That was a rough one...

1:54 p.m. on December 1, 2011 (EST)
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With the recent conversations of leaking tents, collapsing shelters in gale force winds, getting bombed by heavy snowloads, etc. my gears started turning. 

Trailspace members, what memory sticks out the most in your mind of a time when you found yourself in a precarious situation due to Mother Nature showing her ugly side?

Also, what did ya do to make it through the pummeling you were experiencing?

I know this could be a long drawn out subject but my reasoning behind this is knowledge of how to deal with adverse situations when they unexpectedly arise. 

Also with winter fast approaching I thought this has the potential to be an interesting conversation as well. 

4:49 p.m. on December 1, 2011 (EST)
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Me and the three oldest kids, ranging from 4-10yoa, were in a storm in the Alpine lakes near the treeline.  We woke up to a half inch of water in the tent (leaky cheapy). 

I ordered the crew out and they huddled under a tree while I dumped out the water and rigged a roof for the tent using ponchos.  We spread out the remaining dry sleeping bags, (blanket style) piled on the clothes and the kids snuggled together in their extra clothes. 

I went to work making a seven foot pile of brush and dead snags (there was a lot close by b/c it was a no-fires-allowed area) and crawled under the covers with the litle ones. We actually caught a little sleep.

In the pre-dawn gloom I made cocoa and used a road flare to light my burning man-sized wood pile.  The ensuing conflagration roused the kids and we dried our clothes and sipped cocoa as the storm retreated from our towering inferno.  There were actually smiles.

It never really cleared up but we got dry enough to enjoy ourselves and luckily no rangers saw our blaze.  I think that the only other people up there that day stayed in their tents.

Moral: Get better tent (done) and, when its a semi-survival situation bordering on the epic, to heck with the rules!  I will survive. 

5:43 p.m. on December 1, 2011 (EST)
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I haven't had anything happen because I have not back packed overnight in a long time. Once back in the 80's I was up in the mountains near Wenatchee Washington and it was October. Two friends and I set up camp above a pristine lake, then began cooking our fresh caught fish dinner. We enjoyed every minute, went to bed (three of us in a small, two man tent.) I awoke in the middle of the night feeling annoyed and clostrophobic that my two friends had put me on the slight down hill side of the tent and were now squishing me. I stewed with off and on sleep until dawn. Soon we all were ready to get up and we opened the door only to find we had 2 feet uf snow. It was not them, it was the snow making the tent smaller.  We broke camp, and set out for the car. The snow was deep and I had no gaiters, wearing brand new leather boots. I had treated them though. It was like walking in Narnia it was so quiet and undisturbed. It was some work getting out but nothing bad happened because my friends were exceptionally experienced in hiking that area, we had maps and even with no trail we found our way out easily. That is what I have to was a situation that COULD have been bad, but the experience was there to preclude peril.

6:24 p.m. on December 1, 2011 (EST)
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I once was on Glacier Point in Yosemite looking for a place to camp in a all out snowstorm after dark. The snow had been piling up all day since leaving Badger Pass and packing on snowshoes up the GP road. I followed the road because the trail from the valley was impossible to follow and icy in the spring (January) of 1980.

After walking all day to walk 6-9 miles (I don't remember the correct distance) I finnally made it to the point. But now it was dark, and the snow falling so fast and furious (that would make a great movie title! LOL) I could bare ly see but a foot or so ahead of me. I was using my torch and would only turn it on every few steps. Finally I stopped and looked around the  snow was falling away from me downhill it seemed but I couldn't see the ground surface. Finally I looked straight down in front of my snowshoes and there under the curled lip pf them was the waist high barrier that kept summer tourists from going over. Had I taken another step without looking. I would have stpped off Glacier Pointthose days permits were not manditory. And I did not have one. I could still be imprisoned in that cliff below.

7:48 p.m. on December 1, 2011 (EST)
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While my missteps of hiking and hillwalking seem just a part of the experience and thus not memorable; I have some clear recollections of being on the road, hitchhiking.

