Hikers lost in Denali Park

9:48 a.m. on June 17, 2008 (EDT)
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Two hikers have been missing since last Friday

http://ap.alaskajournal.com/stories/state/ak/20080616/291462612.shtml

I hope they are found alive. I climbed Mount Healy in 1975 while backpacking in that area. The area is similar to the high peaks region of the Adirondacks.

In the book "At the Mercy of the Mountains" Philip Bronski tells the stories of people lost in the Adirondacks. One of them is about a 38-year old man who became lost on the NLP trail and survived 55 days before dying. The SAR's never flew over the search area at night. If they had they would have seen his nightly fires and found him alive.

Incidents like this should remind all of us how important it is to address the survival essentials before going out into the woods even for a day hike. The first survival essential is leaving information about your route and expected return time with a responsible person who will report you missing within hours (not days) of your failure to return.

I cringe when I hear that an SAR effort was not started until someone didn't show up for work. That means the hikers failed to address survival essential number 1. In this case it caused a 24-hour delay in the SAR effort, which could end up being critical. What if they hadn't been schedule to work again until Monday?

Hopefully all will turn out well and they and their rescuers will have an interesting story to tell.

5:18 p.m. on June 17, 2008 (EDT)
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I wonder why a search was not begun, by the park, late Friday night or first thing Saturday Morning. According to the story, the hikers' permit was for Thursday, and to return on Friday.

Don't you have to check in before you leave Denali, like you do to get the permit? If not, what is the purpose of the permit if no one is concerned that you are out there. Also, permit apps. usually contain some sort of itinerary for just such an event.

5:29 p.m. on June 17, 2008 (EDT)
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f_klock, you are right that you have to check out when you return from your hike. However, people often underestimate their time, and return a few hours to a day later than planned (and some of us, er, some people spend too much time taking photos and forget the time). If the party are experienced, the rangers don't get too worried, and these women were locals and experienced. Something S&R people ask right off the bat is about experience, gear, and whether the person has returned late before. In my case, Barb wouldn't be too worried if I were a few hours or even a day late, though I usually check in by radio (we are both ham radio operators) or cell phone (or recently, using the "OK" message on the SPOT unit I am testing). Maybe that's dangerous - I could be delayed because I broke a leg or got attacked by some dangerous critter (most likely a 2-legged critter) or crashed the car over a cliff on a hairpin turn. But most usually it is because I decided to spend an extra day to climb yet another peak.

On an orienteering even not long ago, I was way overtime getting in, which caused a lot of worry for a number of people at the event (actually turned out I wasn't the only one over the usual time - it was a hot day and the course setter had underestimated the difficulty of the advanced courses - except that she is an extremely skilled orienteer and marathon runner, or is that "because she is"). As I dragged in a half hour beyond my typical time, thought was being given to mounting an S&R effort. So it really depends on the party and the expected time and itinerary. My problem was a misreading of the map as I was running from the first control toward the second, a long leg in very complex terrain - something called a "parallel error").

Then again, right now, with Barb laid up after her knee operation, I don't leave the house for more than a couple hours. So even an hour late would be cause for worry.

6:36 p.m. on June 17, 2008 (EDT)
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Yes, people do get delayed. But I don't think hikers should rely on the permit system to start an SAR. You need people you can trust to alert the proper authorities if you don't return as planned, especially if your failure to return as planned is unusual. In this case, both were scheduled to work the next day and one was scheduled to fly out to her sister's wedding two days after, so not coming out as planned would be unusual.

That is not something the rangers would know but something a trusted friend should known. If she had said to a friend "I can only go for 1 night because I have to work Saturday and then get ready to fly to my sister's wedding" the friend would have had reason to be concern when she didn't return Friday as planned.

But in this case, as in so many others, the only plan for notification was being missing from work the next day. That's not a great plan.

It killed a guy in the White Mountains this winter. He and his hiking buddy got caught in a snow storm and didn't return as planned on a Sunday night, but no one was expecting them. When they didn't show up for work on Monday an SAR was started. He died before he could be rescued.

