if a 70 yr old man that RichardP had seen on the main trail had made it back.Richard is now feeling bad that he hadn't intervened and insisted the man turn around. I have to give credit to RichardP for having a conscience and thinking about the safety of someone else.

It brings up the question of how someone can determine if someone needs help or is in trouble. When I climbed MW in 2007, my buddy and I were passed on the trail at Trail Camp by a couple that were mountain guides from Utah. We passed them again on their way back between Trail Crest and the summit.They told me "good job you are almost there, keep going." When we passed through Trail Camp late at about 7:30 PM a man ran out and asked if there was anyone still up on the trail behind us. We said no and wondered why. The man at TC said a couple came through and said that there was a man "in trouble" on the mountain.We kept on heading down and then I realized that they were talking about me.They reported to someone I was in trouble.I was very slow and tired but far from being in trouble. Yet these guides reported to someone I was in trouble.I wasn't. I made it back down to Outpost where our camp was set up with no problems.

So this brings up the question who determines when someone else is in trouble? How does someone look at someone and know what shape they are in? It is a very subjective evaluation even by experienced guides.I would have been very pissed off if as I was heading down the mountain, I was met by SAR and told I was "in trouble" and being evacuated off the mountain.I am pretty sure SAR would have been pissed if they got to me and I told them I was fine and did not need any assistance. The external signs of someones condition are not that easy to determine.

I remember being at Outpost on my first night there watching young men stumbling, and shuffling down the trail. I was thinking wow I know I will not look like that when I am done.I probably looked just like them shuffling down the mountain.So tired and fatigued doesn't mean someone is in trouble.
Posted By: George Re: Who is to say when someone is in trouble? - 10/27/09 08:44 PM
Good question. It's almost an art form sometimes. With any luck, the report gets to the SAR agency responsible. Often the original reporting party has disappeared or, worse, has no contact phone number. So then you've got to figure out if you've got enough information to be concerned and send someone to check it out. This depends on the experience of the SAR person -- often just the classic 'gut feeling.'

The best clue is the person says "I need help" or they've got some obvious and (preferably) dramatic injury. Otherwise, you've got to figure out what the reporting party saw, why they were concerned and what their experience/training is for that concern. The key here is tracking down the original RP and doing a good interview. The more people a report goes through, the less you can trust it (ok, duh!). It sounds like that might have happened to you -- too many synapses involved after you were talked to.

There's a few ranger supervisors now whose first question is "did they ask for help?" If not, then nothing is initiated. I'm often not in that camp because there's quite a few incidents where people don't really know they're in trouble and the reporting party is right in their concern. Getting to them early makes our lives easier later on.

A few years back, there was a guy reported in trouble on Whitney. It was a garbled cell phone report which cut off. I went up to check and got to Trail Crest during a bad lightning storm at about 5PM. I asked a guy coming down if there was anyone else up there. He said there was, but he'd talked to him and he seemed fine. Reassured and with the storm, I scurried back down the west side. The next morning, I headed up again to make sure. I found a guy on the switchbacks. When I first talked to him, he seemed fine -- for about 2 minutes when he started talking about his wife's garage sale on the summit. That's called a clue.

So I really don't know what the lesson is. Ultimately, we have to respond to more semi-bogus calls just to make sure we get most of the legitimate ones. Also that you really have to trust your experience and feel about something (whether you're the reporting party or a SAR person). Probably wrong more often than right.

Finally, as everyone here knows, once a person steps foot on the trail, it's really all on them. There's people who will help and SAR groups will do everything they can to get to them, but all responsibility is on them -- both to get themselves out if at all possible or to get word that they have a legitimate need for help. It's really darned amazing we do as well as we do.

George Durkee
Posted By: Rod Re: Who is to say when someone is in trouble? - 10/28/09 04:51 PM
Good answer. Thanks George.
Posted By: DUG Re: Who is to say when someone is in trouble? - 10/28/09 04:58 PM
Originally Posted By: George
Finally, as everyone here knows, once a person steps foot on the trail, it's really all on them.

That is EXACTLY what I teach my Cub/Boy Scouts...........................................DUG
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