Once I was headed East in February from Winnipeg (stupid, but hey, I was young) and my last ride of the day dropped me on the east side of Thunder Bay (it was Port Arthur and Fort Williams at the time). It was after midnight and I foolishly decided to stay on the road rather than find a warm place in town to huddle for the night. After a half hour of walking, the wind off Superior kicked up and the wind chill set in. I couldn't go back into the face of the wind, so I had to walk on. No traffic, of course. Not enough snow on the ground for a snow cave, and the trees were scrub, offering no cover. My only chance was to keep walking with the wind at my back. The temp dropped, with windchill, probably down to -10F. Not that cold for the Lakehead, but deadly nonetheless. Needless to say I walked, slower and slower, until just at dawn a trucker stopped and gave me a lift. The heater in the cab had me (inwardly) screaming in pain as sensation returned to my limbs.

Ah,, the good times. :)

8:29 p.m. on December 1, 2011 (EST)
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I had one experience that could fill a book with the sordid details of coping with the cascade of events that define a wilderness debacle.

Twenty five years ago an end of the trekking season mountaineering adventure in Peru was visited by a fierce, unusually long, storm that pinned us down in a snow cave in a high camp.  We waited it out for ten days, but depleted food supplies, exhaustion, and some members of the party getting frost bite, forced an evacuation/self rescue under less than desirable conditions.  We were forced to abandon a bunch of gear; it was time to get the hell out of Dodge!  It was far and away the most difficult time I ever experienced, each of us had our moments of utter despair.  There comes a point where you are so depleted and so cold, when you hands become wooden, your feet leaden, your lungs chapped, your muscles burning, your brain inert, even your will to continue cannot dull the misery, and you falter.  Apathy will reduce you to indifference to life itself, despite the voices of loved ones in your head, imploring you on.  But the encouragement and physical goading of other members of the team kept each of us moving, and good luck precluded any serious travel related mishaps.  Fortunately we all made it out.  Members of our party still able were commissioned into assisting rescue efforts to extract four other climbing parties still trapped on the mountain.

The experience formed a special bond, it transformed all of us.  I still am in contact with two of those climbers.  We all lost something, much more than just gear back up on that mountain, lost it in a dark space that those who witnessed fail to find the words that fully portray such mindscapes to others.  I did one more truly gonzo trip after that, only to realize my Andean journey had fulfilled whatever compelled me into such ventures. I had proved to myself I could do whatever I wished; I could pay any price, but may not endure the cost.  I found out what I was made of, and intended to keep these constituents intact.  Whatever I continue to search for, it can be found without venturing to the edge of mortality.  I now climb mostly for the fine views and company, usually seeking the easiest way up.  Sure, sometimes a trip is demanding, but I try to keep the risks relatively sundry.  I found out why men climb mountains: to keep an eye on their car in the parking lot below.  And for that intention there are plenty of options besides the highest point attained via the most difficult route…


11:26 p.m. on December 1, 2011 (EST)
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The new issue of Climbing Magazine is their "survival" issue (Dec-Jan 2012). 25 of the "most inspiring" stories. Many of them are familiar to me from reading, but a number were new to me. The classic Simpson-Yates Siulla Grande "Touching the Void" is there, as is the famous Pete Schoening belay on K2 that saved him and 6 of his companions. So is the Kyrgystan capture of Caldwell, Rodden, Dickey, and Smith where they "killed" one of their captors (later found out he had survived). Most of the 25 are very brief summaries with reference to books or Climbing Magazine articles where you can find the full story. The 3 I first mentioned are a bit longer.

Personally, I have not had any "epics" worthy of mention. I have spent days in storm, been on mountains where people were seriously injured or died while I was there, and participated in rescue operations (including one body recovery). My only serious injuries happened on ski slopes at resorts - a snowboarder who ran into me and dislocated my elbow and a tumble where I tore something in my knee. But then, storms and injuries, as my beautiful young spouse (who I helped evacuate once with a torn ACL) says, "goes with the territory".

