Showing posts with label mountaineering. Show all posts
Showing posts with label mountaineering. Show all posts

October 21, 2021

Should SAR Leave the Body on the Peak?

A Colorado Air National Guard Blackhawk helicopter
on a mission near Ouray (Ouray Mountain Rescue Team).

Last August, three volunteers from Mountain Rescue Aspen were injured by rockfall on Capitol Peak as they searched for a missing climber.

One was hit by a "micowave-size rock" that smashed into her hip. "She sustained a comminuted femur fracture (broken in three or more pieces), multiple pelvis breaks and a fractured vertebra."

While she was expected to recover, I suspect that she will feel those injuries for a long time, perhaps the rest of her life.

The injured rescuers were airlifted off the mountain by a Colorado Air National Guard helicopter. (The ANG frequently helps out on these situations.)

The climber, a 32-year-old man from Madison, Wisconsin, was left up there. Some of my climber friends on Facebook were deeply disappointed. 

The Pitkin County team told the family it did not see a way to safely recovery the body at this time.

“It was a difficult decision, but we’ve collectively decided to leave Kelly McDermott’s body on the mountain where it currently rests,” [Sheriff's Office representative Alex] Burchetta told CBS4. “We’ve spent the past month or so working on alternate recovery plans and simply were not able to come up with one that provided the level of safety necessary to conduct another recovery mission.”

But how many people should risk their lives to bring down a body? My county's Search and Rescue Group, which is large and active, has done it multiple times. But no one has ever gotten a smashed pelvis in the process. (I realize that the injuried searchers did not know that their missing climber had died.)

It's a different order of magnitude, but many bodies have been left on Everest and other big mountains. One corpse, nicknamed "Green Boots," is a well-known landmark to climbers on the North Face. There may be as many as two hundred others.

There are several intertwined problems here.

Most Search and Rescue people are volunteers. I know some locally. They work hard and pay a lot of their own expenses. Should they climb after corpses, or should friends and family take care of that?

SAR groups are more focused on living people who need help, however. They defend their "no-charge" policies, saying that free rescues save more people. The Colorado Search and Rescue Association states their policy:

The State of Colorado has declared that backcountry search and rescue is an essential service in Colorado.  The Colorado SAR community believes SAR is a service that should be provided to anyone, regardless of ability to pay.  These civic minded volunteers do what they do for many different reasons, including simple humanitarian support for their neighbors and visitors. They enjoy being outdoors, and many of them talk about the personal pride that comes from working as a team to save lives.   SAR teams, in many ways, help sustain the Colorado way of life.  Charging for services, especially in a punitive context, does nothing to further this culture and likely would injure Colorado outdoor tourism. . . .

The Summit County Rescue group tells the story of a young hiker who became stranded on Colorado’s 14,270 foot Quandary Peak. She called 911, but asked the SAR coordinator just to “talk her out of the area,” which was a dangerous, technical part of the mountain. The sun had already set and it was getting cold, but she repeatedly insisted the team should not come to help her. The SAR coordinator finally asked why she didn’t want help, and she replied, “I can’t afford it.” He explained there would be no charge and she finally relented.

There are a few caveats to the no-charge-for-rescue doctrine. First, if you are rescued by a backcountry SAR team, they may call in other resources that do commonly charge for services, such as ambulances and medivac helicopters.  Health insurance plans may offer coverage for these kinds of medical transport.

Colorado charges a fee on hunting, fishing, and all-terrain vehicle licenses that helps to fund Search and Rescue groups. I wonder what percentage of hikers and climbers buy the stand-alone COSAR card. It is a fundraiser, but it is not "rescue insurance."

A recent New York Times article states,

The coronavirus pandemic has led to a surge of inexperienced hikers venturing into the outdoors. And that in turn has increased the pressure on search and rescue teams, as well as the costs. Increasingly, states are looking for ways to penalize people who take unnecessary risks. But some question whether these laws might also discourage people from seeking help soon enough after putting their lives at risk because of an honest mistake.

New Hampshire passed a law in 2008 that allowed it to seek reimbursement if state officials deemed that a rescued person was negligent.

 Colorado's SAR community is resisting this movement, so far.

When I took National Outdoor Leadership School wilderness first-aid classes, one question always bounced around in my head. The instructors always seemed to assume that the helicopter — or the SAR team — would be there when we needed them. But what if they did not come? What happens when they have too many incidents to cope with, "essential service" or not?

