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bill bowden
03-23-2004, 06:49 AM
Driving to work, I heard on WBZ that a pair of hikers from Andover had been lost (2 nights?) on LaFayette. Since Sunday I gave up on Clinton very near the summit due to poor visibility and heavy snowfall, I would expect the conditions on LaFayette to be worse even though it started the day clear and sunny.

Any one able to give more information?

poison ivy
03-23-2004, 07:34 AM
I have been looking for more info about this too after hearing it. On the news last night, they said the search had been called off for the evening and was going to start back up this morning. I hope everything turns out all right.

- Ivy


Here's (http://www.thewmurchannel.com/news/2941501/detail.html) a news brief.

Jim lombard
03-23-2004, 08:21 AM
I'm at work here in Andover and a woman here is a friend of one of the hikers. The news this morning was that they hadn't been found yet. I wonder if they got off the ridge and headed towards the Pemi wilderness. With all the blowing snow there would be no tracks to follow. She didn't think they were prepared to spend a night in the woods, they were day hikers. It was mighty cold the last two nights, we'll keep them in our prayers.

Jim lombard
03-23-2004, 09:42 AM
My co-worker just got a call from a relative who was on the search party, they found and airlifted the hikers off the mountain this morning! No more details about where they were found or their condition is known at this time.................

Mark
03-23-2004, 10:01 AM
The hikers have been rescued according to WMUR (http://www.thewmurchannel.com/news/2942769/detail.html).

BTW, why do all the news reports on this have the dateline "Pinkham Notch" instead of "Franconia Notch"? Is Pinkham Notch the official source of information for Whites rescues, or did they move Lafayette?

JOD
03-23-2004, 10:39 AM
the article by-line is usually indicates where the article was written. Pinkham Notch is the location of the Joe Dodge Lodge, Pinkham Notch Visitor Center, this is most likely where the Author was when the article was written.

Glad to hear all is well.

Jim

Rob S
03-23-2004, 11:16 AM
Thank God!

I am so happy they were found alive.

I'll pray for a speedy recovery from the hypothermia.

__________________

Damn, just read the update. It's a tragedy.

KenC
03-23-2004, 11:46 AM
Another sad day.... UNfortunately the most recent update mentioned that his wife did not recover.

My thoughts to her family, and friends.....

spider solo
03-23-2004, 11:49 AM
All is not well Brenda Cox is reported to have died this morning.
A sad day indeed........

Jim lombard
03-23-2004, 12:02 PM
I just heard it too, very sad. Her husband was able to walk out but is in very serious condition at Littleton hospital , please pray for him and his family.

maineguy
03-23-2004, 12:22 PM
http://www4.fosters.com/news2004/March2004/March_23/News/reg_nh_0323.04c.asp

CaptCaper
03-23-2004, 12:37 PM
I hike all the time with my wife.

That's very sad about his wife as he will never be the same.

This is a prime example of why I always,always take my GPS with a plan in it. A map,altimeter,compass alone don't cut it.

This couple and the ones on Mt. Washington this past week could have made it down I believe with one. If they hustled.that is.

The gps doesn't give me the go ahead if the weather is going to be unstable but how many days is the weather stable up there? So we chose to go as did Ken, etc. You never know.

.

Jim lombard
03-23-2004, 12:45 PM
I just heard it too, very sad. Her husband was able to walk out but is in very serious condition at Littleton hospital , please pray for him and his family.

bobandgeri
03-23-2004, 07:00 PM
We hope that more details will be available that might indicate why they were found near the summit and not on there way down the mountain. Does anybody know what trail they were on and where they started.

Have to more or less agree with "CaptCaper" on the GPS thing, but even if they only had a compass - Route 3/93 is less than 2 miles due West. Better to bushwack down the mountain to the highway than to spend too much time trying to find a trail in Winter whiteout conditions. Might be slow going, but better than staying on the exposed ridge.

bob m
03-23-2004, 08:21 PM
I know the Coxes. There is a very sad kind of poetry in the fact that they were married on a mountaintop.

Dr. Dasypodidae
03-23-2004, 08:27 PM
Here is what I received from one of my friends in NH:

"A 43 yr. and 45 yr (I think) old husband and wife team from Andover, Mass., went up Lafayette on Sunday, then got trapped in whiteout sub zero conditions. Crawled into a snow cave. Tried to come down Monday, but were too weak or conditions wouldn't allow them, so spent a second night in a cave. Didn't have overnight gear, just dayhiking stuff. He survived with only mild hypothermia and frost bite damage, she didn't. Her body core was 43 degrees and frost in her airways. They had to helicopter them off. That is all I have for now. Hope it isn't somebody you know."

If the temperatures were not sub-zero on Sunday night, they very well could have been on Monday night. Compare with the other thread about the two women ice climbers who dug into a snowbank on the Alpine Garden and survived temperatures that remained well above zero on Sunday night.

The fourth fatality in the Whites this winter by my count, two from exposure, two from falls. A very tragic couple of months. Just because the calendar says spring does not mean we can let our guard down. Let us be careful out there.

