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Complete Backpacking Preparedness

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Complete Backpacking Preparedness

Postby maverick » Thu Jul 26, 2012 1:55 pm

After the recent and unfortunate death that occurred on Mount Langley, andtalking to fellow backpackers/hikers in the last few months, I have come to the disturbing conclusion that many in the community are ill prepared when taking on this potentially dangerous and highly specialized sport. Many believe falsely that some physical preparedness, and some route planning is enough too deal with what one may encounter when in the backcountry. Even more disturbing is that some believe that they are invincible or have been doing this long enough that nothing can happen to them or they will deal with the situation as it is arises, but all of these ill conceived notions are flawed, and unfortunately can lead to dire consequences. My main reason for writing this thread is to voice my concern, and ask all of you no matter how long you have been involved in backpacking please reeducate yourselves of the dangerous that one can encounter while in the backcountry, and even more importantly learn how to deal/avoid them! Some may have become complacent and no longer pay attention to the small details that we need to be able to recall immediately in a dangerous situation. Everyone no matter what there experience level should re-read some of the threads found here on HST, and books like "Freedom of the Hill" for example to refresh there knowledge before and during the season, because unlike SAR team members who receive refresher courses and deal with emergency situations daily in there line of work, we may only have one chance at it and our lives may depend on our knowledge.

Do you know how to calculate the distance of a thunderstorm?
How many seconds should be between the bolt and clap to be considered safe?
What is a streamer?
What should you do if caught on a ridge in a lightning storm?
Which way do you face when crossing a river?
What do you look for when looking for a safe crossing?
What are the tell tale signs of avalanche danger?
Do you know the signs of AMS, and how do you deal with them?
How do you stop the bleeding from a leg wound? Can you splint your leg?
What do you do when lost (read Jimr's recent experience to Tehipite Valley)?

These are very basic question that everyone should know the answers too, and more importantly situations one should avoid getting into when possible. One should play out each scenario and think about what needs to be done in each situation, and a action plan should be prepared which will reinforce your memory recall at the time of an emergency situation, otherwise your mind will be racing and you will make mistakes which can be deadly. Make a splint using the gear you carry, book knowledge is good, but doing it at home several times in the off season will save time. Hopefully reading these links, gaining some more knowledge from other sources, putting this knowledge to practice, will prepare you to be ready to deal with emergencies, and which most importantly will enable you to continue to go home after each trip to your wives/husbands, children, and loved ones!

http://highsierratopix.com/community/vi ... f=1&t=6565
http://highsierratopix.com/community/vi ... f=1&t=8001
http://highsierratopix.com/community/vi ... f=1&t=6043
http://highsierratopix.com/community/vi ... f=1&t=5165
http://highsierratopix.com/community/vi ... f=1&t=7778
HST= Wilderness Adventurer who knows no bounds, except for their own imagination.

Have a safer backcountry experience by using the HST ReConn Form 2.0, named after Larry Conn, a HST member: http://reconn.org



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Re: Complete Backpacking Preparedness

Postby cgundersen » Thu Jul 26, 2012 2:44 pm

Hey Mav,
Good advice! I get the feeling that most of the HSTers are reasonably savvy, but I certainly retain a healthy respect for lightning, and for how capricious it can be. I worry, even when I think I've done all I can. I like to think that sitting on a thermarest on top of my vibram soled boots offers a little insulation, but I'm sure that's just a fantasy. At the same time, for how I've seen folks drive on the main routes to the Sierra from LA (14, 395 or 99) , I'm guessing more folks get beaten up on the road versus the hills. Small consolation, no?
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Re: Complete Backpacking Preparedness