I could tell the tale of how Barb and I woke up in our snow cave one time to find that the storm had completely covered the entrance - 3 feet of snow had dropped overnight. But we dug our way out, so no big deal. I could repeat the times on Denali that have accumulated 3 weeks of tent-sitting at 17,000 ft and 2 weeks of tent-sitting at 14,000 ft. But what's a Denali climb without at least a week of tent-sitting? (actually, in 2002, we didn't have any days of tent-sitting, the only delay being a member of the party about whom everyone else was asking "who invited him along? I thought he was your friend.") You've already seen elsewhere on Trailspace how I spent 8 "nights" and 6 "days" at High Camp on Vinson in the tent due to an extended storm, plus how we spent 2 weeks stranded on the ice because weather conditions would not let the plane come get us (ran out of beer, so we had to drink Chilean wine, ran out of beef, so we had to suffer with smoked salmon and curry chicken).

And I have had a few epic retreats in blizzards and torrential rains with washed out trails. My episode of having my plane break both rear half-spars and one of the aileron pushrods doesn't count here, even though it was severe turbulence in a thunderstorm (it was a bit unnerving looking at the torn metal out on the left wing, though).

Sorry the OGBO can't contribute anything about my battles with the violence of Nature. My outings have been simple "goes with the territory" kinds of things. I do like reading about other folks' harrowing adventures and narrow escapes, though. We humans seem to have a fascination with horror stories.

I do not mean to poo-poo anyone's suffering. As I said, I have helped evacuate people and retrieve a body, and have had to use my wilderness first aid skills, as well as seeing cases of HAPE and one of HACE (all evacuated in time, so no permanent consequences beyond "never again to altitude!")

12:02 a.m. on December 2, 2011 (EST)
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Bill S said:

..we spent 2 weeks stranded on the ice because weather conditions would not let the plane come get us (ran out of beer, so we had to drink Chilean wine, ran out of beef, so we had to suffer with smoked salmon and curry chicken)...

Sounds rough!  I prefer contingency plans that include restaurants, but hey, you were in dire circumstances.

Considering the amount of time you spend out doors, you are somewhat fortunate your parties have managed to not be selected by the objective risk lottery.

Do you remember the wineries and varietals of those Chilean wines?  (They have some mighty fine grapes!)


12:56 p.m. on December 2, 2011 (EST)
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nothing i would call precarious, and making it through was basically exercising common sense.  kind of glad it never gets so exciting. 

one time above treeline, a lightning storm came in fast; crawled/scrambled to get below treeline.  no one hit, but the air had that telltale odor that there had been lightning strikes in the vicinity.  a high adrenalin afternoon. 

Been whited out and in high winds (over 100 mph) on mountains here and there, but it never turned into anything more than a slow slog downhill, picking our way back the way we came and getting knocked over by the wind.   

frost-nipped a few times, which meant my icy toes spent some time in a friend's armpit while i massaged my own fingers back to life.  had a foot or two in my own armpit when others had the same issue.  I am still unsure who has the worse end of warming someone else's feet up, but i'm happy to have all my toes.   

4:00 p.m. on December 2, 2011 (EST)
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1990 - Was in Florida trying to ford the Yellow River; we had rigged a one rope bridge and had crossed all but the last person.  We untied the rope, and we failed to pay attention to it.  It sank and became looped under a snag on the river bottom.  When we went to pull the final member of the group across the river we nearly drowned him before we realized what had happened.  I was the upstream safety, and one of the worst things I can remember was watching him being pulled down into the water and being unable to help.  The river was very swollen and was 2-3 times its normal width, and the water was flowing fast.  This was the last thing we had to do for the day so everyone was paying a little bit less attention than normal and the folks pulling the last person across were not really watching to see what was happening, so they could not hear his or my cries for help.  I learned to force folks, to include myself, to pay attention to the very end.  The combined negligence of all involved almost killed someone.