Jack Waldron
03-23-2004, 08:47 PM
I saw the report on the 6PM WMUR news. They presented essentially the same information as Dr. Dasypodidae. The only additional info from WMUR was that the Coxs attempted to hike out on Monday but were effectively pinned down by winds averaging 75mph. The SAR folks were also prevented from traveling much above treeline on Monday by those same 75 mph winds. During the report there was video footage of a car parked at the Skookumchuck trailhead but the commentator never mentioned whether this was their car or just a shot that the news director liked. There was also video footage from the summit of Lafayette shot by a member of the SAR team. A Fish and Game officer also reiterated that even on dayhikes hikers need to be prepared to spend the night out. This would imply the Coxs were not so prepared but the F&G officer never stated that directly.

Jack Waldron
03-23-2004, 09:37 PM
I just checked the Obs for their weather summaries for Sunday and Monday.

Sunday
Temperature range: 22F to -11F
Wind: Peak Gust NW 75, Avg 46 mph
5.9" of snow

Monday
Temperature range: -6F to -17F
Wind: Peak Gust W 80, Avg 61 mph
No Precip

Dr. Dasypodidae
03-23-2004, 09:50 PM
Yikes, colder than I thought on top of Washington on Saturday night (i.e., early a.m. Sunday), but of course I was nice and toasty inside the Obsy. I should correct my last post to this thread to state that the women ice climbers survived their forced bivi in the snowbank on the Alpine Garden on Saturday night, not Sunday night.

CaptCaper
03-24-2004, 05:56 AM
Originally posted by rbhayes
We hope that more details will be available that might indicate why they were found near the summit and not on there way down the mountain. Does anybody know what trail they were on and where they started.

Have to more or less agree with "CaptCaper" on the GPS thing, but even if they only had a compass - Route 3/93 is less than 2 miles due West. Better to bushwack down the mountain to the highway than to spend too much time trying to find a trail in Winter whiteout conditions. Might be slow going, but better than staying on the exposed ridge.

As soon as the weather got threatening I would have turned around and when the white out occured I would'nt be looking for a trail I'd be on it. And never gotten off it.

Following the track back I would have pushed down to treeline. It would have been unpleasant but a couple of hours or less to get to the tree line would have been better than walking around not knowing where your heading and what ledges,cliffs,slides your going to encounter. If I didn't have the GPS I just might of bushwacked west. The wind was NE and later SE Sun. I believe.

I did Washington this summer with winds the same as Sun. Inbetween the gusts there are lulls. We booked out in them.

What about cell phones? Do they work up there? A gps position could have been issued to the rescue party and they would have known exactly where they wereand a determination made weather to go up after them.


I get upset when I see these people lost and going around in circles with precious time wasteing when this could be avoided. AT least in some of the instances.

SherpaKroto
03-24-2004, 07:13 AM
CaptCaper: let's not second guess. This is not the forum to do so. None of us were there, and don't know how we would have fared.
I had an experience on King Ravine the day after Thanksgiving in 1978 that I will never forget. In a matter of minutes (yes, minutes), the ceiling dropped, heavy snow started falling, and a relative calm turned into the worst conditions I've ever been in. We were pinned on the upper King Ravine wall with no hope of descending, and 200 feet or so to the ridgeline. We were lucky to have survived. To this day, other than rechecking one of my climbing partners gear before leaving (how many of us do that?), I don't feel we did anything "wrong", and did most things right. In any event, we all survived, but one had severe frostbite on 3 fingers and 2 toes (almost lost one of them).

In any event, it's not time to criticize on this sad event. It does nothing for the Cox's, Ken, Jaytrek or anyone else or the friends and family they leave behind.

dave.m
03-24-2004, 07:23 AM
Originally posted by CaptCaper
Following the track back I would have pushed down to treeline. It would have been unpleasant but a couple of hours or less to get to the tree line would have been better than walking around not knowing where your heading...(snip...)

Let's hold off on speculations and pronouncements of *we* would have or could have done differently.

First of all, we don't have the pertinant details of where they were, what their intended route was and what the conditions and forecasts were at the various decision points.

Second, let's not underestimate the severity of the conditions they were in. I've been in near whiteouts above treeline only on a small handful of times. In one case, the max winds were in the 60mph range which was enough to reduce us to moving on all 4s. I can imagine trying to push through a 75mph head wind (which they would have been facing) and I can't say they were wrong for hunkering down.

Thirdly and most importantly, we already know that friends and acquaintances of the victims are reading. While I'm as anxious as anybody to learn as much about what happened so that we can learn how to avoid making decisions that increase our risk, let's be super, super careful to avoid passing judgements that would appear critical. If/when we get more details, we'll be able to sift through it all and learn.

bill bowden
03-24-2004, 07:43 AM
Sunday, we hiked Clinton (most of it anyway) driving through the notch, I recall how clear LaFayette and the Bridle Path looked, quite inviting.

At about 3800 feet on the Crawford Path we ran into fairly heavy snow, trail wasn't broken (only a few inches of fresh snow, but tending to obscure the path). When we reached the broken treeline area the wind began to pick up some, nothing too terrible, but with fog, wind and snow,it was a little more difficult to keep to the path. Recalling past incidents where hikers on the Craford path had missed the trail when it re-entered the trees, we turned around and walked off the mountain.

Having had to descend the Bridle Path in fog and rime ice, I can comment that even a heavily travelled trail can be very hard to follow above treeline in poor visibility. following the trail in snow, fog and into the wind would be even more difficult.

If these folks were on the traverse over to Lincoln, retreat would be even more problematic, with no reasonable escape hatch from the wind and no mobility in the uncompacted snow.

