another white mountain tragedy

8:53 a.m. on January 29, 2013 (EST)
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reported in the Union Leader that a texas man plunged "3,000" feet to his death in Kings Ravine on Mt. Adams this past weekend.  While a member of a climbing party ascending the headwall in gusting gale force winds and driving snow, unroped and last member of party, he failed to join other members, and upon retracing steps where was last seen, there was discovered evidence of his obvious fall. He was experienced and properly equiped for the elements, and severity of the terrain with helmet, crampons and climbing axe.  However, under the reported conditions it might have been prudent to have roped-up.

12:05 p.m. on January 29, 2013 (EST)
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i'm going to be in that same area a week from now, though i will probably trudge up Lowe's Path or the Airline, won't be climbing on the King Ravine headwall.  That's a steep trail any time of year.  This hiker had the right gear, as it is a technical snow climb in the winter.  shows that having the right gear doesn't guarantee safety.  i agree that wearing a harness and being roped to a teammate could have helped....but because that's only semi-technical terrain, not really requiring or necessarily offering good opportunities for protection and a solid belay in the winter, it also could have pulled the teammate off too. 

11:52 p.m. on January 29, 2013 (EST)
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leadbelly2550 said:

...[not]  necessarily offering good opportunities for protection and a solid belay in the winter, it also could have pulled the teammate off too. 

 I was thinking the same. 

My condolences to his loved ones. 

3:18 a.m. on January 30, 2013 (EST)
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Blame it on the trolls…

Winter mountaineering always has risk, and often we underestimate the level of risk we are taking on.  It would be safest to belay everyone from a constructed stance, but then progress would be very slow.  Running belays offer more protection than no belay at all, and simply moving altogether on a rope with no active belay is better than moving un-roped; but both of these modes have a higher risk of the entire rope team falling if one climber looses it.  It is my impression we tend to fall back onto the more conservative travel modes later than we should.

In the 1970s I was descending from the summit of Mt Baldy, a peak in the San Gabriel Mountains above Los Angeles, traveling the route above the Sierra Club hut, when I had a potentially disastrous fall.  We had just unclipped from the rope, moving onto a slope with about a 25° aspect.  I was using French technique, facing directly into the fall line when the footing under a crampon gave out.  My head and feet swapped positions and I landed flat on my back, knocking the wind out of me.  By the time I got my wits I was tobogganing head first on my back, sliding too fast to self arrest.  I escaped with only bad bruises after a quarter mile of slipping and sliding, losing close to 500 vertical feet in under a minute.  I later learned this route is notorious for accidents, tallying up a number of cripplings and a handful of fatalities.  I learned never to face directly into the fall line while Frenching; instead face askance to the fall line - kind of a hybrid French/German technique - so a backward fall lands somewhat on one’s side.  The point is most climbers would not think twice about traveling un-roped on a 25° incline.  We need to always be mindful, that trolls lurk under all snow covered inclines, just like they do under bridges, and woe is the traveler whose lapse in attention gives a troll the opportunity to sneak up and carry them off to their death.

Ed

Ed

8:40 a.m. on January 30, 2013 (EST)
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scary. King's Ravine is one bad mutha of a trail. I'm not sure what conditions were like in that area, but I'm guessing other than a standing belay done by a team roped together, there were little opportunities to set up a good anchor. The snow levels on the northern Presidential peaks has been very low for this time of year, and with the high winds the snow gets scoured right down. I generally try to bring 2 snow pickets and ice screws with me so I have something for a variety of terrain, but both the snow and ice have been crummy for anchors as of late. Ice is improving, however.

9:52 a.m. on January 30, 2013 (EST)
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I'll take slow progress over dying any day... Trolls! another reason to carry firearms while hiking :). Them and that bastard Murphy.

iClimb, I'm not familiar with the area/terrain there. The lack of snow/ice anchors is one thing but what prevents them using rock anchors instead?

10:18 a.m. on January 30, 2013 (EST)
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People need to wise up.