7:30 p.m. on December 2, 2011 (EST)
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tangential to this thread, there is an annual publication called accidents in north american mountaineering.  the American Alpine Club publishes it under Mountaineers Books.  a litany of failing to plan ahead, inattention, errors in judgment, but helpful.  i have a theory that students of history are less likely to repeat it, the bad parts anyway.  

7:35 p.m. on December 2, 2011 (EST)
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leadbelly2550 said:

i have a theory that students of history are less likely to repeat it, the bad parts anyway.  

 I couldn't agree with you more. That was kind of my intention to some degree when I started this thread. There is a great deal to be learned from others experiences. 

At the same time I thought with winter fast approaching now was just as good of a time to start a thread of this nature as any. 

10:25 p.m. on December 2, 2011 (EST)
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As BIll S and Lead belly attest, managing a wilderness crisis is best done precluding it from occurring.  Bellow are just a few seasonally pertinent considerations.  While some of these suggestions do not seem significant, keep in mind most bad endings in the back country were not the result of a single issue, rather they typically result from a cascade of errors and bad luck.

Bring enough synthetic or wool warm layers to get you through a pinch, should your down articles become sodden.

Avoid sweating, wet clothing isn't as warm as dry clothing.  Strip off layers BEFORE breaking a sweat.  Better to be chilled while under physical exertion, than try and stay warm in wet clothing.  You will quickly warm up once at rest, when you put the layers back on.

Stay hydrated.  Dehydration plays a role in an amazing number of cold weather mishaps.

Don't walk across large, level, snow covered areas unless you are certain what lies underneath; it could be a lake with thin ice!

Draw water from streams whenever possible, but stay safe!  A lot of bad times in the snow begin by getting an unplanned baptism.  Heating melted water takes much less fuel that heating frozen water, due to the additional calories of energy required to transform water from a solid to liquid phase.

Remember less day light means less trail time.  Some can cover more distance in the snow, but most will cover significantly less.  Thus do not use summertime distance objectives when planning a snow trip.

It is better to have a warmer bag in a drafty tent that will remain free of condensation, than a less warm bag in a warmer closed up tent with serious condensation getting things wet.

DON'T USE A STOVE IN THE TENT. If you thik this is asking too much, don't go, you are either not tough enough to deal with the cold or not wise enough to heed the advice of wise old fart who have wittness what happens when stoves misbehave - and they will.

If you leave gear outside in snow country, stow it inside trash can bags adjacent to objects that will stick out of anyamount of snowfall.  Pots, stoves, and other loose gear magically disappears under a foot of snow.  Leaving it next to bomber landmarks precludes this problem.  Leaving it covered by a trash bag makes it easier to retrieve and place into service.

Avoid camping under trees.  A large snow slough will damage tents.  A large slough dropping unimpeded for twenty feet will cause personal injury.  A limb that breaks and falls from snow loading can kill.

Do not ski routes defined by the water course line through gullies.  The jump you come bombing up on may be a small water fall with rocks and water at the bottom, instead of snow.  Breaking your leg and getting freezing soaked is a good way to die quickly, regardless help maybe there to assist you.

Save the banzi ski runs for areas where help is close at hand.  Consider back country skiing primarily a mode of practical transportation.  Equipment breakage or ski related injuries can become a crisis, if for no other reason than you are miles from the nearest road head. 

Take a snow safety course.

If you get in trouble and are a long way from help, abandon gear that is not necessary to facilitate a quick evacuation.

If in a storm, usually ridding it out in adequate shelter is far preferable to attempting to travel when exposure is an issue, or visibility makes route finding problematic.

You must know how to use a map and compass!  Snow will cloak summer landmarks and can transform familiar territory into terra incognita. 