Postby jfelectron » Thu Jul 26, 2012 3:06 pm

Tom's death is a tragic reminder to us all. I'm not sure if I should say this, but in my estimation he repeatedly took risks against better judgement in the name of bagging peaks. I met him in late June via a meetup.com trip that he organized to summit Mt. Lyell. We did not have technical equipment. I told him before the trip that should conditions prove beyond my comfort level I would not push to the summit. After hiking to the head of Lyell canyon, we discovered the that entire Northern flank of the Lyell group was covered in a very steep (in exces of 70 degrees) snow field that was concomitant with the Lyell glacier. Upon seeing this I told him that I was not going to summit. He argued with me and tried to convince other members of the group to press on. We had planned on camping that night and making the summit bid in the morning. Theere were high winds in coming over Donohue Pass and the adjoining ridge. Three of us wanted to camp just at treeline in a little side bowl that had protection from the wind. He again argue with us to camp a few hundred feet higher directly in the very exposed wind tunnel at the head of the canyon. He ultimately convinced three group members to camp higher and make a summit bid over the snow-field. Myself and two others decided to camp lower and to not attempt the summit. In addition to what I believe are gross errors in judgement, he and his wife didn't bring a bear canister and fed marmots out of hand.
On returning , I felt it was important to publicly indicate what had happened. On the comments for the meetup we had the following exchange:

Jonathan Foley
You have to know that leading that group up a high angle icy snowfield/glacier was incredibly dangerous.
I'm glad you guys made it back safely, but it in no way justifies the risk. At a bare minimum at least two people should
have had axes and you should have used a rope. No professional guide would ever have placed a group of semi-novices at such risk.
The angle was such that a slide would have likely been death. Your zeal to achieve peaks unfortunately clouds your judgement.
Posted June 25 at 3:49 PM | Like | Delete

SherpaTom
@Johnathan- Are you insulting me? How dare you cloud my judgement. I know the mountains more than you did and know the safety of others. I have summited mountains for a very long time. I know when it is not doable or doable. You should read more about this meetup before even signing up and knowing what you are getting yourself into. You, your friend, and Torey have wasted 3 spots off of my permit.

Jonathan Foley
Your actions and choices suggest otherwise. I told in the days leading up to the trip that we would not summit if conditions proved unsafe. They were unsafe, so we did not summit. I posted here so that others can decide whether to trust your judgement on future meetups. I will not be.



Now everyone has their own comfort levels, but what he urged them to do was in no way safe and violates all the principles of "Freedom of the Hills". This was unfortunately not isolated. The weekend prior he had gone on a trip with two other people to climb Mt. Sil. I don't know the exact details but he ended up abandoning them somewhere up the peak and pushed on by himself. They indicated that conditions were unsafe. From speaking with others Tom told them that he never used sunscreen, didn't believe altitude sickness was real, and routinely glissaded down slopes with dangerous runouts. On the Langley trip, he had a minimal daypack with minimal water and no first aid supplies, rain gear or gear for an emergency bivy on the mountain. These are the details I received:

The short version of the story is that I dropped off Tom, and guy named Walter, and a woman named Elena at the trailhead to Mt. Langley at 5:45 on Sunday morning with the plan of picking them up at around 5:00 pm. Walter made it back down first, then Elena, but no Tom. He was last spotted by Walter at around 1:00pm still ascending towards Langley even though a severe thunderstorm was producing hail and lightning.


His death is incredibly sad. In no way do I want to imply that he had it coming. I just want to add some context to this tragedy so that we an all think about the risks we take and our preparedness for the unexpected
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Re: Complete Backpacking Preparedness

Postby maverick » Thu Jul 26, 2012 3:54 pm

Hi CG,

Yes, driving to and from the Sierra is much more dangerous, but situations arise
when one is put in harms way, and unfortunately instead of learning from the
experience, thinking about what lead up to it, and how it can be avoided in
the future, a person may just pat themselves on the back (ego) and compliment
themselves on how smart/strong they were because they outwitted mother nature.
Memory fades especially about things that are not practiced frequently, this is the
reason for my posting, preparedness=survival.