12:03 p.m. on January 30, 2013 (EST)
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jersey -

I'm not sure anything prevented them from using those, but my best guess is that it's mid winter on the harsh presidentials, they probably didn't expect to use rock protection and didn't take any with them. Carrying ice and snow protection is one thing even if you don't use it, but to carry extra rock protection as well to make your pack load weigh that much more seems completely unnecessary in most situations when climbing in winter up there.

They probably didn't expect the conditions they encountered so they didn't have the needed gear. That's when it becomes a tough decision regarding whether to press on and rely on skill or turn around. Easy for us to say this guy made the wrong choice, because he's dead, but it's a tough call when you're out there. Turn around when you didn't need to and you miss out on an epic day. Not turn around when you should have, and you wind up dead. Not a lot of room for error. I personally always go the cautious way. My pride is getting home.

12:05 p.m. on January 30, 2013 (EST)
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I think it's a close call between King Ravine and Huntington Ravine for the steepest and most demanding trail in winter in the Whites.

12:52 p.m. on January 30, 2013 (EST)
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My condolences to his family and friends.

Ed, you are correct, sometimes we take protective measures too late. I had a somewhat similar experience to yours, coming off Sperry Peak in the Cascades. A small pass on the south side leads to a gully. We were in a hurry, it really wasn't that severe, but it was spring and sun cups were huge, and the snow that late in the day was frozen. We didn't have crampons, but axes. I slipped, ended up on my back with my axe barely in my grip. By the time I arrested, I was pretty cut up from the shaley stones embedded in the snow, and I was only a few meters from the boulder garden at the bottom. If I had been in less of a hurry late in the day, and tired, I might have been more careful and not fallen.

1:18 p.m. on January 30, 2013 (EST)
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no question that if you fall on the King Ravine headwall, it's going to be a long and fast ride down.

might add that the madison gulf trail is extremely steep - but it's also not a place where you generally find people in the winter. 

4:16 p.m. on January 30, 2013 (EST)
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iClimb said:

jersey -

I'm not sure anything prevented them from using those, but my best guess is that it's mid winter on the harsh presidentials, they probably didn't expect to use rock protection and didn't take any with them. Carrying ice and snow protection is one thing even if you don't use it, but to carry extra rock protection as well to make your pack load weigh that much more seems completely unnecessary in most situations when climbing in winter up there.

They probably didn't expect the conditions they encountered so they didn't have the needed gear. That's when it becomes a tough decision regarding whether to press on and rely on skill or turn around. Easy for us to say this guy made the wrong choice, because he's dead, but it's a tough call when you're out there. Turn around when you didn't need to and you miss out on an epic day. Not turn around when you should have, and you wind up dead. Not a lot of room for error. I personally always go the cautious way. My pride is getting home.

  Guess that just emphasizes the need to do your trip prep and know the conditions you are going in to. Getting reports from others that have been in the area recently, calling the Rangers station for local conditions etc. can all make a big difference.

My pride is getting home.

Agreed, every dive I do, the last thought I have as I submerge is about not leaving my son without a father, it tempers every decision I make for the next hour.

6:27 p.m. on January 30, 2013 (EST)
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iClimb said:

..they probably didn't expect to use rock protection and didn't take any with them. Carrying ice and snow protection is one thing even if you don't use it, but to carry extra rock protection as well to make your pack load weigh that much more seems completely unnecessary in most situations when climbing in winter up there...

You need only minimal additional hardware, not much weight at all, really.  Bringing rain gear in the warm season is also unnecessary - unless it happens to rain!  Omitting tools from a snow mountaineering equipment list that permits belaying among rocks is an act of hubris or inexperience.  Anyone who has bagged a number of wind scoured peaks knows they are often blasted completely free of snow on certain aspects, when the wind hard enough and long enough.  I have never visited the Whites, but would expect this condition, just knowing their reputation for fierce weather.