8:40 p.m. on June 17, 2008 (EDT)
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I have always carried a sighting compass, the mirror is multi purpose, you can even check for ticks (ha). Makes a great signaling mirror w/protective case. Plus you can check your hair for the rescue footage.
Most areas I go to just have you drop a piece of paper in a little box, who knows if they check it?
I always print out four copies of my itinerary, including a topo with my route marked on it. One to my parents, one to my brother, one in the windshield of my truck, and one for the park ranger if there is one close by.
I laminate them just to make them more durable.
I also make copies of my medical history/info, and laminate them as well. My family has a copy, I keep one copy in my first aid kit, one on my person with my I.D. , and one to the park ranger, stapled to the itinerary.
When my dog goes with me he carries a strobe that he wears at night so I always know where he is, he never wanders too far, but I don't need to launch my own S&R to find him.
If I'm lost more than a week and get too hungry, well, there's always my dog.
( Just joking! ) That would be an 800.00 dollar meal!
My buddies think that I go overboard and give me a hard time,
but I think it's just good practice. How many times do we have to be reminded by skilled people that this is crucial in an emergency?
Why not do my part, just in case?

Godspeed to the S&R on Denali!


Bill S, I would like to know more about what you think of the SPOT unit.

10:12 p.m. on June 17, 2008 (EDT)
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Yosemite has a system at Badger Pass,at least in winter, where you get a wilderness permit, park your car in a designated area in the lot, separate from the day hikers and skiers, and put a copy of the permit in the windshield. I put my own little sign there too with my "out" date on it. They say they check the lot every day and will come looking for you,if your car is there after your due date. You don't have to check out, but I usually stop by the rangers' hut on the way out anyway.

11:38 a.m. on June 18, 2008 (EDT)
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These women are not locals nor are they experienced. They were recently hired as summer employees at a local hotel.

2:53 p.m. on June 18, 2008 (EDT)
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they were found about an hour ago - one of them called for help with a cell phone. no more details yet.

6:27 p.m. on June 18, 2008 (EDT)
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Bailly, according to the Alaska paper

Quote:

The two women are experienced trail hikers but had limited experience with Alaska backcountry conditions,

That clearly says "experienced hikers", though not specifically in Alaska backcountry. They filed to be on trail. They had been working at Mt McKinley Park (town at the entrance of Denali NP) for a couple months and used a local address. As far as the NPS is concerned, that makes them experienced locals. I would agree that they were not "long-time Alaska residents, experienced in Alaska backcountry". But I also know several long-time residents of a couple of Alaska towns that are in or border on Alaska wilderness that some people would consider as "experienced locals" who know less than these two women about the woods and hills.

Something a lot of people seem to overlook these days - when you are in the wilderness, you are responsible for yourself and your party. The government, land managers, rangers, etc cannot hold everyone's hands and cannot protect you from all the possible dangers and bad judgments you might make. There is not enough funding available. And many of us who head out into the wilderness would not have it any other way. As far as I am concerned personally, it should be my own personal choice whether I head out without notifying anyone, or notify a close friend/relative/significant other, or notify the local rangers (if it is public land - I do owe it to land managers of private land to let them know I am using their land and for what purpose). If I make a dumb blunder or succumb to an act of Nature, that's my problem, not the local S&R unit (unless I have made an arrangement with them). OK, other users may not be thrilled to come across my dead and mangled body, so maybe I should let the local S&R know where to look to clean up the remains after the vultures, coyotes, and other critters have their fill (Leave No Trace). It would be nice to live to hike another day, but not if it endangers someone who comes out to try to save me from my dumbness. My personal philosophy - you pick your own philosophy. No matter what your choice, you are still responsible for your own safety, whether in the wilderness or driving on the freeway.

Tom, two of the Yosemite backcountry rangers who are friends of mine (and one who used to be a backcountry ranger until the NPS assigned him to the Valley and makes him carry heat, much to his annoyance) say they very much appreciate people stopping by as they exit the backcountry, especially in winter, and give condition reports.

7:10 p.m. on June 18, 2008 (EDT)
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Bill S, I agree with you that we are solely responsible for our own safety in the backcountry, it is a choice we make in an effort to enrich our lives, but it is not a necessity, unless it is part of our vocation. There are no guarantees that should you need help, help will come.
However, I think it is inconsiderate of family,friends, and rescue workers for us to not leave behind the kind of info they need to find us.
Working on the assumption that a search would be launched whether or not a person wanted help, it seems prudent for the searchers to have a location in which to search. This would put them at less risk/stress and make the search more efficient, conserving valuable resources.
Not to mention my mother could quit freaking out and stop calling the pentagon, bless her heart!

