Poorly Planned & Dangerous Whitney Summit

Posted by: Whitney Zone

Poorly Planned & Dangerous Whitney Summit - 10/21/03 11:04 PM

Posted by ara, 10-21-03
I summited Whitney monday, almost too late I think (1:30 P.M) but I was surprised to see a couple heading up the summit ridge at 3:30, still at least one hour away. They were exhausted, poorly dressed, carrying a bottle of water- a couple- the girl in shorts and tank top, no day pack at all. The man had the pack, but they were getting up there too late, in a place where the setting sun can mean temps dropping into the 30's very quickly.

She disappeared and choppers were still looking for her today. In addition, a father/daughter summit team encountered some problems as well. She had AMS and was descending to get her health up, but her 65 yer old father was descending the most difficult part of the trek alone, at night. In the end, a kind climber named Chris climbed back up the switchbacks in the dark to bring him down, and offered me some fluids as well, as I was getting dehydrated and I had an asthma issue up top.

I'm not the worlds best climber, especially with asthma, but I limit my risks. I came up there prepared with great gear, the sense to turn back if it was too late or if I could not physically make it, days of gingko treatment to combat AMS, tons of water and carb foods to help me along the way. I can't believe how people underestimate this mountain and the rigors of summiting something like Whitney.

I am really happy that everyone at Trail Camp that night bonded together to bring down the people struggling, myself included. Thanks to Chris for bringing up water to the switchbacks because I had run out. And thanks to him for not settling into his comfy tent and helping bring down the 65 year old man instead.

Thanks to Dr Rick and company for giving me medication when I got to my camp to help me through the night. He was climbing that day, not being a doctor, but helped anyone he could that night.

Thanks to all Whitney adventurers who look out for other climbers up there, its that comaraderie that makes being in the back country so enjoyable.

If you're planning a trip up Whitney, PLEASE be prepared and don't be afraid to turn back if its too late to summit. it was really scary watching headlamps s..l..o..w..l..y.. make their way down the switchbacks at 9pm when its 30 degrees and you know the people are not dressed well and are out of water. This morning when I left the portal there was still no word on the missing girl. She is in my thoughts and prayers.

peace


Posted 10-21-03
Hi everybody,

The two hikers you saw were my brother Dave and his girlfriend Olivia. Dave is actually an accomplished backpacker, but his girlfriend was not. At the time you saw them they had been hiking since 9:00am that morning! They reached the summit, but at about Trail Crest, I believe, something went wrong on their way down. There is a ridge where the trail splits off into the Mt Whitney Trail and the John Muir Trail. At approximately 7:00pm, Olivia disappeared around a corner, just yards away from where the two trails split. When Dave came around the corner she was gone. He had not heard anything, but went back and forth to look for her aways on the two trails. Calling her name to no avail. He then descended down the switchbacks to their camp at Trail Camp hoping she would be there. She wasn't, so he went up and down the switchbacks looking for her to no avail. By this time it was 9:30pm and after 12 1/2 grueling hours of hiking, Dave, with two other climbers hiked down to Whitney Portal in 3 hours to get help. He dialed 911 and slept in his truck until morning. The authorities didn't do too much today, shockingly, but Dave is meeting with Inyo authorities tomorrow morning to helicopter up to the campsite along with other copters and search party people that will scour the mountain.
For the record Olivia is a 52-year-old Phillipino, about 5', 100lbs. She is in good shape. She had a down jacket and other appropriate clothing, but in freezing temperatures we are seriously concerned, especially with a second night upon us. Olivia did not have food or water on her, obviously not good. Let's hope they can find her on Wednesday. Keep an eye out climbers and hikers and if you have any info let me know. I'll do the same. Our families appreciate it. Thank you and God bless.

Gregg


Posted by Misha, 10-22-03
Gregg,
Best of luck to you and yours! Please keep us posted with any updates regarding the search. I also alerted SummitPost.com California climbing community about this so if somebody ends up in the area this week, they will watch out for Olivia.


Posted 10-22-03
GREAT NEWS!

My brother Dave's girlfriend Olivia was found this morning uninjured and in good health. This was amazing considering 2 nights in the freezing temperatures and no food and water. Thanks to those who were looking out for her. A special thanks to the authorities, park rangers, and police involved in the search. Please make sure you are qualified, prepared, and make intelligent decisions when hiking or mountain climbing. This is not a situation I wish on anyone. Take care and thanks.

Gregg


Posted by Javier, 10-22-03
Thank God for the happy ending! Kudos to Chris, Rick & Co. for "steping to the front of the line" and assisting the other folks on the trail. I ran into 3 folks from Sacramento a wk ago while doing light hiking on Split Mt/Middle Pal. One of the topics of discussion was the rate of Whitney incidents. We came to similar conclusions as noted on Ara's initial e-thread. Do not underestimate this hill and come prepared with contingency plans. Why leave it to chance/luck to determine the outcome.

Javier
Genesis 1:1


Posted by throcker, 10-22-03
The two hikers you saw were my brother Dave and his girlfriend Olivia. Dave is actually an accomplished backpacker,
and he allowed her to come along dressed like that?
and what was he trying to accomplish?
getting rid of his girlfriend?


Posted by ara, 10-22-03
exactly. it was very weird- if he is so experienced why would he summit with her when she had no day pack (at the very least), with no water, wearing a tank top and shorts so very late in the day?! and how could she have gotten so far ahead of him at the most treacherous part of the trek- near the 4 windows, where one misstep could send you flying down the mountain?? also the trail down to crabtree meadow ranger station (that she apparently took) is pretty straight- if she was only a few minutes ahead of him he could plainly see her making her way down the trail. why would he let her get ahead of him? and why didn't they have radios?

they weren't heading up to summit until 3, and they were at least an hour away. if he was experienced, he would never have let them summit so late, without the proper gear and supplies. she could have easily died. it was very strange and suspicious and stupid.