Ed

10:16 a.m. on January 31, 2013 (EST)
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I agree with Ed to a degree.  The King Ravine trail is a 41% grade at the steepest section, the headwall above the boulders.  i wouldn't climb King Ravine in the winter at all any more, but if i were thinking about it, i would wear a harness and be roped to someone.   Whether it requires setting protection is a different question; people experienced with snow travel and winter conditions might reasonably decide protection isn't necessary.  I haven't brought a harness, ropes, or protection on a winter trip to the white mountains in years, not since i quit ice climbing.  But, i stick to the safer/more sane trails in the winter.  there are plenty of ways up and down these mountains where roping up isn't necessary if you exercise good judgment.

this week is a great example of how crazy the weather can get up there.  it was 40 degrees with reasonable winds on the summit of Mt. Washington yesterday morning.  It is probably raining pretty hard up there right now.  but through the afternoon and this evening, a cold front is going to freeze that rain into ice and change the precipitation to snow, drop temperatures below zero, and bring triple digit winds.    

10:32 a.m. on January 31, 2013 (EST)
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Im a couple of hrs south of there and we have had a big weather swing here too. It was 17 below less than two weeks ago and this am it was 71 by my thermometer. We had a decent little snow pack, last night we got an inch of rain and had 45 mph winds, now there is no snow in sight. You never know what ma nature is gonna throw at you, thats the main reason im always so gear heavy. I wanna be ready for anything. I dont really climb but I hike steep trails, in winter I carry my microspikes, 50 feet of rope, ice and rock anchors, my harness and ten feet of two inch webbing to make a sec harness in a pinch. Sometimes I have my crampons, snowshoes and always my spikes. I feel like a pack mule sometimes but I usually have everything I need plus occasionally help others up or down a bad stretch. Before my knee replacement, when I did climb a little, we used to sit above one of the steep faces on mt mndk and help people over the ever present ice, or watch the ones who refused help slide down again and again. It never ceases to amaze me, the quantity of people climbing mtns in the winter in sneakers and cotton sweat pants. The bloody rings around their ankles, from punching thru the crust are my fav part. The huge signs at the bottom describing the obstacles never seems to faze them, I watch them read it, shrug their shoulders and head up anyway. Not many boy scouts left I guess.

10:42 a.m. on January 31, 2013 (EST)
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Andrew-near-treeline-2.jpg

sign speaks for itself.  it's about a 3/4 of a mile from where the hiker fell.  it was about 20 below when this photo was taken.  

1:20 p.m. on January 31, 2013 (EST)
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Ed I would agree. Most people, however, seem to be getting more and more into this lightweight approach to hiking where they want to shave off every possible ounce to the degree of even cutting tooth brushes in half, etc.

My personal approach is over preparation and over packing, and it has proven on a few occasions to have helped me or other hikers I met on the trail when I had extra gear with me.

My recent climb up Mt Washington, I'd say a conservative estimate of daypacks I saw was about 20 lbs of gear including extra clothing, water, and food. I even saw some who ran up the trail at an alpine start with only a hydration pack and I ran into them at 7 am when they were on their way back down. My pack, on the other hand, weighed almost 45 lbs that day, and like the beast that I am, I hauled that thing up the trail at a pretty decent pace. I had rope, wands, ice screws, harness, snow pickets, extra food and water, sleeping bag, extra clothes, and more. I could have stayed on that mountain, even above tree line, for 3 days and be fine.

On some day trips and begginer/intermediate hikes, this would clearly be overkill. The bigger the mountains get and the more dangerous things can be, this is my motto: "If you can't carry the weight, get off the mountain"

2:24 p.m. on January 31, 2013 (EST)
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Gee, I guess I am a wimp. On the way to the OR Show earlier this month, Barb and I took the long way around through Las Vegas. We made a stop in Zion (a warm 15 deg), stopped overnight in Cedar City where the morning temperature was -5F, encountering temperatures varying over a few miles from +6F to -9F (going to the high to the low and back several times), got to SLC with the inversion holding the temperature in the low teens, drove up to hike Mill D (off Big Cottonwood) above the inversion at 35F, then a couple days later did our walk from the motel to the Salt Palace in the ice storm (sidewalks like skating rinks, so we used our Icetrekkers), ill equipped should we have gotten trapped on the way back to the motel (only had expedition weight long johns, Nanopuffs, Marmot Driclimes, and eVent shells, no stove, no tent, no bivy).