8:46 p.m. on June 18, 2008 (EDT)
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Come on Bill, give it up - you made a mistake. No big deal.

Every time someone points out an error you go off on a long winded rant trying to justify your position. You said they were experienced locals. Turns out they weren't. So what. We all get facts wrong now and then.

BTW - they were contacted by cell phone but not yest found.

[Edited by Dave: let's play nice please]

9:12 p.m. on June 18, 2008 (EDT)
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Am I right in assuming that if they have been contacted via cell phone that someone now has their coordinates?

9:50 p.m. on June 18, 2008 (EDT)
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10:43 p.m. on June 18, 2008 (EDT)
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That's great! Way-to-go girls! I love happy endings.

11:36 p.m. on June 18, 2008 (EDT)
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I agree with Bill, people must be responsible for themselves and not rely on S & R to save them if they lose their way. I don't think we need to have NPS employees acting as babysitters; seems to me that that destroys much of what I'm seek when I shoulder my pack and start walking. Lessen the risk and you lessen the reward.

12:10 a.m. on June 19, 2008 (EDT)
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If NPS employees arent there to watch out for the general public, at least a little bit, to dial 911 once in a while, then why do we need them at all. The land is "Wild" you say? Then why have a permit station. Why have rangers. Why have any of this. People should be able to go wherever they want, whenever they want. Right? C'mon man it's not 1820.

When you "Shoulder you pack and start walking", do you ever get a house sitter or ask someone to pick up your mail?

Doesn't that lessen your risk, therefore lessening YOUR reward?

And what about the SAR folks who, like it or not, get quite a big reward out of helping people, like these 2 ladies, when they are called by NPS employees.

Be reasonable. Without the system the way it is, people would die needlessly, and that's not your call to make. You might be overdue someday. The system works. Let it.

1:05 a.m. on June 19, 2008 (EDT)
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10:18 a.m. on June 19, 2008 (EDT)
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f klock,

Relax, will you? I haven't done anything to stop the system from working. All I've done is express my opinion.

I never said said the land is "Wild."

However, now that you mention it, even if they did nothing to help lost or injured hikers, we would still need rangers and permits to limit the number of visitors and to protect the "wild" character of the land itself. Otherwise, you might end up with snowmobilers chasing bison in Yellowstone, pot plantations on protected wilderness, or mines, oil derricks and hotels everywhere.

Why have any of this? Because if you didn't "protect" the wilderness, there would be no "wilderness," such as it is.

The "call" is as much mine to make as it is yours. After all, I'm one of those taxpayers who sometimes has to pay for SAR so that they can get "quite a big reward out of helping people."

To answer your questions, I never get a house sitter, but I do sometimes ask people to pick up my mail. If I'm going alone, I do tell my wife where I'm going. I guess that lessens the risk, but if I'd be risking the wrath of my wife if I didn't do so. I'll take the lesser of two evils. So what's your point? Should I expect a full blown SAR effort to be launched if I'm one day late? I say no.

What if I have some special health condition that would cause concern for my well being? In that case, I would say perhaps I should not be in a wilderness area, but stick to a more closely monitored area.

I'm not saying stop all SAR. I'm just saying let's not overreact and start babysitting wilderness areas. Would you have everyone wear a plb always? That's the logical extension of your argument.

Just because I disagree with you does not make my position unreasonable.

10:49 a.m. on June 19, 2008 (EDT)
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Sorry, I probably overreacted to your statements, but when someone gets into trouble, and others find blame or cause without knowing all of the circumstances, it bugs me.

Things that make SAR missions difficult for us are a lack of accurate information from witnesses and families, combined with their opinions rather than facts.

I'll lighten up ;-)

12:01 p.m. on June 19, 2008 (EDT)
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Me too.

1:10 p.m. on June 19, 2008 (EDT)
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nogods, what I said was that NPS people tend to regard people with local addresses who are experienced backpackers (as well as climbers, backcountry skiers, etc) as "experienced locals". It is, as I noted, an overly generous assumption in some cases, given some people I know personally who live in some small Alaskan villages. But that is the assumption the NPS people tend to make.