My overall reaction "There but for the grace of God,go I"

ChrisB
03-24-2004, 08:40 AM
Interesting comments on GPS use ...

I think over reliance on GPS technology (like cell phones) can actually lead one into trouble by providing that sense of invinciblity.

And while waypoints and Trak Back are a boon to low/no-visibility navigation, they provide no guarantee you'll come back if you press on into the malestrom.

Weather condx, tree cover, antenna efficiency etc. all effect the quality and accuracy of the fix.

Extreme cold (such as the Cox pary faced) can render an LCD display very hard (or impossible) to read. Batteries lose energy quickly. Extra batteries get cold and are hard to change with frozen fingers.

And suppose you know exactly where you are, but conditions are so bad you can't move to where you want/need to be?

Like any tool, GPS has a role to play in wilderness navigation but is by no means a failsafe solution.

cb

Kevin Rooney
03-24-2004, 09:47 AM
I was also hiking on Sunday. The plan was to climb Jefferson via the Jewell Trail from the Mansfield Station. Hourly weather observations for Washington showed the wind was mostly out of the NW in the 40mph range for several hours. The forecast was for snow showers with falling temps into the 20’s in the valley, which meant we’d likely encounter squalls at some point. We were a motivated in that one of our members was hoping to finish the NH 4’s in all seasons. The group was fit, ranging in age from late teens to early 60’s, and experience ranging from newbies to experienced winter hikers. We had the usual winter gear, and in addition to maps and compasses, had a Garmin Vista GPS with the map software downloaded to it.

When we arrived at the Cog Station we saw glimpses of blue sky overhead, which was encouraging in the short-term, but turned out to be a brief interlude between two fronts moving thru. We started up the Jewell trail with just boots. The trail was lightly broken, but had not seen much travel. Around 3K’ we put on snowshoes, and as we approached treeline we were in thin clouds with a light wind. Visibility was a couple of hundred yards with the palletized snow you sometimes encounter in such cloud conditions. At first we could see about 2 cairns ahead of us, and during the next 45 minutes or so that gradually decreased to 1 cairn or less. The wind and snow increased steadily as we climbed higher, and ever mindful of the admonition never to climb into worsening conditions, made the call to turn around just below the junction with Gulfside, at about 5,300’ elevation. As ChrisB points out above, the cold and poor light made the GPS tracks difficult to discern. At this point we were still 2 miles from Jefferson’s summit. Based upon Bill Bowden’s account above, we turned back about the same time as his group. In the comparatively short time we had been above treeline, there were a few places where our tracks were obliterated. A few hundred yards into the safety of the trees we had lunch while pelted with another snow squall. As we descended we realized the weather, even below treeline, was getting worse as the day wore on, not better as it looked first thing in the morning. Later, driving home, snow squalls reduced visibility to less than 25’, especially around the Franconia Notch. I can only imagine what it must have been like to on Lafayette at that point.

I offer the above to illustrate how bad conditions became on Sunday afternoon, and from news accounts, the conditions only got worse. My heart goes out to the Coxes, their family, and friends.

CaptCaper
03-24-2004, 10:22 AM
Originally posted by SherpaKroto
CaptCaper: let's not second guess. This is not the forum to do so. None of us were there, and don't know how we would have fared.
I had an experience on King Ravine the day after Thanksgiving in 1978 that I will never forget. In a matter of minutes (yes, minutes), the ceiling dropped, heavy snow started falling, and a relative calm turned into the worst conditions I've ever been in. We were pinned on the upper King Ravine wall with no hope of descending, and 200 feet or so to the ridgeline. We were lucky to have survived. To this day, other than rechecking one of my climbing partners gear before leaving (how many of us do that?), I don't feel we did anything "wrong", and did most things right. In any event, we all survived, but one had severe frostbite on 3 fingers and 2 toes (almost lost one of them).

In any event, it's not time to criticize on this sad event. It does nothing for the Cox's, Ken, Jaytrek or anyone else or the friends and family they leave behind.

I wasn't so much second guessing as presenting a scenario. It's obvious no one knows what happened yet.

Sorry.

maineguy
03-24-2004, 10:29 AM
"We were a motivated in that one of our members was hoping to finish the NH 4’s in all seasons"

I rest my case...

Dr. Dasypodidae
03-24-2004, 10:57 AM
I use GPS extensively in geological mapping, IN CONTROLLED ENVIRONMENTS. I cannot imagine trying to use a GPS to find my way out of a mountain storm on foot; 40 years of back-country experience still tell me that a map, compass, and some times a pocket altimeter are the only way to go (the compass and altimeter dangle from cords around my neck; the map is either in my hand or in a very accessible parka pocket).

I agree with the posts that note winter mountaineering is an inherently dangerous sport. Some times you simply run out luck, no matter the amount of experience, knowledge, and preparation and the number of skills you have.

And, obviously, these statments apply to couples and small groups, besides solo artists. In many respects, winter hiking in the Whites and Daks is no different that extreme mountaineering on peaks in South America, such as depicted in "Touching the Void."

CaptCaper
03-24-2004, 11:03 AM
Originally posted by ChrisB
Interesting comments on GPS use ...

I think over reliance on GPS technology (like cell phones) can actually lead one into trouble by providing that sense of invinciblity.