OK, a bit tongue in cheek, but it continually surprises me that people will head out in their cars, dressed and supplied for their warm homes and warm offices, with nothing in case they get stuck on the freeway on the way (or as happened in SLC, get involved in a major pileup caused by the "expert drivers" who slid into the Armco, hit other cars, flipped over, and hence had to wait for hours for the tow trucks to clear things). When we were in Boston, there was one blizzard that trapped people in their cars on 128 for more than a day - you would think people in NE in general would carry an emergency kit in their cars.

We did carry tent, stove, food, our -40 sleeping bags, multiple layers including out Dolomiti jackets, etc etc in the car. And I do go much more slowly in our 4WD in snow and glare ice. Still saw a few SUVs and an 18-wheeler off the road.

It ain't just the folks heading into the hills.

8:08 p.m. on February 2, 2013 (EST)
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Pretty much every year when the chain controls go up on 80 and 50 going to Tahoe and Reno, the local tv stations set up and you always see people standing around in shorts and tee shirts freezing because they have nothing in their car, as if cold weather in the Sierra is a big surprise to them.

I've seen the same thing at the airport in SF and Sacto in winter-people wandering around in shorts coming off a plane from Honolulu.

7:57 p.m. on February 4, 2013 (EST)
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how did we get into the topic matter of cold weather car kits?

8:40 p.m. on February 4, 2013 (EST)
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it's a big issue in the Sierras, driving from the coast to Tahoe, for example.  Mandatory tire chain requirements on key roads, and a fair number of secondary roads that don't get maintained during the winter.  

back to the white mountains, i know that it's been a light snow year.  assuming this week's weather forecasts are accurate & we don't see much more than snow showers this week, how is the snowpack up on the heights - can i expect to use the snowshoes a lot, or just walking w/crampons much of the time? i'm going up adams, maybe madison or jefferson too depending on weather.  

thx

8:50 p.m. on February 4, 2013 (EST)
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iClimb said:

how did we get into the topic matter of cold weather car kits?

 It is part of the whole hubris syndrome - "I don't need any overnight/storm/cold gear for this half-hour hike/drive." There was an article in today's Wall Street Journal about the trend for kids (mostly boys, but some girls as well) to go to school in shorts in places currently having severe weather. A lot of the "FLASH - Yet another tragedy in the mountains" series of threads here on Trailspace have whole series of posts talking about "experienced" outdoors types heading off with ultralight summer gear. I would point out that it isn't just people heading into the wilderness. It is a general mindset that seems to be permeating our urban society as a whole. Here in the SFBay Area, situated as we are on the San Andreas rift zone, the emergency preparedness folks estimate that 2/3 of people who live here have no emergency water supply and no more than a couple days' worth of food. As the Loma Prieta earthquake in 1987 showed, the whole area can have widespread power outages, roads out (the Bay Bridge collapsed and wasn't back in service for months), other disruptions. Hurricane Sandy, just a few weeks ago, showed that many people won't evacuate for an obvious disaster, and survivors lacked food and water supplies.

For every hiker who is prepared like iClimb heading into the hills, there are a dozen others in T-shirt and shorts, carrying one of those 1 pint store-bought bottles of water.

The same mindset has people venturing unprepared on those trails that are so beautiful and sunny in the summer, despite well-publicized major storm forecasts.