Posted by ara, 10-22-03
yeah daytime conditions, but wearing that in the dark isn't a good idea. summiting in shorts and tank tops is great at 11 am, not at 4 or 5. the sun goes down at 6, then it gets real cold. there would be no way for them to summit at 4 or 5, and get down to trail camp by 6. they looked like hell when i saw them on the ridge.


Posted by AdiosRich, 10-22-03
Does a direction sign exist at the downward cutoff to Guitar Lake (Crabtree)? I can't remember. If not, maybe there should be. A person who is exhausted or suffering or just simply confused could easily think that down is right, so I'll go this way... But they don't know east from west.

Maybe they decide to test the way they first thought was right but there is so much uphill approaching Trail Crest from the back side that somewhere along that section they second guess themselves and go back to the last intersection and go towards Crabtree because it's getting dark (it's 7:00 pm in late October)and cold and at least that way goes down.

Remember the first time you crossed over to the back side of Trail Crest? You get so stunned by the beautiful view that it doesn't register that you're descending that much, but on the return trip after summitting it might feel like this way is going up too much, maybe to another peak...

We all know that the traffic on the Whitney Trail has had a major increase in recent years. There are so many people who think it's just a matter of being tough enough. They aren't used to risk of death in their lives, and they simply don't know what to prepare for. The median amount of risk in people's lives is related to avoiding speeding tickets.

Whitney's principal client base, the population of the LA basin/southern California, has grown so much that Whitney is now seen as a weekend jaunt. There is so much emphasis on making it as fast as possible that this has been received by the uninitiated as "how hard could it be--people do this in one day all the time".

Not only did Chris not get into his warm sleeping bag, but he went back up the switchbacks once or twice to help people before the "official" Trail Camp-originated search parties began. He didn't plan his trip so as to keep himself on the fine line between success and failure. Because of this he had the physical, logistical and psychological resources needed to offer what could be lifesaving assistance to someone who didn't have the resources left.

I thought I was going to be writing sad condolences to the family and friends, until I saw SufferBravely's good news post. I thought between Monday night and Wednesday was too long so she may have fallen, which would be very bad there. But she just got lost. Good weather (I presume) saved her life. That is luck, and not very good odds. There is a high pressure area the last few days over the multi-state sized area around Mt. Whitney setting new high-temp records in the LA area now.

Maybe the board contributors who know Olivia could invite her to write here what happened--in her words. I think that would help a lot of people, and that is why Doug started and maintains this board.

Adios, Rich.


Posted by throcker, 10-22-03
rich, they made stupid moves and were ill prepared.
They are the reson people die on the mountain.
simple but true


Posted 10-23-03
Hi Everybody -

I'm the sister of the guy whose girlfriend was missing the past couple of days. I just wanted you to know the couple that was seen hiking up the mountain was NOT my brother and his girlfriend. It turns out that was a different couple. My brother's girlfriend was wearing warm clothes, a down jacket, and another jacket on top of it (luckily!). They did, however, reach the summit later than they should have, and she was frustrated that they weren't going fast enough, so she went ahead. When she got to the intersection of the Mt. Whitney Trail and the John Muir Trail, she took the Whitney trail by mistake. When she reached the bottom of the mountain, she thought she was in the right spot, and that something had happened to HIM. Because the search & rescue helicopters were being diverted to fight the fires south of there, they were only able to borrow a CHP helicopter for about an hour the first day. Unfortunately, it flew near her and then over her, and didn't see her waving her yellow jacket. We found out the rangers get so many calls for help, there's not usually much of an effort made to find someone the first day they're missing. They launched a full-scale search yesterday morning, with 4 helicopters and people on foot. They passed her by again at 7:30 a.m., but found her when they circled over the area at a little after 9 a.m. They never spotted her when she waved her yellow jacket, but waving her emergency Mylar blanket is what caught their eye.

Obviously, a lot of lessons have been learned from this. As other people have mentioned, make sure you allow enough time to get to the summit, and if you don't, TURN BACK. Don't ever leave the people you're hiking with, even if you're getting on each other's nerves. Realize there won't be much of a search effort made in the beginning (in her case, for 2 nights and one day), so have enough emergency supplies to last you a couple extra days. Try to bring 2-way radios, or a GPS positioner, as well as a picture of the people you're with, in case of emergency. Make sure everyone in your group has their own map, in case you get separated. Try not to wait until the last weekend of the season, when no one may be around if you get lost. And arrange for someone to call the ranger's station if you're not back when you're supposed to be.

Thank you all for your thoughts and prayers. It meant a lot to my brother and his girlfriend, the way you all came together to try to help them and keep them in your thoughts. We hope this can be a lesson to help prevent other hikers from having this happen to them.

- Cathy


Posted 10-23-03
After monitoring this exchange for over a year I feel compelled to comment on what happened over the last few days. First of all I want to thank those who confirmed the safety of the lost hiker. For those of us who spent Tuesday looking for her as we hiked between Trail Camp and the summit and back again, it is a relief to know that our happy day was not marred by the untimely death of a fellow hiker.

We had heard about her situation early in the a.m. from a camper at Trail Camp who was approached by the boyfriend early the night before. The boyfriend was looking for additional batteries for a late search. Throughout Monday night, we could see faint headlamps moving down from the switchbacks.

The entire time we spent on the trail the next day we tried to put ourselves in the position of a weary hiker lost in the dark; looking down ravines and behind rocks. It wasn't until the CHP helicopter passed us several times on our way down the switchbacks did it occur to us that she was unlikely on the eastern side. Our guess was that she went down the western ridge. This makes sense because at this junction that is the trail that heads down. The trail back to civilization actually scales up for awhile. This is counter-intuitive to a weary hiker in the evening hours.

Although they could put a sign there with an arrow pointing left to safety, I think a map and compass is better. There are dozens of good guidebooks out there and all of them have a basic checklist that includes water and warm clothes. I would add some inexpensive two-way radios as well. Most importantly, never leave your hiking companions.


Posted 10-23-03
I too summited monday and was present during these events. I would just like to say that the willingness of the majority to help someone in need on the mountain was one of the most amazing things I have seen. I hope Olivia is ok.