5:39 p.m. on December 3, 2011 (EST)
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Just had a big storm here. It was blizzard-ing on Mt Charleston. Guy was lost up their hiking with his dog. Not a local, but from Canada. Seems he admits he misjudged the trip......but he was prepared and hunkered down with the appropriate gear. Rescuers got him the next day:

Las Vegas, NV (KTNV) -- The hiker and his dog that were stranded on Mount Charleston overnight have been rescued.

The man got lost while hiking in the Bristlecone Trail area of Lee Canyon on Mount Charleston on Thursday morning.

The hiker activated an emergency tracking device at approximately at 8:30 a.m. Thursday.

Mount Charleston received several inches of snow Thursday morning and conditions forced rescue crews to launch a ground-based search instead of deploying an aircraft.

Eventually, the search had to be called off because of weather conditions and the search became too dangerous for rescuers.

According to police spokesman Bill Cassell, a message was received from the hiker that indicated that he could survive the night and plans were made to resume to rescue operation as soon as weather allowed this morning.

Rescue crews were able to trace the hiker's location by GPS coordinates from the tracking device.

6:00 p.m. on December 3, 2011 (EST)
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Excellent post! It almost reads like you got a copy of the "Trip Management" talk I give as part of the Winter and 50-miler prep courses (and you, Dewey, several others here, and I have to repeat every so often).

Prevention, preparation, experience - the main keys to staying safe.

7:34 p.m. on December 3, 2011 (EST)
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whomeworry said:

"It is better to have a warmer bag in a drafty tent that will remain free of condensation, than a less warm bag in a warmer closed up tent with serious condensation getting things wet."

This has been my approach for several years now and it works good for me in the winter.

I have had people ask me why I would use a tent with mesh panels in the winter, but I do stay warm and I like some ventilation.

I do appreciate all that I learn here about camping in the colder climates, it is useful to me even though I don't encounter the same conditions usually.

11:05 p.m. on December 3, 2011 (EST)
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If that hiker in Nevada was prepared as noted:

Seems he admits he misjudged the trip......but he was prepared and hunkered down with the appropriate gear.

...he would have also had a map and compass. Since he had a device that gave him GPS coordinates, he could transpose those to map coordinates, learn his current location, and determine an initial heading to self-rescue. At 8:30AM, he had plenty of hours of light remaining, and he was uninjured, apparently. So this Monday morning quarterback (me) - from the limited information before me - sees another unnecessary abuse of SAR resources.

11:42 p.m. on December 3, 2011 (EST)
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No real epics here, just some weird tales and close calls---

**  Blizzard of '93 kicked open my sac with six foot drifts and the beneficial shut down of Society for several days.  I was living in a NC mountain top Tipi at around 3,500 feet near Boone, NC at the time, but I had a woodstove so was styling.  Just couldn't move for several days.

**  Mary's Rock, Shenandoah, '87---a dead snag tree fell on my tent in a March windstorm at night.  Broke a pole and ripped the fly.

**  Tree fell nearby at the Swamp Site in '83---missed me and the tent by ten feet.

**  Stealth camping in a town cemetary when three college students came in to smoke dope.  I was behind a gravestone in my mummy bag on the ground with a "tuque" over my eyes.  They sat on the tombstone next to me.  I rose up after they giggled too much.  Scared them silly, made strange mouse-like squeals and ran away.

**  Two handguns pulled during backpacking/hitchhiking trips---one in Spruce Pine, NC in '87 and one in Chapel Hill, NC in '84.

**  Pisgah NF near-death canyon fall trying to find a short cut thru a gorge while wearing a full pack.  Long story with the taste of panic in the mouth.

**  High water/flood water crossing on the Upper Bald River---near death due to toppling over---2006.  More taste of panic.

**  Haw Mt windstorm and slapped silly---2008.

**  Postholing nightmare in the winter of 2010---took three hours to go one mile.  Turned beady eyed like a lizard.  "Be in the now" people say.  I was.