To illustrate this, to get a permit to climb Denali, you are required to go through a briefing. The rangers ask questions about experience, plans, and gear. They do not do a gear inspection. You have to watch a Powerpoint presentation that shows dead bodies and horrendous frostbite (an attempt to get the naive to wake up to the risks). If they suspect you are insufficiently experienced or have inadequate gear, they try to dissuade you. If you are going up solo, they try very hard to dissuade you. If, after the briefing you are still eager to go, you pay your $200 (may be $250 now), sign your name, and head for the plane (the fee is NOT rescue insurance). They make it very clear you are on your own. But they do NOT prevent you from going on the mountain. The air taxi people may also try to dissuade you, but again, they will not prevent you from going. The climbing rangers and other climbers on the mountain will try to dissuade inexperienced people, but again they do not prevent you or bodily carry you back if you insist on continuing. If you screw up and need rescue (or call for evacuation when you could just as well hike down to the airstrip), you may be subject to a fine and may have to pay rescue expenses. In that case, having proven your incompetence, they sometimes do resort to forcible detention.

Point is, they take you at your word. If you say you are experienced, then you are considered experienced until you prove otherwise. For the backpacking, they ask your experience, offer a bear briefing, collect the fee, and hand you the permit. If you say "experienced", they take you at your word. If you turn down the bear briefing, well, you were offered the chance. If you give a local address, you are a "local". All until proven otherwise by your screwing up.

trouthunter, you are right, up to a point. If you have accepted responsibility for family, then that carries with it the responsibility to make provisions in case something happens to prevent carrying out the responsibility. But that depends on what your understanding is with family and friends. If they know and accept that you are doing risky things, the situation is different from when they do not accept it but you go ahead anyway, and it is different if you are the main or only source of support (you don't walk away and abandon young kids, for example). As for rescue workers, I have mixed feelings on this. I think, on the one hand, that if I accept the risks and consequences, then the rescue workers have no obligation (whether moral or as part of their job) to put their lives at risk to rescue me (other than to clean up the unsightly mess). On the other hand, having spent a few years doing S&R, I personally feel some moral obligation to help my fellow climbers and backcountry skiers.

1:20 p.m. on June 19, 2008 (EDT)
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Question: Did the two women get lost then? Or, did they just under estimate the length of time it would take them?

1:22 p.m. on June 19, 2008 (EDT)
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rexim and f_klock both have good points with which I agree.

Never have had a house-sitter. Never had anyone pick up my mail. Shut off the newspaper delivery for the duration (easy to do on the Internet). Let the neighbors know I will be gone and to pick up any UPS, FedEx, etc packages (we have a close and friendly neighborhood), though I rarely tell them where I am going beyond "off climbing, off backpacking, etc). Don't have pets (but I do walk the one neighbor's dog when they are gone for more than a day).

9:08 p.m. on June 19, 2008 (EDT)
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Bill S. I certainly would not expect someone to rescue me from a failed summit attempt in life threatening conditions.
I was mostly thinking of lost / injured people in general backcountry areas. I do a good bit of solos and consider leaving info behind a very important part of my planning.
I also have allergic reactions to some meds, and also bee stings, so I like to do solos in the colder months.
I keep medical info on me even when out with a group. How many hikers/backpackers even know the blood type of the people in their group? Or what they may be allergic to?
I understand avoiding accidents is paramount, and should be the groups focus. But a little piece of paper with info on it does not weigh much, and might give a first responder a wealth of information to make an assessment with.
I have a good friend who is an EMT 1, and this is one of his biggest concerns, a lack of good info from a person in shock, and/or panicking family members.
But I do understand where you are coming from, help may not be available, nor should we act like there is a safety net for every little dumb thing we might do.

rexim, we have a VERY limited number of Park Rangers in the southern Appalachians and we do have moonshiners and pot growers (mostly on northern slopes), it is common knowledge with the locals, and part of the local economy. Law enforcement has spent untold millions on helicopter patrols and crop seizure. All taxpayer money, the growers are usually never caught. I guess I don't mind a little more for S&R.
I do agree with you that there is inherent risk in backcountry travel, and we all need to accept that fact. The safer we make everything the more people tend to become irresponsible! We certainly can't dot up the wilderness with helo pads and emergency staff.
You learn to drive nails by hitting your thumb, my grandfather used to say.