Posted by Steve C, 10-23-03
I lead group hikes with the Sierra Club and others occasionally, and it is truly a worry to me when a group breaks up into separate hikers. These days, I always pack along several two-way radios, and hand them out to (I hope) someone responsible when people want to go on ahead or head back. The radios make a world of difference keeping track of people, and truly change the whole set of constraints on what a group can do.

What really fries my day is when someone chooses to bail or branch out or run on ahead without first letting me know. Those are the people that end up causing problems at the end of the day.

On Whitney, with two people hiking together like that, and without radios, they broke two MAJOR rules.

1. Never separate from your group for more than a few minutes. Shouting distance or within sight is as far as the separation should go.

2. NEVER EVER pass a trail junction without waiting for the others in the group. It just makes me scream inside when idiots do that.

Cathy wrote:
> she was frustrated that they weren't going fast enough, so she went ahead.
> When she got to the intersection of the Mt. Whitney Trail and the John Muir
> Trail, she took the Whitney trail by mistake.

Olivia may have thought she was getting there faster, but just think about it... If you get there before the last guy, what have you gained? You only have to sit and wait for him. If you get too far ahead, what if he needs help? If you are waiting at the end of the trail, you just make the waiting time longer if you leave it up to the slow guy to haul his dead carcass out on his own. If you were with him, you could lighten his load, give him water, first aid, etc. etc. Waiting at the end of the trail just increases the wait time! So why NOT wait every few minutes, and make sure the group is together, rather than forge ahead like an idiot?

She was obviously doing better physically than he was. In such a situation, it becomes the healthier person's responsibility to go the slower person's speed to see that he gets off the mountain in good shape. In my book, she not only broke two important rules, but she also abandoned her responsibility.
_________________________
Mt. Whitney Hikers Association




Posted by Cappy, 10-23-03
Cathy says when Olivia reached the intersection of the Whitney Trail and the John Muir Trail she took the Whitney trail by mistake. But we know Olivia went down (towards Crabtree) instead of up, so wasn't she on the Muir trail at that point or am I confused? Isn't that intersection the potentially confusing point on the return to the Portal from the summit? That's where up is down so to speak and you hike up (on the Whitney trail) to Trail Crest and then head down the switchbacks towards Trail Camp. Doesn't the John Muir Trail come up from Crabtree?


Posted by wbtravis5152, 10-24-03
Cappy,

It's only confusing if you are clueless. I sat at the junction changing after returning from the summit, we came up from Guitar Lake earlier that morning, and I warn two people they were heading for Guitar Lake instead of Whitney.

There are so many guide books, websites, message boards and people who have done this trail there are no excuses for ignorance other than pure laziness. There are people I hike with who revel in ignorant bliss, you might know the type I'm talking about...you pick the trail, you do the research, you buy the maps, you carry the 1st aid kit and I'll show up and follow you. Everything is honky-dory until thing go wrong, like with Oliva.

Bill
_________________________
Mt. Whitney and Eastern Sierra
Blog

The Mt. Whitney Day Hike and Backpacking Page



Posted 10-24-03
Greetings!

Holy Cow; they tell two friends and they tell two friends and they tell two friends...

I'm the guy who's girlfriend, Olivia Djeke, got lost after summiting Mt.Whitney on Monday, Oct. 20. Thanks for all the support everybody, but the people that Ara described as poorly dressed and exhausted were NOT us. My brother Gregg then posted some messages saying that they were us, but he was wrong (sorry Bro).Those people were in front of us and while the girl was experiencing altitude sickness, the guy was not, and they both made it down safely.

Stay tuned, and I will post the entire true story, detailing how we got separated when we were only a few yards from each other, the great survival ideas that Olivia used for 2 nights and 2 days, the way she flagged down the helicopter, and the tireless efforts of Keith Hardcastle, Pat Grediagin, Doug Thompson, Ronan the Irish dude, Andre, Todd, and many others. It will be good reading, I promise!!

Later,

Dave


Posted 10-24-03
Missed the JMT/Whitney junction myself a few months ago. How? The wife and I were heading to the summit from Trail Crest, a crowd had gathered at the junction to talk with JMT hikers from Europe, and someone had leaned (large) backpacks against the junction sign. Between the crowd, the packs, and our own concentration on placing one foot in front of the other, we just kept heading down. Fortunately, one good soul from the crowd chased us down about 10 minutes later and explained how (and why) we'd gone wrong. No damage - just some lost time and energy. No real moral here either, other than "sh*t happens", be prepared for it, and no large assemblies permitted at trail junctions.


Posted by vinze 3, 10-24-03
i'm not sure if people realize it, but this whole thread is only providing ammo to the Feds. idea of somehow instituting a way to check for personal preparedness on the whitney trail. there was a lot of dissent among posters here when this idea came out in the recent LA times article, i was one of them, but after reading this story and the post above mine about how people somehow got lost hiking the trail, i might be changing my opinions on wether or not people should be checked b4 they start their hike.

furthermore how, when hiking to the highest point in the land,how do u get trail confusion?? would u not notice that A) u are going down when B) u obviously need to go up??? i don't get it


Posted by Gregas, 10-24-03
Cathy,

First of all let me say that I'm glad that everything worked out OK and Olivia is safe.

You pointed out some lessons some of which
are important but others I really have to take issue with:

- Make sure you allow enough time to get to the summit, and if you don't, TURN BACK.
Great idea, very important.

-Don't ever leave the people you're hiking with, even if you're getting on each other's nerves.

Especially if your navigation skills are not up to par.

- Realize there won't be much of a search effort made in the beginning (in her case, for 2 nights and one day), so have enough emergency supplies to last you a couple extra days.

This is ridiculous and probably dangerous! Two days of supplies for a day hike! All that junk will just slow you down. For a day hike, bivys are not allowed. You keep moving unless you are injured, in which case you suffer. Bring enough clothing to spend a very uncomfortable (but not lethal) night out in case you are injured.