Would people be more careful if they knew that help was not just a cell phone call or beacon activation away? 

My neighbors like to say that if a violent crime occurs, the nearest sheriff's deputy is at best twenty minutes away, so you had better have your own Plan B. And we rural volunteer firefighters are not as quick to respond as an urban fire department either. What will you do until we arrive?

Is it fair to ask that of mountain hikers and climbers? 

How would it change things if you went up the mountain knowing that no one—except possibly your friends—would come looking for you if you did not return on time?

December 22, 2017

Crazy Mountaineers and Dead Mountaineers

Death looks so clean on Everest.
(Phurban Sherpa/New York Times)
My high- altitude mountaineering is limited to peaks in the Rockies and Cascades, but I have a couple of times seen . . . personality changes . . . at altitude.
In a new study of psychotic episodes at extreme altitudes, researchers have determined that high-altitude psychosis is a stand-alone medical illness, rather than a condition stemming from acute altitude sickness as had been previously believed.

High-altitude psychosis is a fairly well-known illness and is frequently mentioned in mountain literature. For example, a mountaineer may suddenly think he is being chased, start talking nonsense or change his route without any real reason.
Read the rest: "High-Altitude Psychosis Seen as Distinct from Altitude Sickness."

No, I am not saying people who climb Mount Everest are crazy. Absolutely not. But some people die there. There are famous ones, like George Leigh Mallory (1886–1924), whose body was found — and deliberately left after study — in 1999.  (Some people cherish the thought that he and climbing partner Andrew Irvine might have been the first to summit Everest, but it is unlikely.)

And there are others:
Nepal officials estimate that about 200 bodies remain scattered across Everest. A few are so familiar, so well preserved by the subfreezing temperatures, that they serve as macabre mileposts for the living, including one corpse commonly called Green Boots.
Others are better-identified:
Not far from where they found Ghosh’s body that morning was another body that Dawa Finjhok Sherpa estimated had been there for five or six years. And somewhere nearby, they knew, was the body of a doctor from Alabama who had died a few days before. There was no plan to bring it down.
Yes, leaving the body means there is more money in the estate for the heirs, right? Bringing a body off Everest is expensive!

But some Bengali families were willing to pay, for their own cultural reasons, which makes a fascinating New York Times Magazine story, "Deliverance from 27,000 Feet." Excellent, unflinching photography too.

July 28, 2017

Links Taller than Your Head

It's a good year for wild sunflowers.
Links. Do I have links. They sprout like sunflowers on the prairie.

How to improve your outdoor photography. 10-2-4 is not about Dr. Pepper — 2 p.m. is when you are traveling to the place that you wish to photograph after 4 p.m. And "Zoom with your feet" does not apply to buffalo.

Predatory ducks. It's Romania, so maybe they suck blood as well.

• How older elk survive to a ripe old age (for elk).  They learn the difference between bowhunters and rifle hunters.

A poacher goes down hard. If only this happened more often.

• From Colorado Outdoors: "Five Tips to Catch More Fish This Summer."

Another article on bold, aggressive urban coyotes. Denver, this time.

• High country trails don't just happen. It takes people like this.

December 29, 2015

Bear with Me — There's More

Bear enjoying late-season tomatoes.
More links that I need to clear . . . 

• "The Hermit: New Mexico's First Mountaineer" — it's a story of religion, violence, penitence, and isolation, in other words, New Mexico.

• Some birds do well in cities and suburbs. How can we help them?

• We are told the decades of forest-fire suppression has led to hotter, bigger files. But a CU study suggests that severe fires are not new on Colorado's Front Range.  

Plans to sequence the genome of the oldest dogs found in North America.

Outdoor magazine's best 25 books for well-read explorers. Old Glory, yes!

• Everyone hears about Coronado's expedition in the American southwest,  no one about Francisco Leyva de Bonilla's. Maybe that is because it was such as disaster.

• Saving a big piece of southeastern Colorado's canyon country. And a chunk of the High Plains east of Pueblo.

Why are we still talking about Chris "Supertramp" McCandless?
Twenty-three years after his death, McCandless still has people talking — debating his cause of death, condemning his choices and discussing how perhaps they, too, can leave everything behind and walk into the wild.
A "river of sheep" in northwestern Colorado. Good photos.

April 26, 2015

A Question of High-Altitude Terminology

I saw Marie Arana's biography of Simón Bolívar on the library shelf, and realizing that I knew only the minimal facts about him, checked it out. It's a good read.