**  Dog bit me on Hangover Mt---2007.

**  Two bats flew into the tipi with me---once in '89 and once in '92.  We all jumped out the door at the same time.

**  Numerous cop encounters while stealth camping.

**  White gas Svea stove explosion---'85.

**  Nearly stepping on between 8 and 10 on-trail rattlesnakes.

**  Broken finger rock hopping Winklers Creek with a full pack---'82.

**  -30F cold snap while living outdoors around Boone, NC---freak storm.  Jan '85.

**  Big wolf spider in sierra cup and discovered when cup is at my lips inside a dark tipi---'98. Screamed like a two year old.

**  Various in-field bowsaw accidents.

**  Pulled achilles tendon on day 3 of a trip---had 9 more days to go---2009.

**  Dozens of certain death escapades with lightning bolts.  Spooked once under a lone oak tree and dragged my tent down the mountain and slept in some bushes.

**  Mocked charged by a wild pig---2005

**  Crawled into a heath "jungle" to cowboy camp and got caught in a 3am deluge.  Had to crawl out with a full pack and minimag in my mouth thru endless brush back out to the trail to set up tent---'82.

**  Slept in an unflyed tent under clear skies---by 2am the sky opens up.  Rushed out to put fly on tent and passed out in a faint---came to soaked.  Jump up from a deep sleep boys, and see what happens.

**  Frequent hypothermia and hands like blocks of wood---unable to undo hipbelt or zippers.  What fun.

**  Broken crowns and/or severe toothaches while out in the backcountry.  What fun.  Learn to squirm.

**  Stepped on a crab apple thorn on a mountain trail and it went completely thru the sole of my hiking shoe and into my foot---eventually got a tetnus shot---'91.

**  Slept on a mouse nest and the dang rodent bit a finger and drew blood---'86.

**  Stealth camped on some farmland near Valle Crucis, NC and wandered into an electric fence during a nighthike across a river.  Zapped!  Turned around like a bug, automatically.

**  Numerous hawthorn tree thorn wounds in the hands and arms---they hurt and fester afterwards.  And they eat up Thermarests.

**  Two tornadoes---Camping near Chapel Hill in '88---tornado lifts tent off the ground with me in it.  Another tornado hits my old Westwind tent set up near Tweetsie Railroad in Watauga county---1996.  Splits most of the tent poles.

**  Bad windstorms on Bob's Bald---one in 2006 bent a Hilleberg tent pole.  And so on.

1:36 a.m. on December 4, 2011 (EST)
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Tipi, your spider in the sierra cup description had me bent over with laughter :) 

2:09 a.m. on December 4, 2011 (EST)
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So I saw this:


and immediately envisioned this :)


8:58 a.m. on December 4, 2011 (EST)
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Wow Gonzan---your picture reminds me of all the time I spent with my mountain man buddy in the Cherokee NF forest.  He's the last living mountain man in Tennessee.  I'll have to start a separate thread on the Wit And Wisdom of Dr. Colon Flaccid---The Last Mountain Man in the Southeast.

I'm not sure where or when he got his doctorate or which field it was in---assumed to have something to do with outdoor recreation?  He was born in Montana in 1840 and still uses an early basket pack made by his mixed-blood native american mother, etc.  Anyway, he often pulls his winters in the mountains of TN and NC and we're best of friends when he's in a decent mood.


Here he agrees for a photograph but it has to be done quick.  Taken in the Beaver Ring Mountains.


He agrees to pose with me at the end of a long October trip in the Beaver Ring mountains of TN and NC.  He never likes hanging out near a road and will often shoot arrows into passing cars using his Comanche short bow.

11:29 a.m. on December 4, 2011 (EST)
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I like the stealth camping in the cemetery.  I can just picture that.

Hee Hee Hee.

7:53 p.m. on December 4, 2011 (EST)
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BillS, your mention of classic debacles in Climbing reminds me of one of the most horrific tales of survival in the mountains, and very well recounted, by Walter Bonatti. His climb on the Central Pillar of Fresnay when a party of French and a party of Italians joined forces to climb and later to retreat, left four of the party dead, including Bonatti's friend and long time climbing partner, Andrea Oggioni.