- Try to bring 2-way radios, or a GPS positioner, as well as a picture of the people you're with, in case of emergency.

Oh, come on..It's A TRAIL! There is a sign at the junction! You don't need GPS, you just need the most basic of wilderness nav skills. If you can't follow a marked trail, you should not be out of sight of someone that can.

Bring a picture of the people you are with? How about just stick together, especially inexperienced people!

-Make sure everyone in your group has their own map, in case you get separated.

This is a good idea. Also make sure that everyone actually knows how to read a topo.

- Try not to wait until the last weekend of the season, when no one may be around if you get lost.

Don't go during peak season just to depend upon the safety of crowds! They are not responsible for you. I do, however, think that the inexperienced are better off going when the weather is mild.

BTW, there is no "last weekend of the season". The mountain is open all year.

- And arrange for someone to call the ranger's station if you're not back when you're supposed to be.

Yes, have someone ready to call, but give youself enough time to be a bit overdue. I say call the next morning on a dayhike.

I'm sorry to be so harsh on some of your advice, but I would hate people to think that carrying a GPS and two days food substitutes for skills and good sense.

Whitney is a very easy mountain. Of the California 14ners only White Mountain (or possibley Langley) is easier. You don't need much experience or particularly good fitness, but you should have some basic sense and wildness skills. Somehow Whitney seems to attract hordes of the clueless.

-Know the terrain
-Know your capabilities
-Bring what you will need to survive
-Constantly reevaluate your situation and always have an out.

This is all anyone needs to know.

-Greg


Posted by vinze 3, 10-24-03
true maybe a gear check wouldn't have helped in this situation but a gear check in general would give a ranger a basic idea of a person's competence and wilderness know-how. u can tell a lot about a person by the things in their pack.

maybe we should all revisit the post by our old friend Andreas Hinteroisser who says that women have no business in the mountains. J/K.

i bet that woman's boyfriend got cut off for quite some time : )


Posted by Andreas Hinterstoisser, 10-24-03
Hi all. I've lately been out of the country tending to my Guiding business back home. I see this post and it make me both angry and nervous. When they find this poor girl's body (God willing), every attempt should be made to find out what went wrong. Obviously a female should not have been up on that mountain alone, so where was the boyfriend?? If you insist on taking a woman to an environment where she does not belong, then you become her guardian for the duration of the trip. Also, you should never take a voman who is better-conditioned than you are, for these reasons. I hope the boyfriend has a lot of money, because he will ultimately be responsible for the huge costs of the search and recovery efforts.
Your brother of the rope,
Andreas


Posted by Merrill, 10-24-03
One of the great pleasures in life is going up and down the main trail in a day. One of worst things is having to hike down in the dark. So I try to be on the way down by 3PM. That has gotten stretched to 5PM, and I always regret it. Still, I have been near Trail Crest at 6PM with people still headed up in T-Shirts and shorts, no water, no food, no flashlight. How is this possible? I have spent the night in the hut with a minus 15 bag in July, and it was still wickedly cold.

I heard that a few years ago, some guy froze to death at night near the top, and it was assumed that he was very disoriented because his parka was still in his backpack when his body was found. I don't think that the mountain kills many people each year, but it certainly is capable of it.


Posted by throcker, 10-24-03
how about bringing a good dose of common sense.
the front way up whitney is just like a strol in the park.
I would be embarassed beyond belief to admit getting lost on a trail that is so well marked and maintained.
of couse there are always fools looking for exposure


Posted by Desperado, 10-24-03
I'm waiting to hear the true story from the horse's mouth, and it better involve some damn thick fog, some seriously malfunctional headlamps, or serious injury. Its a trail people.

Speaking of late summit attempts, I summitted at 7 pm in May. It got dark just before we hit camp again. I always carry a headlamp, because sometimes things take a little longer than you think they will.

Let me remind previous boasters that Whitney is not the highest peak in "the land" unless the land is limited to either California or the contiguous 48 states.

And Andreas...I hope your comments are totally made in jest, because otherwise you're a fool.


Posted 10-24-03
Vinze

Not looking to start an online argument, but your reply to my post seems to assume we chose to go down and to the left, versus up and to the right, at the JMT/Whitney junction. Not so. The point of my post was that the fork and the sign were hidden by the crowd (8 or more as I remember) and the packs. (People congregating at this spot tend to the right [mountainside] as opposed to the left [by the ledge]). Never saw the fork. Maybe fatigue was also a factor. But heading downward from this point is not in itself surprising - the trail generally tends downward from Trail Crest to the junction - and the first leg from the JMT junction heads generally north. It was not a big deal - a minor detour - and nothing that will get the federal shorts in a twist. The trail is in fact well-marked, unless the forks and markers are blocked. Peace.


Posted by throcker, 10-24-03
ah yes the classic driver who slams on the brake just before the exit and crosses 4 lanes of traffic.


Posted by Sierra Sam, 10-24-03
DHMeieio aid "No amount of gear-checking or prophylactic lecturing would have prevented it." That is a fact. I was recently on Rainier where they were "prophylactically lecturing" and checking the gear of every climber and guess what, people still get injured and killed. There is simply no substitute for each climber taking individual responsibility and exercising good judgement. At the end of the day, rangers cannot (and shouldn't be expected to) save people from themselves. I would hate to see us get to a place where we abdicated our responsibility as climbers and delegated that judgement to the rangers. It is also a fallacy to think that it would always be safer, as shown in the many climbing accidents where people get hurt or killed when a client blindly follows a guide to attempt a climb that the client is not prepared to do. Guides can and do get people out of rough patches all the time, but if things get too dicey and the client is too far in over their head, people often get hurt or killed. People believing that they can keep going just because a ranger gave them a green light is a set up for bad things to happen.


Posted 10-25-03
Jeez, just when you thought it was safe to go back in the water...Why is all of this idle bantering taking up bandwidth? The woman got lost, she alledgedly made a wrong turn, and was found. thank goodness. Now you are bringing the feds into it??? The story is over, let the story die..