And while waypoints and Trak Back are a boon to low/no-visibility navigation, they provide no guarantee you'll come back if you press on into the malestrom.

Weather condx, tree cover, antenna efficiency etc. all effect the quality and accuracy of the fix.

Extreme cold (such as the Cox pary faced) can render an LCD display very hard (or impossible) to read. Batteries lose energy quickly. Extra batteries get cold and are hard to change with frozen fingers.

And suppose you know exactly where you are, but conditions are so bad you can't move to where you want/need to be?

Like any tool, GPS has a role to play in wilderness navigation but is by no means a failsafe solution.

cb

I have hiked and scuba dived with my wife,kids since for over 11 years. The kids were 10 and diveing.

Like I said earlier I feel for this family and husband very much. The responsiblity and loss to bear will be overwhelming.

I wasn't going to post at all in this one, because I knew I'd ruffle some feathers but If I can help someone in the future to find the way home I'm a happy man. And the attention this post will bring light to something that makes a difference.

GPS does work and I don't have any problem with accuracy and reliablity. One would be surprised on how well you can use it in adverse conditions. Better than nothing at all or just haveing the basic's.

It does work and has saved my butt plenty of times. Maybe that's the difference here. If I can use it with out haveing a high school diploma anybody can.

Maybe I shouldn't have brought this into this post,but why not? Were talking about tragedy here and an incident or incidents ,that happened.
If I put it in a regular post a lot of people wouldn't read about it. "Oh,it's just a toy."and skip over it.

The USA has spent billions of dollars for us to have a toy,eh? Their building stations now that will aid in the pinpoint accuracy anywhere in the usa. Including the mountains.The USCG is in charge of the project. Heading other US deartments like DOT,etc.

Alot of you know my position on GPS and it'll never change alot don't.

Like I said if one hiker is saved one day because of this I'll be happy.

TomEske
03-24-2004, 11:43 AM
GPS is a tool, just like a compass and a map or an altimeter. If you learn to use the tool well under varying conditions, your skill and confidence increases. I have used a GPS just in order to build my skills, played with it quite a bit and now leave it in my pack most of the time, knowing it will be there when I need it. One new habit I have developed is before I begin every hike, I record the waypoint of the parking area. In case of total confusion due to changing conditions, at least I will have a bee-line to follow.
The key is to be very familiar with your equipment and practice. Also, one of the nice benefits of a GPS is that the altitude readings are not affected by severe changes in barometric pressure as many of the mechanical ones are.
That having been said, I don't know that a GPS would have helped this unfortunate couple. I've been in enough tight spots to know just how dis-oriented one can get in a white-out. Throw in the high winds and chilling cold, and you get one ugly set of circumstances. I don't think anyone who has "been there" would second guess someone who didin't make it through such an ordeal.
My heart goes out to them and theirs,
Tom

Mike P.
03-24-2004, 12:05 PM
It's been a sad winter in the whites & hopefuly we will learn more about what happened here. Did they go up Flling Waters or OBP? If planning on getting back that night I have to think they started around normal time (8-10: AM) so across the ridge & fighting the wind in their faces seems to make sense unless they started around 12:00 As fit hikers I can only guess (on the fit part) they would have had more time to get down just Lafayette starting at 9:00 & going up OBP.

(Sherpa maybe it's a good thing we are well insulated?)

A lot of 2nd guessing of course & hopefully we will learm more, obviously they missed the time to turnaround but I'm trying to figure out how bad they (she) must have been to not get very far on Monday. A well rested hiker should have made some head way down but without -20 bags & overnight gear the night was not a good one.

To Capt Capers point, the path down may very well have been gone five minutes after they put in the foot steps. Cell phone, maybe they could have hoped to have had some warmer gear dropped (could the chopped fly that low in that kind of weather) if they could not have been picked up.

Tom
03-24-2004, 02:31 PM
On Monday afternooon I was climbing the Lonesome Lake trail to the hut about 2:30. We saw the helicopter flying between Lafayette and LIncoln, hovering, going up and down, sometimes going low enough to blow snow under the rotors.

We had no idea what was going on. We figured it was a new pilot practicing flying in the notch for future SARs. It never occurred to us that someone was really lost.

It wasn't until I came out this morning and stopped a a gas station and saw a newspaper that I understood what happened.

On Monday night, the temp was 2 degrees and falling at the hut when I turned in about 8:30. I had a -25 bag and was fine, but would not have wanted to have been outside without overnight gear.

I undestand that they were found near the summit. I'm not sure why the helicopter could not find them on Monday or why they stayed near the summit (if they in fact did). I have been very cold before and know that it numbs your ability to think. I have made it home in trudge mode, putting one foot in front of the other, my cold and tired brain able to focus on only one thing: accomplish the one task of which my brain was aware: go to the trailhead. Had I fallen into a wet stream I doubt if I would have been aware enough to change clothes (if I even could). Had I taken a wrong trail, I wouldn't be typing now. Cold is insidious in its effects on our thinking, and high winds make it even worse. The constant roar, even when I'm not cold, wears me down on an elemental level.

I don't understand it, and to be honest, this danger is part of the allure of winter hiking. I'm scared to death of roller coasters (even though they are quite safe) and revel in standing on a summit in a wind so strong I cannot even open my eyes unless I'm wearing goggles. Maybe I'm whacked, but I love it.