I would contend that until you get the populace as a whole to recognize how thin the cord that supports "civilization" and comfortable urban living is, you will continue to get dozens (or more) "incidents" not only in the mountains, but even in the middle of major cities. When Nature decides to dump a major blizzard, hurricane, or earthquake somewhere, it does not matter whether there is a crowded city of millions or a mountain trail with a few foolhardy individuals. You aren't going to stop the incidents with an $18 card, signs at every trailhead, or threat of a $10,000 rescue fee. "It won't happen to me!"

8:14 a.m. on February 5, 2013 (EST)
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Bill S said:

 ..It is part of the whole hubris syndrome...

..the emergency preparedness folks estimate that 2/3 of people who live here have no emergency water supply and no more than a couple days' worth of food. As the Loma Prieta earthquake in 1987 showed, the whole area can have widespread power outages, roads out (the Bay Bridge collapsed and wasn't back in service for months), other disruptions. Hurricane Sandy, just a few weeks ago, showed that many people won't evacuate for an obvious disaster, and survivors lacked food and water supplies...

 Bill:

I would contend there is no way to prepare for the really epic Big One quakes we are all warned about.  Just bearing witness to the weather disasters that have been plaguing the east indicates that you can’t stock up for these events, such is their magnitude.  Hence our family survival plan includes good walking shoes, razor blade scooters, cash, credit cards, a few liters of water, and a plan to get the hell out of the region!  A weeks worth of MREs and 100 gallons of water will not get you through the month(s) it will take for EMS activities to reach  people ensnared in a large scale calamity.  There is little point in staying; get out until some semblance of stability is re-established.  But I do digress from your essential message:  Folks are blissfully ignorant of how little it takes to ruin their day/life.

Ed

1:08 p.m. on February 5, 2013 (EST)
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Ed,

I agree about the "epic Big One" and hurricanes (having lived in areas subject to each, plus other natural disasters). When the Earth gets a major asteroid impact or Jurassic Park gets away from its builders, there isn't anything to be done, so why worry? There is no place on Earth that is free from potential major natural disasters.

What I am talking about is the simple preparations and use of readily available knowledge that most folks seem to ignore. You and I have spent a fair amount of time in conditions worse than the disasters that have been linked here on Trailspace in the past month or two and came out of those situations having had an exciting and invigorating experience (I haven't suffered the injuries you described, though - worst injury was a dislocated elbow, caused by a snowboarder who hit me sliding into a lift line). Neither of us were carrying much more or different than the "victims" in the referenced incidents.

Experience, knowledge, skill, and knowing when to turn back make the difference. The mountain will always be there. Just make sure you are there to return to the mountain.

4:08 p.m. on February 5, 2013 (EST)
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leadbelly - I was ice climbing sunday and monday, and other than the best areas for ice, things are amazingly bare for Feb.

I'd expect 80% ice, 12% rock, and 8% snow, with snow decreasing as approaching and going over tree line.

Crampons are without a doubt needed for any areas I've been in the last month, but I haven't been up to the Northern Presi's other than Washington.

4:45 p.m. on February 5, 2013 (EST)
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Climb- did you have a chance to climb around Frankenstein? I'm hopefully climbing there in the next couple weeks.

8:20 p.m. on February 5, 2013 (EST)
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Ooooo, Frankenstein! Fun area! I have really enjoyed doing some of the climbs there, though it's been a few years since I was last there.

8:58 p.m. on February 5, 2013 (EST)
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Yes Frankenstein and Cathedral.

Parked just off the road near Frankenstein, crossed the brook and went up and over the railroad tracks. Found some excellent ice there but there is definitely a lot of water running behind it. We didn't blow out any dams or anything though.

For Cathedral, drove down into the unplowed access road and parked in by the gate where there were several areas for climbing. We practiced friction knot self extraction up the cliff faces (closest we can get to crevasses around here) and a little rope team travel.

My guess is the ice will only improve in the next week or two with temps being very cold over night. The water has been running for the past week because of high temps, so that fresh water and slightly soft ice will have the chance to harden more. The soft ice was great for anchors and some really solid sticks though.

Do you do a lot of ice climbing in that area??

July 25, 2014
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