Do you think for one minute that this conversation is going to stop unprepared idiots from trying to climb Whitney? if you do you are kidding yourselves. My goodness, I did the climb in early August, and there were people with no water, improper clothing and struggling...what was it? TYPICAL!!

Forget the feds, the rangers, the rediculous banter, and let it go...

This forum is for gaining information, laughing at Vinze 3.0 and telling stories, not detective work.

Have a great day.


Posted by wbtravis5152, 10-25-03
Sierra Sam,

You are quite correct in saying no amount of witty repartee with the rangers would have prevented Oliva from wandering off. As one of my in-laws use to say...you can't smarten up a dummy.

Now, can you imagine some cute little 16 year old interviewing someone like yourself in the summer to see if you are properly geared up. Heck, you probably have gear older than some of this kid. If this Inyo does something like this it will be a mess.

Bill
_________________________
Mt. Whitney and Eastern Sierra
Blog

The Mt. Whitney Day Hike and Backpacking Page



Posted by AdiosRich, 10-25-03
MiClimber, there are people reading these posts who have not yet climbed Whitney. Where else can they hear this type of advice so they can know what to expect?

This board is very much for detective work.


Posted 10-27-03
The original thread for this topic has now knitted itself into a large Afghan, so here are the true facts.

Mount Whitney Area Rescue 10/22/03

My name is David Lindsay. My girlfriend Olivia Djeke and I decided to climb Mount Whitney after attending a lecture on the subject. We were both in good shape, and trained for a long time by working out five days a week, going on weekly hikes with the Sierra Club, and practicing rock climbing at "Rockreation" in Costa Mesa, CA. We also hiked in the Santa Monica Mountains and summited 12,590 ft. Mount Conness in Yosemite (mostly off-trail hiking) the month before our Mount Whitney hike. Besides going to the Whitney lecture, we also prepared for the hike by reading books on the subject, and talking to people who had done it. We had all the necessary gear and clothing, and experience using them. Here is what happened:

Sunday, October 19
We hiked up to Trail Camp from the Whitney Portal Trailhead, and spent the night there.

Monday, October 20
9:00am - Leaving our tent, sleeping bags and main packs at Trail Camp, we set out for the Mount Whitney summit. We were each carrying two liters of water, some food, and clothing layers for every occasion, including down jackets. Olivia is a strong hiker, but takes small steps, so I rationalized that the "tortoise up / rabbit down" approach would help us avoid altitude sickness. I had her hike in front of me the entire trip, so she could go at her own pace.

When we hit the dreaded "97 Switchbacks," we told each other stories while climbing, in order to keep our minds off the steepness. It worked, because we made it to the top of the trail with hardly any stops. At the Trail Crest sign, where the Mount Whitney Trail intersects with the John Muir Trail, we encountered zombies on their way back down from the summit; a 20-ish guy with a bloody nose complaining about the hike, a 30-ish guy who said that he almost died five times but the view was worth it, a girl with asthma and altitude sickness, etc. Olivia gave me the "are we sure we wanna do this" look, but we were both up for the challenge. We headed up the ridge to the summit. At about 14,000 ft., we both began to get slight headaches, so we rested a few minutes. As we neared the summit, everyone coming down gave us encouragement and told us how beautiful it was.

4:00pm - We arrived at the summit much later than I had anticipated. But the weather was absolutely perfect, with no wind at all, and it was a gorgeous, cloudless, sunny day. We did all the requisite summit stuff; signed the ledger, touched the U.S. Geological Survey markers (all of them), took photos near the plaque, checked out the summit cabin, and sat on the highest toilet in the contiguous United States.

5:00pm - When we left the summit for Trail Camp, Olivia got her second wind and made it clear that nothing was going to stop her from getting to our tent as soon as possible. I told her that she should slow down because her footing was getting sloppy and I didn't want us to get too far apart. But she kept the same pace and said that she just wanted to get down. We had originally planned to go home that day, but the hike took too long and she was tired. I tried to boost her morale by reminding her that when we reached the intersection at the Trail Crest sign, the trail back to camp would be an easy downhill hike. I stayed behind her and took a couple pictures of her hiking in front of me. But just before the Trail Crest sign, the trail passed behind a boulder and so did she. As I followed her around the boulder, I came to the Trail Crest sign, but there was no Olivia.

The Inyo National Forest Side -- Fearing the Worst

7:00pm - Thinking that she was barreling down the Mount Whitney Trail switchbacks, I turned left toward them but could not see her. I called her name, but heard no reply. I went back a short way in the direction of the summit, calling her name and blowing a whistle, but no response. I looked down the talus field on the west side of the ridge to see if she had somehow fallen, but saw nothing. The only explanation I could think of was that she was going down the Mount Whitney Trail switchbacks, and I could not see her because of the rocks.

It was starting to get darker and colder, so I put on my down parka, hardshell jacket, and headlamp, then headed down the trail hoping to catch up to her. When I got about halfway down, I saw someone flashing a light at me from Trail Camp below, and I thought it might be her. But it turned out to be some other hiker, trying to signal his friends. I ran to our tent and saw what I feared most - no Olivia. My heart jumped into my stomach, as I realized that she must have taken a wrong turn somewhere. But how could this have happened? I was just a few yards behind her. The Mount Whitney Trail was the best-maintained trail I had ever seen, and was really easy to follow.

The night was now pitch black and it was very cold. From my position at Trail Camp, I could see a small headlamp in the distance descending the switchbacks from the top of the ridge. I just knew it had to be Olivia, so I began to climb up the switchbacks as fast as I could, flashing my headlamp, blowing my whistle, and calling her name. I got about half-way up, when I heard the person above me calling out - with an Irish accent. It was a guy named Ronan, who had passed Olivia and me a few hours before as we were leaving the summit. I asked him if he had seen her on his way down, but he had not. He said she may have gone down the John Muir Trail instead of the Mount Whitney Trail. I had not even thought of that, but now it seemed to make the most sense.