At one point in 1819, he is leading one of his small, ragged armies (including some British soldiers of fortune) from Venezuela into New Granada — today's Colombia — which means crossing a 13,000-foot Andean pass in the Páramo de Pisba, with a plan of attacking Spanish forces an unexpected direction.

Arana writes,"As they rose into thinner air, the icy wind and hyaline numbed some minds, clarified others."

Psychology aside, I thought, what is "hyaline"?  "A substance with a glossy appearance," says Wikipedia. Does she mean the same as verglas or black ice? (I picked up verglas as a kid while reading Dad's Road & Track magazines —  Coloradans usually say "black ice.")

Mountaineering friends, do you ever speak of "hyaline"?

Meanwhile, eight years since the declaration of the first republic of Venezuela, we are now up to the second. A three-cornered war has raged — the Spanish, the mostly white Creole revolutionaries  (Bolívar's class), and the third force of ex-slaves, mixed-race people, Indians, and poor rural whites who are not so much pro-Spanish as they are opposed to replacing the old ruling class with a new one that looks much the same.

Bolívar blows his first chance for American aid when he orders the execution of eight hundred Spanish prisoners held in a fort, which does not go over well with President Madison. (And then the War of 1812 complete distracts the United States.) There is much genocidal massacring going on, leaders and soldiers switching sides to their own advantage — imagine the American Revolution with not one but multiple Benedict Arnolds.

At least, for his second try, Bolívar realized that he had to free the slaves, even though it meant many of his own social class lost their labor force.

February 06, 2013

Blog Stew — You Pack It Yourself

• The evolution of the external-frame backpack, starting with Ötzi. Some fascinating archaeological and historical examples.

• I was pleased when I got this "trophy" photo. But this one, on the other hand, is somewhere between "very interesting" and Paleolithic nightmare territory.

• Colorado wineries and farmers stall BLM energy leases in the North Fork Valley. The New West wins again.

December 29, 2012

Bad News from Mountain Gazette

If you have been picking up free copies of  Mountain Gazette at your favorite high country coffee house, store, etc, or if like me you subscribed, those days are apparently over.

A recent letter from from MG speaks of a "pause" in publishing and a "next iteration of Mountain Gazette."

None of this sounds too encouraging.

Subscribers are being offered T-shirts and/or bumper stickers.

August 16, 2011

Re-creating 1924 on Mount Everest

A year ago I blogged about re-creations of 1920s mountaineering clothing, typical of the type worn by George Mallory and Andrew Irvine in their doomed attempt to climb Mt. Everest.

Last year's documentary The Wildest Dream, which M. and I only got around to watching this year, offers a few sequences (filmed in 2007) in which climbers Conrad Anker and Leo Houlding test the old-style silk and woolen garb.

Their verdict: comfortable and all right while moving, but not so much insulation when one is standing still on the mountain. And the boots . . . Anker and Houlding are seen stripping off the leather hobnailed boots and frantically rubbing and blowing on their frigid feet. (Nails conduct heat out, for one thing.) When it comes time to free-climb the infamous Second Step, they opt for modern gear.

The Wildest Dream begins with Anker's discovery of Mallory's body on Everest in 1999. The rest is a two-track sequence in which the 1924 expedition is re-created through still photos, old movie footage, and voice-overs of Mallory, his wife, Ruth, and other participants.
[Conrad Anker writes:] On May 1, 1999, my life as a climber intersected with that of George Mallory. At an elevation of 27,000 feet, I came across his dessicated and frozen body. It was a humbling moment – for it was on his shoulders that future generations of climbers built their ability. As I gazed out across the Tibetan plateau I thought of the incredible journey these men had undertaken – stepping into terra incognita of the physical and emotional boundaries of human endurance. No one had been as high as Mallory and Irvine.

My life changed. Mallory was no longer a figure out of the history books. He was, although dead 75 years, a real person to me. I honored who he was and what he stood for. The maelstrom of press that followed the discovery was intense and heated.

With each passing year the mystery of Mallory and Irvine grew within me. The story of their challenge and disappearance haunted me. I decided that I would delve into their story, to seek out the minutaie of their expedition and find a thread of parallel events between 1924 and our current time frame of climbing. Addressing the challenges they sought, aspired to and eventually gave their lives for will allow us to appreciate who they were.
Interwoven with this historical chronology, Anker and Houlding set out to climb the mountain by the same North Col route. Obviously, the mid-forties Anker is analogous to Mallory (who was 37 when he died), while Houlding, in his late twenties, stands in for Sandy Irvine, 22 at his death—the difference being that Houlding brings more climbing experience to the mountain than did Irvine, although Irvine was strong, athletic, and presumably learned fast.