Hi Jonathan,

Thank you for chiming in with that additional information. It unfortunately confirmed
my suspicions about the "Peak at all cost" mentality. Of coarse this does not diminish
the incredible loss and the pain his wife and family must have to endure because of his
decisions.
HST= Wilderness Adventurer who knows no bounds, except for their own imagination.

Have a safer backcountry experience by using the HST ReConn Form 2.0, named after Larry Conn, a HST member: http://reconn.org
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Re: Complete Backpacking Preparedness

Postby jfelectron » Thu Jul 26, 2012 6:01 pm

My feeling exactly Mav and I don't want to make their grief worse with discussion of his decisions but I feel that everyone's safety in the future can benefit and that is the greater good for me.
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Re: Complete Backpacking Preparedness

Postby cahiker » Thu Jul 26, 2012 6:45 pm

I think Jonathan handled the situation on the Lyell trip very well. Part of preparedness is thinking through some of the things that could go wrong before the trip, being prepared to change your plans during the trip, and discussing with your partners ahead of time how you would handle such decisions.

When I go on a group trip planned by someone else, I always make sure I understand the plans, learn what I can about the area and bring my own map, compass/gps, emergency kit, etc. When I plan the trip I send as much info to everyone as I can in advance, and often print copies of maps for everyone. Any member of the group should be able to say they are concerned about safety, tired, injured, etc and the group (or a portion of the group) should be willing to stop or turn back early. Similarly, the route shouldn't be changed to be harder or longer unless everyone agrees.

I learned this lesson about not going along for the ride without knowing what was planned and being comfortable with the plan on an October weekend trip to New Hampshire my freshman year in college.

A group from the dorm spent Friday night at a hostel in Waterville Valley and decided to hike up Mt. Washington on Saturday. Being from California, I had never heard of Mt Washington, and didn't learn until later that it was the highest peak in the Northeast and had the highest recorded wind speeds or that all the visitor facilities were closed for the season.

After half a mile or so we came to a large warning sign that essentially told us to turn back if there was any sign of bad weather. It had been sunny when we parked the cars, but was snowing lightly at the sign. I wanted to turn around, but was told it wasn't safe to hike alone and I deferred to the "more experienced" group members and continued on. Of course I have since hiked alone hundreds of times...

By the time we reached treeline we were hiking knee deep in snow, it was so windy it was sometimes hard to move forward, and it was difficult to see the orange dots on the rocks marking the trail through all the blowing snow. On the way up, one of the group members had told us about the cog railway, and how it had very high bridges that would be unsafe to walk on. He also mentioned a road. Somehow it was decided that we would continue to the top of the mountain and walk down the road, rather than turning around and hiking back down the trail.

When we reached the cog railway, someone suggested we walk down that instead. Knowing that I had little tread on my sneakers and lousy balance I spoke up and said I didn't feel safe doing that (already regretting not saying more forcefully that I didn't want to continue when we saw the warning sign.) After some discussion half the group decided to hike down the railway, and half chose to continue on to the road.

We eventually got to the top of the mountain, and knocked on the door at the weather station to ask directions of the best way down. They told us we weren't allowed to walk down the road and insisted we spend the night and ride down on a snow cat the next day (and probably had all sorts of thoughts about what idiots we were). By this time the freshman from Brunei was exhibiting signs of hypothermia and I had mild frostbite. I was thankful that I was at least smart enough to have brought my down jacket and gloves.

After the snowcat ride down the next day we met up with the rest of the group and found out they had an uneventful hike down the cog railway. We were all incredibly lucky to have suffered no lasting effects from our terrible decisions. The next day there was a small blurb in the Boston Herald American about the students stranded on Mt. Washington. Thankfully it didn't list us by name.