9:30pm - Two more headlights came down the switchbacks and I started back up to meet them, but they turned out to be two rock climbers named Andre and Todd, who had lost their way. At this point, I had to make a decision; should I spend the night at Trail Camp, then in the morning hike up the Mount Whitney Trail switchbacks to Trail Crest, down the John Muir Trail switchbacks toward Crabtree Meadow, and to try to find Olivia, or should I hike the six miles back to the Whitney Portal Trailhead that night, where I could phone Search and Rescue? I decided that if Olivia was injured, waiting until the next morning to hike up and down the ridge without adequate food, not having resources to carry her with a broken limb or hypothermia, and not having any idea of her specific location, was too much of a risk. It would be better to get to a phone as soon as possible and contact Search and Rescue.

10pm - Ronan, Andre, and Todd were all going back down that night anyway, so I left Olivia's pack and sleeping bag in the tent in case she returned. I also left her a note, telling her to stay there if she returned, and we left Trail Camp wearing headlamps. 2 1/2 hours and 6 miles later we arrived at the Whitney Portal Trailhead. At 12:30am I called 911, but the rather rude operator told me to wait a day to see if Olivia finds her way back to Trail Camp. I explained to her that I could not do this, since I was no longer at Trail Camp. She replied that I would then have to wait and call the Inyo County Sheriff Department at 7am.

All the guys wished me luck and said that their thoughts were with me. I went to lay down in my truck. I had been hiking 15 hours straight, but could not sleep. I felt guilty that I was safe and Olivia was not. All I could think about was Olivia in the last stages of hypothermia, alone and lost, or her body being found lying twisted at the base of a talus field like George Mallory's was on Everest. I knew that as a nurse, she would know what to do in spite of her lack of wilderness experience, but I didn't know if her petite frame could handle a full night at high altitude without a tent or sleeping bag. The night seemed to last forever.

Tuesday, October 21
7:00am - From a payphone at the Whitney Portal Store, I contacted Cpl. Keith Hardcastle at Inyo County Search and Rescue. I told him the situation; I thought that she would probably stay put and wait to be saved, rather than wander further. Keith told me that the Inyo County Search and Rescue team only covers the Inyo (east) side of the ridge, and that the Sequoia National Park Service only covers the Sequoia (west) side of the ridge. But he had some contacts at Sequoia whom he would try to coordinate things with. I asked if he wanted me to hike back up to Trail Camp, but he said that I should wait at Whitney Portal in case he needed to reach me.

Doug Thompson, owner of the Whitney Portal store, began to open up the store for business. I told him about Olivia, and being one of the foremost Whitney experts in these here parts, he immediately began to put my mind at ease. He said that people take that wrong turn down the John Muir Trail all the time; even the Army Corp of Engineers did the same thing once. "She'll be scared, cold, and uncomfortable," he said, "but she'll survive." He told me if I needed anything after store hours, to just knock on his trailer door. In an effort to stay positive, I bought two "I Climbed Mount Whitney" mugs.

10am - I called Keith back at Inyo, and he told me that there was going to be access to a helicopter, as well as approval for a "wilderness landing" which was rare. Most of the area on the west side of the ridge is rocky, so it would be easy for a helicopter to see Olivia. He assured me that he would do everything he could for a successful outcome.

12pm - I got a call at the Whitney Portal Store from Pat Grediagin. She is the supervisor for Sequoia National Park Rangers. She told me that their regular helicopter was out fighting a fire, so they were getting a CHP helicopter from Fresno in the afternoon. The helicopter would search both the Inyo and Sequoia sides of the ridge. I asked her how late I could call her, and she said she would be there until the problem was resolved.

2:00pm - I spent the rest of this very long day feeling powerless, asking hikers if they had seen Olivia or to keep an eye out for her, calling Keith and Pat, and listening for any sound of a helicopter. At about 2:30pm, Doug came running out of the store... "Did you hear that? That's a helicopter. I know, I flew 'em for 15 years!" After that, every time the phone rang I jumped ten feet in the air. But the call I was hoping for never came. A U.S. Forest Service Wilderness Ranger checked the Mount Whitney Trail from Iceberg Lake (east side of Mount Whitney) to the summit and down to the Whitney Portal Trailhead, but no sign of Olivia. I called Inyo and Sequoia, but they had not heard back from the helicopter yet, which I was told probably meant that they had not seen her. Trying to keep the tears back, I told them that I didn't think she could take another night.

5pm - I called our families, because the outcome now looked so uncertain. My Mom's church would be praying for Olivia, and so would the PTA at my niece's school. My cousin's band cancelled their gig and actually organized a search party of friends that were hikers. My brother and sister posted messages at http://www.whitneyportalstore.com. Olivia's sister Marilyn, brother Val, and daughter Julia all decided to drive up to Lone Pine because they could not just sit at home and do nothing. My family was crying, Olivia's family was crying, and I don't think anyone slept. At this time, Pat was still coordinating rescue efforts, and Keith called me to meet him at the Lone Pine airport the next morning at 7am. He said that Inyo County Search and Rescue and the Sequoia National Park Service were going to conduct a joint search operation with multiple helicopters, plus foot searches on both sides of the ridge, and emphasized that, "she WILL be found."

Wednesday, October 22
7:00am - At Lone Pine Airport, I met Keith and also April (Search and Rescue #23). They explained to me what was going to happen next. As a helicopter took off, I kept pushing the image out of my mind of Keith coming up to me and saying, "Dave, I've got some bad news..."
The Sequoia National Park Side -- Survival (Olivia)

Monday, October 20
5:00pm - After Dave and I left the Summit for Trail Camp, I was tired and realized that there was no way we could make it back to Whitney Portal Trailhead before dark, as we had originally planned. But I at least wanted to make it back to Trail Camp before dark. So I was hiking at a quick pace.