My own experiences are much less epic. I have endured a number of storms over the years, sometimes retreating to find shelter, sometimes just sticking it out. Several times on Mt. Rainier on solo trips when in college, stand out. Thanksgiving was always an opportunity to climb. One time, in about 1974, I was somewhere under the Willis Wall in Spray Park and spent the holiday huddled in my tent by my lonesome. Another time, in an early spring storm while attempting something in the Tatoosh Range, a storm drove me out and I skied a number of miles to spend the early morning hours sacked out in the women's head at Narada Falls, quite thankful that it had heat.

In Washington's Stuart Range, we reached the summit just about the time a horrendous summer rainstorm broke. Within minutes there was an obvious electricity in the air. Ditching our hardware,  we descended so quickly my ears were popping until we took shelter behind some rocks.

Though they are not storm related I've had some close calls over the years. I still have an image, when descending a very narrow gully, and really more of a chimney, of a bowling ball sized rock ricocheting from side to side as made it's way toward me. I can still smell the burnt rock. My helmet would not have helped on that one. Last year, when doing a reenactment of a historic trip on Oregon's Rogue River, we flipped the canoe in a very bad spot and I was sucked under twice, the second time with the canoe.

Participating in S & R, I saw the aftermath of mistakes and miscalculations. Cell phones and Epirbs don't render assistance if the rescuers can't get to you.

9:22 p.m. on December 5, 2011 (EST)
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great list Ed.

Adding to that:

-going lightweight is fine, but not at the expense of leaving key things at home.  for snow trips on mountains of any size, don't go short on fuel (if you encounter bad weather and end up staying longer than expected, you will need it) and always bring crampons or microspikes and an ice axe (navigating steep, slick terrain without them is a recipe for an accident).   

-learn to recognize, early, signs of hypothermia in your group (people who are getting hypothermic rarely recognize it in themselves - confusion and poor decision making are some of the early symptoms).  per the Mayo Clinic, symptoms include:

  • Shivering
  • Clumsiness or lack of coordination
  • Slurred speech or mumbling
  • Stumbling
  • Confusion or difficulty thinking
  • Poor decision making, such as trying to remove warm clothes
  • Drowsiness or very low energy
  • Apathy or lack of concern about one's condition
  • Progressive loss of consciousness
  • Weak pulse
  • Slow, shallow breathing

-ask about and learn to recognize and respect adverse weather.  

-stop in ranger or park stations and ask about the forecast (and avalanche conditions).  respond accordingly, don't ignore them.  precipitation, cold, and wind can get a lot worse in the mountains than you might expect.  

-telltales of approaching bad weather include high (cirrocumulus) clouds, a halo around the moon or sun, less stars than you would expect.  all potential signs that there is increased airborne moisture or turbulence.

-darkening cloud, rising winds, and quick temperature changes are a no-brainer sign of a front moving through.  by the time you see these, you can be in it pretty quickly, but you can at least move to a lower elevation if you are exposed or on a trail that might become treacherous with precipitation.  

funny story.  we took a family trip with my wife's whole extended family to Jackson Hole last summer; 8 adults and 7 kids between 2 and 13.  the extended family plays a lot of golf; apart from last summer, i have never seen or heard of any of them hiking.  i had one day to myself, a nice, steady day of solid up and down, but the family hikes were on tame and well-traveled trails.  no matter, the tetons are unbelievably gorgeous.

i got some ribbing from the family on those day hikes for bringing a large daypack and extra shells/gear.  that is, until the weather turned during one afternoon hike.  i politely encouraged everyone to turn around on an exposed part of a trail and head down, which they didn't understand; why turn around, they said, we're almost near that ridge with the great views.  who cares if it drizzles a little? nice logic, until we were quickly engulfed in a lightning/hail storm.  my immediate family was loving those waterproof/breathable shells and fleece hats i brought along for them.   