I drove to the top of Mt. Washington a few years ago. It was so foggy/cloudy that I was afraid of falling off a cliff as I parked the car. It was so windy that my hair was sideways in the pictures we took. We ran into three young women in the lodge who had expended all their energy on their hike up and we gave them a ride back down the mountain to their car. Hopefully they also learned a bit about mountain preparedness and their abilities that day.
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Re: Complete Backpacking Preparedness

Postby rlown » Thu Jul 26, 2012 6:59 pm

I don't think most of us here go out of our way to get hurt and we know enough to plan and replan along the way. I'd bet that per one of the posts, the 99 is far more a threat in getting up there, than being there.

Any stats on usage vs. injuries/death/SAR? Probably a real small number on the latter.

I'd hate to see us skewed by a few sad incidents which could have been prevented by the individuals involved. (Jimr not you.. glad you're home; sounds like you did a great job)
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Re: Complete Backpacking Preparedness

Postby Jimr » Fri Jul 27, 2012 10:27 am

There's a saying in the diving world:
New divers embolize
Old divers bend

New divers, bolt to the surface and blow out their lungs out of fear
Old diver, tempt the laws of physics and boil their blood out of complacency or contempt

I believe the same may be transferred to mountain adventures as well.
What?!
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Re: Complete Backpacking Preparedness

Postby femaleexpat » Fri Jul 27, 2012 11:38 am

I just want to add something:

- Respect the opinion of the group leader
- Doing mountaineering is a dangerous sport already
- Know the mountain before you go
- Always stay in your group


Prior to Tom's Langley trip, we summitted Carillon and Russell without any problems. For those who have not been in Russell, looking at the peak from afar, it was enough for grown man to become wimps.

I survived lightning, thunderstorm and white-out condition bagging Mt. Shasta and Mt. Williamson. I also got lost in Bishop Pass after one step of offtrail descended in class 5.2 chute of Agassiz, holding on for my dear life.

All Im saying in response to Tom's criticism is that "mountaineering" is dangerous period. People continually reach peak for no reason other than "because its there".

We regularly train so we can reach the peak of a mountain we want to cross off our bucket list. It all depends on the skill level of a hiker/climber but before going on a trip, know what you are getting into.

I am very very sad of Tom's death. May he rest in peace.
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Re: Complete Backpacking Preparedness

Postby mbear » Fri Jul 27, 2012 11:41 am

Here is a scoring sheet for AMS:

http://www.thepeakinc.com/downloads/lak ... -score.pdf

3 points or more is a good indication of AMS

Info about HAPE:
http://www.basecampmd.com/expguide/hape.shtml

Info about HACE:
http://www.basecampmd.com/expguide/hace.shtml

HAPE and HACE kill, so I have quick escape routes planned down to 7000'- 8000' from each of my possible campsites at 10,000-11,100 feet next week (Mono Pass, Parker Pass, Alger Lakes, Summit Lake, 1000 Island/Garnet Lakes, Ediza Lake, Nydiver Lakes, Minaret Lake). Since it will be my first time sleeping outdoors significantly above 9000 feet and since my second night will be no lower than 10,700 (Mono Pass) after staying at Tuolumne Meadows for the first (8600 feet) I'm definitely concerned, especially about HAPE (have done fine dayhiking up to 11,000, but I realise these two take some time to be known and don't present themselves on dayhikes).
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Re: Complete Backpacking Preparedness

Postby maverick » Fri Jul 27, 2012 12:16 pm

Hi Femaleexpat,

Welcome aboard HST! Thanks you for you input.
HST= Wilderness Adventurer who knows no bounds, except for their own imagination.

Have a safer backcountry experience by using the HST ReConn Form 2.0, named after Larry Conn, a HST member: http://reconn.org
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Re: Complete Backpacking Preparedness

Postby sparky » Fri Jul 27, 2012 2:32 pm

Thanks for the post Mav, good things to think about.

Femaleexpat, I personally have different goals in the back county. In fact I have no goals other than to live in the beauty for as long as I can :D Peak bagging is much more dangerous I agree. As long as everyone is responsible for themselves then let the dominoes fall.
There is a million ways to be human, all are worthwhile.

True happiness is the absence of striving for happiness.
-Chuang Tzu.
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