7:00pm - I passed the Trail Crest sign and followed the trail to the right which was going down. (This turned out to be the John Muir Trail, which went in the wrong direction.) Since it had switchbacks, I thought I was on the Mount Whitney Trail. I hiked non-stop to the bottom, but then the trail sort of disappeared. I decided to stay put and wait for Dave to come behind me. But when I saw two lakes in the distance, I realized that I was not in the right place. I could not find the trail and it was dark, so I called for Dave until my voice was hoarse, and blew my whistle. I left my headlamp on "blinking" mode so someone could still see me if I fell asleep or passed out. It was dark and cold now, so I decided to sit up against a big rock to protect myself from the wind. The ground, which was also solid rock, was too cold to lie down on. I could not open the knot on the bag which contained my down jacket, so I cut the bag open with my knife, slicing my left finger in the process. I used my bandana to stop the bleeding, then used a spare pair of socks as mittens.

I thought, OK what now? I need to do everything I can to survive, so I can see my daughter graduate from college, see her get married and have kids, and see my family and Dave again. Since Dave had not come down, I thought that he had perhaps fallen over the edge of the ridge while taking a picture, so I stayed up all night, waiting for the sunrise so I could look for him. I prayed, "Please God, let Dave be OK, I love him very very much."

Although I was wearing a down jacket, long underwear, waterproof/windproof jacket and pants, and a cap, the cold and wind still cut through to the bone. I wrapped my emergency blanket around myself, and started doing Salsa moves to keep warm. (I laughed about this to myself, to keep from being scared.) There was a rock in front of me that kept reminding me of a coffin. I heard thunder in the distance, but thankfully, there was no rain. I kept thinking that I heard footsteps around me, and never went to sleep.

Tuesday, October 21
6:30am -- I thought I could retrace my steps when the sun came up, but I still could not find the trail. I had no idea where I was, or even where Mount Whitney was. But I thought that Trail Camp had to be somewhere nearby. So I got up and hiked around, hoping to see the distinctive "solar toilet" building of Trail Camp, and to find Dave. After hours of no success, I hiked over some low ridges and decided that I was not getting anywhere. I then took inventory of my supplies: 1/2 liter of water, 1 Kraft Cheese 'n Crackers pack, 2 Cliff Bars, a small bag of nuts and raisins, 1 lemon Starburst, 1 piece of ****y, 1 signal mirror, 1 whistle, 1 emergency blanket, 2 trekking poles, 1 small daypack, and my clothes.

1:00pm - I hiked toward some trees, hoping to find some water and people. I crossed a river and went down to a meadow. I thought it would be best to stay there, and it was a good place for a helicopter to land because it was flat. Feeling helpless, I sat down and prayed, "Please God, I don't know what else to do, please give me some ideas." I then picked up some rocks, and used them to write the word, "HELP" in the meadow. Next, I made a larger "HELP" sign facing another direction. After noticing a lot of jets flying overhead, I thought that maybe they could see a REALLY big "HELP" sign if I made it out of boulders. So I tried that, but by this time I was so tired that I could only spell "HLP." As I was working on these signs, I was still blowing my whistle and yelling for help. I was becoming very hungry and thirsty, but knew that I had to conserve, so I only had a few nuts, and a few sips of water.

This next part is a little spooky; I sat down in the middle of the meadow and waited for help. All of a sudden, I thought I heard Dave shouting, "HEY OLIVIA..." I replied, "Dave?" When I looked up, I saw what appeared to be Dave, sitting on a bench at the top of a ridge, smiling down on me. I looked down because I could not believe what I was seeing. Then I looked up again, and he was still there. I knew that I must have been hallucinating, but I still felt that it was a sign Dave was dead, and that he was trying to look after me. I moved from side to side to see if the image would disappear, and it did. But I avoided looking in that direction for the rest of the afternoon.

2:30pm - I heard a helicopter and it passed by my side. I was thrilled, because I knew this meant that someone was searching for me. I waived my bright yellow jacket to try and get the pilot's attention. He banked and went directly over me, but then disappeared over the ridge in the distance. Disappointed by this, I began to wonder if I would be found in time.

The meadow was swampy, so the only area I could sleep on was over rocks. I gathered some grass to put underneath my body when I slept, hoping that this would block some of the coldness, and I built a small wind-block out of rocks. I did not want to use my daypack, which contained food, as a pillow, because I was afraid that bears would eat my face. So I hid the daypack in between some rocks, because I remembered hearing that bears don't like having to climb around them.

5:00pm - I heard another helicopter and saw it hovering over the Mount Whitney summit. This was the first time I actually realized where Mount Whitney was. Also, because the helicopter was hovering, I thought they were looking for Dave's body, and might throw down a rope to bring his body into the helicopter on a backboard. The helicopter then came toward me, and I started waiving my arms. It hovered to the left of me, then hovered behind me, then disappeared. I bargained with God, saying, "If I have to stay here a second night, I will, but I don't think I can survive a third."

7:30pm - I laid down, but could not sleep. It felt colder than the previous night, and I was shivering more. Because of my training as a nurse, I saw this as a sign of possible hypothermia, and knew that I had to keep moving in order to stay warm. I tried to move my feet and hands as much as I could. But eventually, I began to get a feeling of warmth and extreme comfort which did not seem normal. Knowing that this could be a bad sign, I forced myself to stay awake. This was the longest night of my life, because I truly felt that I could not make it through the next if I was not found.

Wednesday, October 22
6:30am - Dawn broke, and I was very thankful to have survived another night.

7:30am - A helicopter flew straight over my head. I got on a rock and waived my trekking poles, but the helicopter disappeared over the Mount Whitney summit.

8:00am - Another helicopter flew straight over my head. Once again, I waived my trekking poles, but the helicopter disappeared over the Mount Whitney summit. After being missed four times, I decided that I really had to be prepared for the next helicopter, should it come. The best thing I could think of was to stand on a high rock and waive my emergency blanket, which was reflective. I also had a small signal mirror, but the sun was not yet high enough to use it.