Regarding GPSs, before I left home Monday morning, I entered two routes into it, one from LL Hut up to the Kinsmans and one to Cannon, our planned hikes. I do this on winter hikes in case the weather turns bad very suddenly and I'm caught in a white out. I also carry a compass and extra batteries for the GPS (six extra AA cells - the GPS takes 2) because the cold does reduce battery life dramatically.

I agree with the posters who say that over-reliance on a GPS is dangerous, but it is equally dangerous (in my opinion) not to carry one. A compass will point you west (or east or norht or south) to bushwahck to a highway. A pre-done GPS route, wilth about 20 or thirty waypoints, and the key spots properly labeled *could* work better than a compass in finding a way home. I tend to label summits, trail junctions and key parts of trail. This last one I did after those six boneheads came down off Lafayette a couple years ago and went off the wrong side of the ridge (to Skooumchuck vice heading toward Greenleaf hut). In this case a compass would also have worked, of course. A GPS is a good thing to have, but it is electronic and it does rely on conditions beyond our control (picking up satellites), so I would never carry one in lieu of compass, but in addition to.

Someone said a GPS would do no good if it showed you where to go but you were pinned by the weather and unable to move. I certainly agree with that assessment but fail to see why this makes a carrying a GPS not a good idea. For that matter, what good are crampons/snowshoes if you are pinned by the weather?

Whoever said a GPS was a tool was right on. Like a compass and navigation/map reading skills, a GPS could be a life saver. If you have a compass, map and GPS and are still pinned by weather, or fall into a ravine and break a leg, well, you're just screwed. Sometimes you can have all the right tools and equipment and knowledge, and just have a run of bad luck. But having the tools, and knowedge increases your odds of survival.

Tom

Fitz
03-24-2004, 02:45 PM
I know one of the folks in that group. Definitely not a "bonehead".

Crap happens even to the best of us. Hopefully, we won't be writing about you some day.

CaptCaper
03-24-2004, 04:04 PM
Originally posted by RoySwkr

The Concord Monitor today said they had gone up the Falling Waters Trail (and had a map of them so doing) because their car was parked at the Falling Waters Trailhead :-) I have not provided a link to this article because that is a silly statement - of course they could have gone up the Old Bridle Path instead.

Going from Lafayette to the hut. the trail zags R around a cliff not far from the summit, so if you are following a straight GPS course you will go over the cliff. If you put in plenty of waypoints you will miss the cliff but may freeze to death trying to follow such a detailed course, that is if the GPS dial doesn't fog over in such conditions. Sometimes low tech is better.


I've used it to below zero.

Following a proper route isn't a straight line. Also to turn around and go back with a track that has been recording is the way to go. Although some might know that it seems. Or bother to record them.

I didn't know a gps has a "dial'. If it's a screen your talking about I've never seen one fog over at least at my helm. If it's not waterproof you put in a special pouch for that. The one's made now are waterproof.

Oh,by the way I've got a FastLane pass too.

CaptCaper
03-24-2004, 04:19 PM
Originally posted by TomEske
GPS is a tool, just like a compass and a map or an altimeter. If you learn to use the tool well under varying conditions, your skill and confidence increases. I have used a GPS just in order to build my skills, played with it quite a bit and now leave it in my pack most of the time, knowing it will be there when I need it. One new habit I have developed is before I begin every hike, I record the waypoint of the parking area. In case of total confusion due to changing conditions, at least I will have a bee-line to follow.
The key is to be very familiar with your equipment and practice. Also, one of the nice benefits of a GPS is that the altitude readings are not affected by severe changes in barometric pressure as many of the mechanical ones are.
That having been said, I don't know that a GPS would have helped this unfortunate couple. I've been in enough tight spots to know just how dis-oriented one can get in a white-out. Throw in the high winds and chilling cold, and you get one ugly set of circumstances. I don't think anyone who has "been there" would second guess someone who didin't make it through such anordeal.
My heart goes out to them and theirs,
Tom

Amen, pratice makes perfect. I use it on small hikes to pratice and to keep it fresh for the big hikes.

I have recorded evey hike I've done including Lafayette. Every active track. And save them to the pc for a later time and to remember the detail of the hike.I reuse them if I'm going back so I don't have to load alot of unproven routepoints.

Maddy
03-24-2004, 04:21 PM
[QUOTE]Originally posted by Kevin Rooney

(Regards to Brutus Kevin! I don't know that dog but I really like him.)

" The wind and snow increased steadily as we climbed higher, and ever mindful of the admonition never to climb into worsening conditions, made the call to turn around just below the junction with Gulfside, at about 5,300’ elevation."