8:00 p.m. on June 20, 2008 (EDT)
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So, on the topic of S&R ... what's the deal these days if you need to be rescued ... do you get billed for the costs of the rescue?

I'm thinking specifically of national forests and wilderness areas in California.

2:08 p.m. on June 22, 2008 (EDT)
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In an interview these two gave which I read online, they said they had a map, but mistook one river for another and wandered off in the wrong direction. They also said they didn't realize their disappearance would set off such a big search.

The article I saw said the search cost $118,000 and hundreds of volunteer search hours. Rescues usually are not charged to the rescuees.

http://news.yahoo.com/s/ap/20080619/ap_on_re_us/denali_park_search

I have participated in several online discussions about whether hikers or climbers should be charged for rescues or whether they should be required to buy some kind of rescue insurance. The "pay for being rescued" side points to the Mt. Hood search/rescue last winter as an example of a huge effort at high cost to try and rescue 3 climbers. The "no cost" side argues that as taxpayers, we are entitled to a free rescue, just as we don't pay for police or fire protection.

Rescues can be costly and dangerous. There is a well-known clip of a Blackhawk helicopter crashing on Mt. Hood during a rescue attempt in 2002. I believe the crew survived the crash, but the helo was probably a write-off. They cost around $6M, which is a lot of money.
http://www.traditionalmountaineering.org/News_HeliCrash.htm

Arguing about who is an "experienced" hiker is pretty meaningless. Friends and family may consider someone "experienced" but what is that based on? A few weekend camping trips to a park like Yosemite or a real background in wilderness hiking. I have done a few winter camping trips to Yosemite myself, but that hardly makes me an "experienced winter camper" in spite of what my friends might think.

11:54 a.m. on June 23, 2008 (EDT)
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To add to Tom's point about experience - even the most experienced backpacker/climber/backcountry skier learns something new or is reminded of something they had forgotten on every trip. It is always a learning experience.

One of my favorite quotes, which I prominently feature in all the training workshops I give is from Aldous Huxley -

"Experience is not what happens to you. Experience is what you do with what happens to you."

Another quote, for which I have lost the original source, is -

"The true expert is the person who knows his/her limitations."

By this criterion, I would say that Tom is more of an expert than most of the people teaching winter camping, and certainly more than a certain retired Coast Guard officer who came into my winter camping course, declaring (loudly and repeatedly) that his experience in Antarctica made him an "expert" on winter camping (he learned during the in-snow session that Sierra wet snow conditions are very different from Antarctic very cold, dry conditions).

1:42 p.m. on June 23, 2008 (EDT)
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Speaking of lost hikers and SAR, we may have a new addition to the 10 essentials list, or maybe just a new use for an item already on it.

http://www.ananova.com/news/story/sm_2900524.html:

Bra gives support to lost hiker

A 24-year-old American hiker given up for dead by mountain rescuers was saved when she threw her bra into a cable car.

Jessica Bruinsma had fallen off a ledge in the Austrian Alps and was stranded injured for 70 hours in freezing temperatures.

Mountain rescue teams had been looking for her in the wrong place and gave up the search because they believed she'd fallen to her death.

But Jessica spotted a cable car on its way up the mountain in Salzburg and quickly flung her bra into a container carrying food as it passed her.

Workers higher up the peak realised the undies must have been thrown in as a message and sent out a search party.

"It certainly beats sending up a flare," said one rescue worker. "She hadn't been wearing much when she started on her walk and she ended up with even less on," they added.

The woman is now recovering in hospital.

3:11 p.m. on June 23, 2008 (EDT)
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Well, I for one will be rethinking not wearing a bra while backpacking...:) Who knew La Senza could save your life?

5:12 p.m. on June 23, 2008 (EDT)
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rexim,
Clearly, this is one of the 10 Essentials, namely a signaling device. However, she apparently neglected the extra clothing one of the essentials, though perhaps she was planning on multiple uses to save weight.

9:41 p.m. on June 23, 2008 (EDT)
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rexim, Thanks for passing that along, that's quite a story. How far did she have to throw it? I'm impressed.

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