As an attempt to explore Mallory's psyche, the movie succeeds well enough. Anker clearly clings to the hope that Mallory and Irvine might well have made the summit before they died. Lacking the camera they are believed to have carried, which might possibly be with Irvine's as-yet-undiscovered corpse, this hope stands on three pieces of circumstantial evidence:

  • The photo of Ruth that Mallory said he would leave on the summit was not in his pockets.
  • His tinted sun goggles were, however, in his pocket, suggesting that the two were coming down at dusk, meaning that they might have summitted.
  • His oygen cylinders were missing, discarded somewhere when empty, again suggesting that they had not turned back early. (Various calculations of oxygen use versus climbing speed can be used to argue for or against this possibility.) Mallory's partisans argue that if he got close enough, he would have gone for the summit, alone or with Irvine.
A lot brainpower continues to go into the search for Irvine.

March 01, 2011

"Last seen climbing": Reading on Himalayan Mountaineering

Maurice Wilson flew a biplane to India.

"We would lie in our sleeping bags swathed in several sets of woollen underwear, wind suits, gloves and hats," George Sheldon* recalled. "At any moment we expected to be blown into nearby Tibet. We had nothing to read except the labels on food cans [and] the eternal banging and cracking of the tent made us virtually psychopathic cases."

Since learning about Maurice Wilson while researching Mount Everest in high school, I have been fascinated by the "lone lunatic" school of climbers typified by his doomed one-man expedition on Everest in 1933

See also this BBC report on E.F. Farmer of New Rochelle, N.Y., on Kanchenjunga in 1929—a similar doomed soloist.

But as the authors note, in a way Wilson and Farmer pioneered a "go fast, go light" school of mountaineering.

Such stories so often end with "last seen climbing," but then so did George Mallory and Sandy Irvine's until Mallory's body was found in 1999.

I am working my way through Professors Isserman and Weaver's book with great pleasure. It is smoothly written, almost conversational.

The authors are historians (of radical movements, labor, industrial history) first, interpreting cultural contexts. They write in the preface, "Our climbers are historical actors on and off the slopes, shaped by the world they inhabit as much as any of the statesmen, politicians, clerics, soldiers, artists, or artisans whose stories are told in the more conventional genres of political, intellectual, cultural, and social history."

So there is plenty about the paradoxical British cult of amateurism and its attendant snoberies, or the nationalistic German climbers on Nanga Parbat in the 1930s.

American climbers could be snobs too, as Paul Petzoldt learned. "The worthies of the Alpine Club in New York frankly doubted whether 'this Wyoming packer and guide' would fit in socially with the others and comport himself as required in the company of their British and Indian hosts."

It seems that even when Americans write about the British, they must include the details of who knew whom at boarding school and who married whose cousin. In that spirit, I add that Professor Isserman was a classmate of mine at Reed College, although I do not remember him from the mountaineering class (how I filled my freshman P.E. requirement). On the other hand, my memories of that year are a little . . . cloudy.

Also of interest: Testing 1920s mountaineering clothing in the lab.

*George Sheldon was a member of  a 1939 expedition to climb K2, which ended with several deaths.

August 10, 2010

Rejecting High-Tech Synthetic Mountaineering Clothes

Background: when I was a teenager, I briefly became interested in the history of attempts to climb Mount Everest, and once gave a brief talk in my junior-year forensics class that touched on the life of George Mallory.

Together with his climbing partner Andrew Irvine, Mallory died on the mountain in 1924. People still speculate about whether or not they might have reached the summit first.

(Right: climber Graham Hoyland, in the sort of garb Mallory and Irvine wore. BBC News.)

Mallory's body was found in 1999. The camera that the two had carried, which might have answered the question, still has not been found. (You can develop old film—I processed some once that was fifty years old and got usable images, and I did it without special know-how.)

The BBC reports that meteorological researchers suggest that unusually low atmospheric pressure might have contributed to even lower oxygen levels than usual, further hampering them. (Hat tip: Cronaca.)

That link led me to another BBC story from 2006 about climbers tackling the mountain dressed in replica 1920s climbing clothing—and liking it, Norfolk jackets and all.