I posted on the AMC boards on this topic and was not going to post again but I just can't help myself.
I will start by reiterating a statement in the AMC guidebook years ago. It scared me to death at the time but I have never forgotten it.
I quote: "At the first sign of bad weather abandon your climb without shame for the worse is yet to come. Freezing fog blinds and suffocates. Hurricane force winds exhaust the strongest hiker." It went on to explain what would happen if you chose to carry on. It was not a pretty picture.
One of the posts here includes the admoniton by F&G to" equip yourself on your day hike in such a way that you can spend the night outdoors". I interpret that to mean that one should carry a substantial amount of gear to keep yourself warm in the event that things aren't going well for you. Giving up speed for safety. Probably not a bad idea.
Kevin was "ever mindful" of the admonition to "abandon his climb without shame" and probably not a minute to soon. No one would argue that" the worse "was well on it's way.
Unfortunately, I think sometimes things go terribly wrong and we find ourselves ill prepared or not playing by the rules for any number of reasons.
We might get careless, overconfident, lazy, or maybe we do not fully comprehend exactly what it is we are about to get ourselves into.
We travel light, we ignore the AMC/ranger warnings, we depend on technology that cannot be depended on in bad weather. We do not understand the real definition of "bad weather" in the Whites or the Daks,etc.
Experience is a great teacher if we survive it. Others are less fortunate.
Even Joe Simpson believed that he "was stronger than that."
He freely admitted that he and Simon thought they were better than the rest who had tried and failed on Siula Grande. It almost cost them both their lives.
It's interesting to note that their climb has never been repeated. I have often operated under similar delusions. The mountains do tend to sober you up quickly.
My deepest sympathy to all who have lost friends and family is such a tragic way this winter.
Maddy

Tom
03-24-2004, 07:06 PM
Originally posted by Fitz
I know one of the folks in that group. Definitely not a "bonehead".

Crap happens even to the best of us. Hopefully, we won't be writing about you some day.

Fritz, I answered you but moved the discussion to General Backcountry because this really has nothing to do with the Coxes.

Tom

RoySwkr
03-25-2004, 11:22 AM
Originally posted by CaptCaper
I've used it to below zero.
...
I didn't know a gps has a "dial'. If it's a screen your talking about I've never seen one fog over at least at my helm. If it's not waterproof you put in a special pouch for that. The one's made now are waterproof.

I know that in cold and wind my glasses freeze over and become worthless, I imagine that a similar thing might happen with a GPS screen. I am more concerned that by trying to read a small screen in poor visibility you are exposing your face to more weather than necessary, hence my comment about freezing to death.


Originally posted by CaptCaper
Following a proper route isn't a straight line. Also to turn around and go back with a track that has been recording is the way to go. Although some might know that it seems. Or bother to record them.

Right now, we don't know whether they came up from the hut or not, if they had a GPS track from Little Haystack it might not have been wise to follow it back.


Originally posted by Tom
Regarding GPSs, before I left home Monday morning, I entered two routes into it, one from LL Hut up to the Kinsmans and one to Cannon, our planned hikes. I do this on winter hikes in case the weather turns bad very suddenly and I'm caught in a white out.
I don't believe that obtaining GPS coordinates from maps is good enough for whiteouts above treeline. The USGS maps are not that accurate, and the scale of the AMC maps is such that the natural error in a point is maybe the same as the distance between cairns - if you can't see between cairns, you might not be able to see a cairn from the GPS point either. A track log is better but not perfect, there are plenty of places in the Whites where even 6 feet from the trail will put you on the wrong side of a cliff.

I agree with the guy who said that GPS is a tool that may help you, but no guarantee that you will survive. In this case a cell phone could have been a better tool (if it worked). Possibly the rescuers would have been more aggressive in pushing to the summit on Monday if they had known for sure about where to look, while at the time they may have seen it as a needless risk as the couple could have been on many trails or ravines in the area.

jjmcgo
03-25-2004, 11:33 AM
Does anyone think that the removal of so many shelters and tent platforms has made the wilderness more dangerous and resulted in more deaths? That was one of the arguments ignored when the shelters were being removed.

dug
03-25-2004, 11:48 AM
The areas around the incidents this winter either still have the shelters in place (Guyot), or never had them (top of Lafayette & Mt. Reagan).

Besides the fact that it is, after all the "Wilderness".

Dr. Dasypodidae
03-25-2004, 12:08 PM
The removal of the emergency steel shelter at Edmands Col (northern Presidentials) in the late 1970s or early 1980s was done for two principle reasons, as I recall: 1) the place was getting trashed with garbage by people using the shelter as a planned camp site, and 2) people were taking stupid risks in bad weather thinking that the shelter would save them if things "went bad."

In my view, there are three primary places in the Whites where you do not want to get trapped by bad weather in winter, for either day hikers or backpackers: 1) the Edmands Col area, 2) the Guyot area (despite the lean-to that remains there), and Franconia Ridge. There is no easy escape from any of these three areas without topping out a very exposed summit or making a very long bushwhack initially on semi-technical terrain. Of course, there are lots of other areas in the Whites that also can be problematic, but I think that these three places deserve the most respect. We have had fatalites in two of these areas this past winter.

Mtn-top
03-25-2004, 01:40 PM
This has been an interesting thread but it has gotten way off topic. Does anyone have new information or details regarding how this tragedy happened? We can speculate all day long, but until we know the facts, it is difficult to discuss this intelligently and all we can do is feel sorry for those that were left behind- including the poor husband.

Jim lombard
03-25-2004, 02:03 PM
According to a source, Russ Cox is doing better and should be released today.

All I hear is that visibility was the key factor to why they stayed where they did for so long. I can only imagine that standing on that forsaken peak in a complete white-out with the wind roaring all around would make me want to seek shelter.

CaptCaper
03-25-2004, 05:36 PM
[QUOTE]Originally posted by RoySwkr
[B]
(QUOTE)I know that in cold and wind my glasses freeze over and become worthless, I imagine that a similar thing might happen with a GPS screen. I am more concerned that by trying to read a small screen in poor visibility you are exposing your face to more weather than necessary, hence my comment about freezing to death.(QUOTE)

Granted weather can make it harder. But pratice and having proper gear can help. The screens on the newer ones are getting very bright with vivid colors and back lighting. Maybe someday they'll put the info on the inside of skigoggles like the pilots have.