3:14 a.m. on December 6, 2011 (EST)
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leadbelly2550 said:

great list Ed.

Adding to that...

..for snow trips...

..learn to recognize, early, signs.. your group...

..ask about and learn to recognize and respect adverse weather.  

-stop in ranger or park stations and ask...

 Likewise a good addendum to the list on your part. 

Watching out for early signs of distress in your companions is important.  People getting overextended or overwhelmed is a fundamental cause of problems, often the first in a series of mistakes that accumulate to create a crisis.

Likewise developing an eye for the sky is important, so you can avoid bad weather or prepare for it. 

I would like to comment about asking the ranger for advice about conditions.  Perhaps it is the venues I frequent most, but the rangers who serve these territories are notoriously poorly informed, regarding the conditions on the ground in the interior of the backcountry.  For instance on one trip someone in our group asked station personnel if the passes were snowed in.  The ranger (counter clerk) flashed an aerial image showing most of the interior covered with snow.  We questioned the accuracy of this image – it didn’t coincide information from other sources – and found out we were presented an image six weeks old!  No one in that office knew what the current conditions were.  We had similar results on other occasions with other stations in this region too.  We found it was better to get our trail condition updates from peer group web sites like, logged by people who were in the area very recently.  Likewise we rely on atmospheric weather reports from NOAA, augmented by regional quality sites (e.g. great weather forecast for the Eastern Sierras can be had from and snow pack conditions from and


3:47 a.m. on December 6, 2011 (EST)
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Ed, you bring up a very valid point. Many of us venture into the back country employing every means available to determine the best gear for the moment and even the best moment. Others are less inclined to seek all the information and sometimes eschew all or some of the information/predictions available. Climbing a route that has been climbing many times before with no route information, or climbing a route with all information regarding holds and belays, are different schools of thought. For me personally, I look at the overall picture, but would rather not know the details so I can "pose" as someone doing it for the first time.

For me, it is about making my own decisions, making weather judgments based upon clouds, winds, etc. For others, it is climbing to a higher standard, knowing as much as they can. Neither is better. They are just different ways of viewing the same problem.

9:23 a.m. on December 6, 2011 (EST)
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I haven't had any true emergency situations, or even real close calls. Yet. 

I have had the distinct pleasure of discovering on a caving excursion that one of our group couldn't hack it, but only after we were a few miles in and a couple hundred feet underground. 

I've seen hypothermia set in on others a number of times, and recognized it coming on in myself a couple occasions as well. Uncontrollable shivering and inexplicably feeling warm is more than a little alarming.

I have to second the experience that rangers in the office are often clueless to the conditions, and even just the terrain. If I was a ranger in a given district, I would sure as hell know the terrain, trails, and landmarks of that district. On more than one occasion I have called the ranger stations in the Appalachians, only to discover the person knows next to nothing about the area they are stationed.


10:49 a.m. on December 6, 2011 (EST)
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Erich said:

Ed, you bring up a very valid point...  ..Climbing a route that has been climbing many times before with no route information, or climbing a route with all information regarding holds and belays, are different schools of thought...

Actually this is a point you make!

Perhaps my reference to SummitPost was misleading.  My reference was meant as a source for general conditions, such as the passes are snowed in, and that was the extent of my intention.  But you point is valid, nevertheless. 

Back when I climbed for its own sake (versus because it is the only way to get to Point B) there were no internet climbing web sites, but I did scout climbing guide books and consult personal connections, mostly to avoid bowling alleys and dead ends.  I don't like when it rains choss, or grunting up three pitches to find the route dead ends.  I agree reconciling yourself with the rock and determining your own way up is much more gratifying than duplicating the details of someone else's climb. 


3:41 p.m. on December 6, 2011 (EST)
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I have found that doing some research and studying meteorology has big advantages.

May 23, 2018
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