8:45am - I saw another helicopter coming over Mount Whitney, so I got up on a rock and waived my emergency blanket back and forth. The helicopter was hovering low to my left, then it came toward me and circled over my head a few times before landing in the meadow. When Sequoia National Park Service Pilot Kent Pierce stepped out, I was crying and ran over to him. I gave him a big hug and thanked him. "Are you OK?" he said. "Yes, I'm just cold," I replied. He asked me my name and I told him. I asked if he had received any information about David Lindsay, and he looked at his paper. My heart sank, because he could not give me an immediate answer. He then told me that Dave was OK. He said, "I know you're a nurse, but do you want to go to the hospital?" I told him I was fine. The Park Helitack Captain, John Ziegler, then came out and I hugged him and thanked him too. He told me that I did all the right things, and that the emergency blanket made me much easier to spot. Then Kent said, "Let's go home!"

We took off, flew over Mt. Whitney, then flew into Lone Pine Airport where I could see Dave waiting for me below. After we landed, I grabbed my gear and my emergency blanket, and ran over to him as fast as I could. We hugged each other and kissed some very, very chapped lips...

Epilogue (Dave)

Another helicopter brought back Olivia's tent, pack and sleeping bag from Trail Camp. After a huge breakfast and two root beer floats, I took her around town and introduced her to all the folks who were pulling for her. Her family arrived, and we all went back up to the Whitney Portal Store, where Doug Thompson gave her a big hug, and also a copy of his book, "Mount Whitney - Mountain Lore from the Whitney Portal Store," signing inside the cover, "To Olivia - Great to see you back on this side! - Doug."

So what caused all this to happen in the first place?

- Was this an example of hikers "not sticking together" on the trail? Not really; sometimes just a few seconds or a blind curve is all that it takes for people to lose each other. Although Olivia was going fast, I was only a few yards behind her, and my view of her was obscured only when she passed the boulder before the Trail Crest sign. But this taught us that it is a good idea for hikers to wait for others in a group, whenever coming to a sign that is at a trail junction.

- Did we summit too late in the day? Probably; although it was still light when we approached the Trail Crest sign, it would be darker as we got to the bottom of the switchbacks. The book "How to Climb Mount Whitney in One Day" by Sharon Baker-Salony lists the average ascent time from Trail Camp to the summit as 4 1/2 hours. It also says that this is supposed to be for "middle-aged, weekend and amateur hikers." Even though we were allowing for 7 hours, the sun was already starting to set when we got back to the sign.

- Were we both "self-sufficient?" No; although we each had proper clothing and supplies, I had the map and compass, so she was relying on me. If I had given her a duplicate map and compass, she would have had more resources to find her way back, once she realized that she had gone the wrong way. I also think it would really help if the Sequoia National Park Service would put a sign on the upper section of the John Muir Trail coming down from Trail Crest, indicating the direction of the Whitney Portal Trailhead. This might be a good idea, based on what I heard about others making the same mistake over the years.

For example, on July 17, 1898, John Herr of Pasadena, CA left the summit at the exact same time we did, and took the same wrong turn that Olivia did. Here is his direct quote: "At 5 o'clock we commenced the descent. I, having started on ahead, took the wrong direction and lost my way, causing some delay and anxiety to the boys."

The coordination of rescue efforts between the Inyo and Sequoia teams was not the only example of different groups banding together; Keith put out the word with all the locals, and Doug told hikers going up to keep an eye out for Olivia, as well as asking hikers coming down if they had seen her. When I drove into Lone Pine to get some money and more supplies, the attendant at the Mobil station said, "Have you heard about that missing girl?" The pharmacist at Lone Pine Drugs expressed concern, and even people in the Carl's Jr. knew about her! When I got back to the Whitney Portal Store, everyone was wishing me luck and telling me that they would pray for her.

We gained a lot of insight and a lot of friends on this trip. I hope this story will be of some help to future Whitney-ites. Mucho mucho thanks to Pat Grediagin, Keith Hardcastle, Bill Lutze, Doug Thompson, John Ziegler, Kent Pierce, Bob, April, Karen, Andre, Todd, Ronan the Irish dude, the Lone Pine community, fellow hikers, our families, and countless others for bringing Olivia back!


Posted by Tom, 10-27-03
#1 - glad to hear both of you are fine.

#2 - it sounds to me like this is not at all what some have made it to be - a stereotypical case of unprepared bozos trying to go up the mountain. You guys were pretty well prepared and did mostly the right things - especially AFTER the "incident" had occurred - had either Dave or Olivia let panic take over and acted stupidly, not only might Olivia have been injured or killed, but Dave could have put himself in a bad spot trying to "help".

To me, this story underscores how even well prepared and knowledgable people can make seemingly insignificant mistakes that can quickly escalate.

The rest of us can take away from this that any of us who think we know what we're doing could find ourselves in a bad situation really quickly - but by keeping calm and doing the right things, the bad situation can be overcome. There's an interesting article dealing with the "12 qualities of survivors" in the current NatGeo Adventure - Olivia demonstrated many of the qualities given in the article and is alive and well because of it.

I also hope that this doesn't keep you from similar pursuits in the future.


Posted 10-27-03
Thanks, Tom!

This won't keep us out of the backcountry at all; we're just more experienced now!

Dave and Olivia


Posted by try, 10-27-03
Thank you David and Olivia. I appreciate hearing from the people involved the real story. Your post was well written and very informative. Hopefully others will read it and learn.


Posted by ara, 10-27-03
well since i started this post i might as well end it. i am so happy olivia was found alive and that dave didn't kill himself looking for her. i'm the girl with asthma that summited monday at 1:45 (too late for my taste) and i didn't have AMS. i thought anyone heading up to the summit after 3 or 4 was nuts. yeah the main whitney trail is just a long stroll up the mountain, but it can still kill you and should be taken seriously.
everyone should have radios up there; they're cheap and effective and can be fun. a simple radio in this case and some common sense with regard to hiking in groups would have made this scenerio impossible. better luck next time you guys, and for everyone PLEASE BE SAFE. Helipcopter rescues are costly and pretty soon permits are going to be way more than $15.
luv
ara

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