(QUOTE)Right now, we don't know whether they came up from the hut or not, if they had a GPS track from Little Haystack it might not have been wise to follow it back.(QUOTE)

I always have a good route loaded with a printed out map showing the points.


(QUOTE)I don't believe that obtaining GPS coordinates from maps is good enough for whiteouts above treeline. The USGS maps are not that accurate, and the scale of the AMC maps is such that the natural error in a point is maybe the same as the distance between cairns - if you can't see between cairns, you might not be able to see a cairn from the GPS point either. A track log is better but not perfect, there are plenty of places in the Whites where even 6 feet from the trail will put you on the wrong side of a cliff.

I agree with the guy who said that GPS is a tool that may help you, but no guarantee that you will survive. In this case a cell phone could have been a better tool (if it worked). Possibly the rescuers would have been more aggressive in pushing to the summit on Monday if they had known for sure about where to look, while at the time they may have seen it as a needless risk as the couple could have been on many trails or ravines in the area. (QUOTE)

You'd be surprised at the accuracy of a good maping program properly used.
That's one thing I like to see and is very much needed is the AMC,or someone to come out with up to date maping software that can be loaded into GPS and also keep them up to date regularly.

Periwinkle
03-25-2004, 07:15 PM
There was a story in the Union Leader today entitled "Risk Part of Winter Hiking's 'Allure'" by Kate McCann. I couldn't find the story on their website.

"The death of a Mass. woman -- and others before her -- during a winter hike hindered by bad wather in the Whites beg the question: Why take such a chance?

There are a lot of plusses, said Mike Pelchat, a state parks officer -- clear days with great visibility, smoother, hard-packed trails and hikers of a higher caliber who respect nature. And, yes, the risks involved with winter sports are iniviting, too. "There are more risks, that is part of the allure, it's part of the attraction," Pelchat said. Such risks can be minimized with experience and equipment, outdoor enthusiats say.

Brenda and Russell Cox, of Andover Mass., planned a day hike Sunday on Mt. Lafayette on a trail they had hiked before. They were expected back Sun. night, but were straded by subzero temps. and a snowstorm. They were found Tues. morning. Mrs. Cox had already died, said Pelchat, who was part of the rescue crew that found the Coxes. When she was found, she was wearing summer hiking boots, wind pants and a medium weight coat with parts of her skin exposed, said Pelchat.

The Coxes had an ice axe, snowshoes with crampons and small day packs. He said hikers should alway carry a tarp and a foam pad to sit on. They should wear layers and bring a hood for storm gear. The extra pound or two of equipment, or even just properly buttoning and zipping your self up can make the difference.

Last night, Mr. Cox was in good condition at Mass. General.

A Mass. ice [climber] was trapped in an avalance and straded for a night of Mt. Washington over the weekend. [They] survived the night by digging a trench, putting on extra clothes and eating chocolate, nuts and sandwiches.

The AMC offer courses for winter mountaineering....Winter sports have grown in popularity in recent years, thanks to improvements in gear like metal snowshoes and fabrics that allow people to travel lighter and stay warmer said club spokesman Rob Burbank.

But Mother Nautre is a formidable foe, and even the best prepard can become her next victim. The Coxes were also expereinced hikers and competed in endurance trails.

There have been situations where people have been very well prepared but the weather has been terribly inhospitable,' Burbank said.

A 37 y.o. Mt. Monadnock park ranger and trained rescue worker, camping with a tent and stove, froze to death in Jan. when temps. unexpectedly fell to -44 with a wind chill of -100 in the Whites.

"For people who go out in these extreme conditions, there's a drive that's very difficult to understand," said park officer Don Davis after his colleague died. "It compels them to move on and go out into the elements. It's part of their lifesytle."

bob m
03-25-2004, 08:47 PM
Family members sent me this link: Boston Herald article (http://news.bostonherald.com/localRegional/view.bg?articleid=2951)
It's a great picture of two wonderful people.

crazymama
03-25-2004, 11:01 PM
Thanks BobM, that article gives a little more detail about what happened.

There is one point that doesn't make sense to me:


On their way up the mountain, however, the Coxes heard from fellow climbers that the weather had suddenly changed. They turned around, but were confronted with a whiteout.

If they turned around right when other people told them the weather had changed, why were they the only ones who ended up in this situation?

The other thing mentioned is that when they did try to move down the mountain, their goggles froze up and when they removed their goggles, they were blinded by the blowing snow. It seems to me, that if you are essentially blind, that having a compass or GPS isn't going to help too much.

This is a very frightening and sad story for me. They sounded like a couple of regular hiking folks, out for a nice day hike...not that much different from me probably.

Skiddah
03-25-2004, 11:47 PM
Off the cuff, crazymama, I might say that they could have had radios or a cell phone to 'hear' from fellow hikers. Also, I have noticed that everyone has their own best pace to hike at, especially when descending. The Coxes stuck together because they were a team, but the other hikers probably had their own pace and could have easily outdistanced them in very short order...

crazymama
03-26-2004, 06:18 AM
You're right, Skiddah. I actually did briefly entertain the idea that the other people might have hightailed it down the mountain ahead of them.