Following the discovery of Mallory's body on the north face of Everest in 1999, a team of forensic textile experts from Lancaster, Leeds, Southampton and Derby universities embarked on an experiment to recreate the outfit from samples of Mallory's clothing which had been preserved in ice.

The three-year project, lead by Professor Mary Rose and Mike Parsons, revealed that Mallory's clothing was highly effective at providing protection at high altitude.

The layered natural materials used to construct the garments were found to be excellent at trapping air next to the skin.

The outer layer of gabardine was hardwearing and water-resistant yet breathable. But the clothing was also lighter than modern gear - the lightest ever to be used on Everest.

Parsons said: "The results stand out as a challenge for future outdoor innovators because Mallory's clothing and footwear was 20% and 40% lighter respectively."
(You may insert your comment about steampunk mountaineering here. It's the goggles.)

I also flashed back to a talk given by a member of the local Search and Rescue group, who expressed horror that people go into the mountains in non-synthetic-fiber clothing.

So who is making the gabardine jacket?

April 04, 2010

Blog Stew with Leftover Links

• What happened to the "viewing with alarm" that New Jersey could end up classifying feral cats as shoot-on-sight vermin? Meanwhile, noted conservation writer Ted Williams rips into the "trap, neuter, and release" treatment of feral cats.

• Have you been paying attention to the Magnetic North Pole? And do its wanderings have anything to do with our fringe digital-television reception, in that the antenna setting of 9 degrees North might be moving. (Joke, sort of.)

“The magnetic north pole moved little from the time scientists first located it in 1831. Then in 1904, the pole began shifting northeastward at a steady pace of about 9 miles (15 kilometers) a year. In 1989 it sped up again, and in 2007 scientists confirmed that the pole is now galloping toward Siberia at 34 to 37 miles (55 to 60 kilometers) a year.

• Used up your biological-diversity condoms yet?

• For mountaineering gearheads, a "history of gear." Here is Colorado's Mountainsmith, started by Patrick Smith, who now runs Kifaru. Ah for the days when a 14-year-old me would wander into the Holubar store in Fort Collins and gawk.

October 11, 2009

Blog Stew is Warming or Cooling

• Greenpeaceniks have climbed the Houses of Parliament to "raise the temperature of the debate," but the BBC admits that the data are confusing. I was looking a pictures of shrinking glaciers in Glacier National Park (I think it was), and that evidence was incontrovertible, but could glaciers be lagging indicators?

• Recent Google searches bring visitors: "mad mountain bird feeders slave labor," "nature bear man blog," "on a map what does a blue line mean," and "beautiful suicides."

• Did things go really wrong on your last walk in the woods? Maybe it qualifies for Hiker Hell.

May 08, 2008

19th-Century Climbing, Disney-Style

Climb until you hear the angelic chorus, then bear left and look for the secret route up the chimney.

Many years ago, probably at a drive-in theatre in Rapid City, S.D., my cinematic introduction to mountaineering came in the form of a Disney movie, Third Man on the Mountain.

It starred James MacArthur, who was Disney's go-to actor for juvenile leads for a few years circa 1960. Here he is Rudi, an 18-year-old dishwasher, son of a famous (but dead) Swiss guide. Does he have the right stuff to be a famous guide like Papa (cue angelic chorus)?

But Captain Winter, the English adventurer (perhaps based on Edward Whymper) believes in him and wants him along on the Englishman's attempt to climb "The Citadel" (i.e., the Matterhorn).

Peculiar recently linked to a video of old-school mountaineering. Hah! If we assume that Third Man is set in the 1860s (Disney?? accurate???), then these guys would give a Patagonia marketing manager heart failure.

Aside from their hobnailed boots, they have no equipment to speak of, not so much as a piton. Just hemp rope (which is always getting dragged over sharp rock edges) and big ol' ice axes that look like pulaskis.

They climb in street clothes--tweed jackets--and Capt. Winter always wears his necktie because he is (a) the client and (b) an English gentleman.

Yet because it's a movie, the whole way up the Citadel/Matterhorn consists of maximum-exposure ledges, cracks, chimneys, and overhangs with a merciful arête at the end. All hail the stunt men in their hobnailed boots.

But as a 9-year-old I was mightily impressed. Of course, I didn't know the movie was based on a novel by James Ramsey Ullman, Banner in the Sky. Later, as a college student in the 1970s, I read another of Ullman's mountaineering novels, probably The White Tower. I was so impressed that I wanted to write to him in care of his publisher -- only to learn before I sent the letter that he had died in 1971.