Jack Waldron
03-26-2004, 09:29 PM
I too found that report about "turning around and returning to Lafayette" to be confusing. The other reports that I've seen state that the Coxes hiked up Falling Waters and then across the ridge to Lafayette. If that's true then the "turning around" comment makes no sense. If alternatively, they actually hiked up OBP and Greenleaf to Lafayette then "turning around" makes sense. They started across the ridge toward Little Haystack and Falling Waters but attempted to return to Lafayette and Greenleaf when the weather turned bad. Right now we have two conflicting acccounts of their route and behavior.

WildPeaks
03-27-2004, 09:29 AM
Hi to all.
My sympathy first & foremost goes out to Russ & his family at their loss. I hear what people are saying about timing , sensitivity etc. About what, when, where, how, & why they say it. I understand completely & all need to mourn over the loss. It might not hit all right now, you may feel the affect later, who knows. We are all different, (good thing).
I do however think this is the time & one of the places to talk about it. And know that nobody has any disrespect to the situation.
I would like to comment,(IF IT IS TRUE!) on what multiple sources have written re: the clothing she was found in. (my first source was the Lowell Sun) All to often I cross people on the trail at all times of the year that have very little gear, or if you can believe NONE AT ALL.
We all know this can happen to any of us, YES THIS MEANS YOU TOO! And have seen our own narrow escapes at times & love to tell the story to anyone that will listen. But I am somewhat disturbed, saddened, confused??? at what they say she was found in. ???................ I have more gear than that when I leave home in Hazy Hot & Humid mid summer conditions! We all know that these mountains are no respectors of the local forecast! Come on............ Why will I still see you out there alone & with no gear or very little of it, after just seeing once again what can happen to any of us at anytime.
Yes this bothers me. I treasure you all & can't stand to see something happen to any of us, when if in fact, that's all she was wearing on a March day or any day in the White Mountains of New Hampshire.
Tom

radair
03-28-2004, 11:45 AM
I was in the helicopter when the Coxes were spotted and was the first rescuer to reach Russell. They were found above treeline on the Garfield Ridge Trail about .8 miles north of the summit of Lafayette, and about .1 miles north of the Skookumchuck trail junction.

Conditions deteriorated quickly on Sunday, and very high winds continued through Sunday night and all day Monday. A Fish & Game officer that was in the chopper on Monday told me that while visibility was good in the air, blowing snow made seeing anything on the ground impossible (75 - 80 mph steady winds on Mt. Wash.).

While it's easy to speculate and second guess their decisions, the fact is that conditions can and do go bad in a hurry, which I'm sure is the case here. During the rescue, the chopper landed 5 teams of rescuers in various locations, including the summits of Lafayette and Flume, in calm no-wind conditions. Within 15 minutes of flying Brenda out, conditions changed to strong winds and blowing snow.

A lot has been made about the clothing they were wearing, and while they were dressed on the light side, IMO they were suitably equipped for a day hike where one would be constantly moving. They did not expect to have to endure sub-zero temps and high winds, and I think they did really well to survive the first night in those conditions. Some would argue that extra clothes and gear should always be taken; others subscribe by the light-and-fast approach. These are the decisions we as individuals have to make to suit our own styles.

My heart goes out to the Cox family. This is an experience we wish no one ever had to deal with. It is certainly one I will always remember.

HikerDoc
03-28-2004, 04:08 PM
" But I am somewhat disturbed, saddened, confused??? at what they say she was found in. ???................ I have more gear than that when I leave home in Hazy Hot & Humid mid summer conditions! We all know that these mountains are no respectors of the local forecast! Come on............ Why will I still see you out there alone & with no gear or very little of it, after just seeing once again what can happen to any of us at anytime. "

I agree with WildPeaks. I used to comment to people I encountered on the trail who had inadequate gear for the conditions but gave this up years ago when it was never accepted in the manner that it was intended. Apparently some people saw the Coxes on the trail and warned them about deteriorating conditions. If you use the fast up and fast down approach, without carrying emergency gear, you need a lower threshold of getting out and you need to be aware of escape plans. I only do the fast up and fast down if conditions are perfect. Most of the time I carry way too much gear, and fortunately almost never have to use it. When I see people with inadequate gear, my first thought is if I might have to rescue them. I think this comes from my AMC NH chapter winter leadership training and having participated in an actual 14 hour rescue.

rondak46
03-28-2004, 04:42 PM
... of clothing/equipment decisions and, as HikerDoc put it, a "threshold of getting out".

Is it sounding like they took a wrong turn to the NNE?

Mike

RoySwkr
03-28-2004, 06:42 PM
Originally posted by rondak46
Is it sounding like they took a wrong turn to the NNE?

Apparently they followed the Garfield Ridge Trail down nearly to treeline.

This was not a short way back to their car, but if they could see those cairns and not the Greenleaf Trail I'm not sure it was "wrong". If they had gone a little farther they would have been below treeline with a greater chance of survival, and they even had snowshoes to walk out on.


Originally posted by Jack Waldron
The other reports that I've seen state that the Coxes hiked up Falling Waters

Did you see that anywhere other than the Concord Monitor, which features young reporters with a high degree of geographic illiteracy?

Mohamed Ellozy
03-28-2004, 06:52 PM
Originally posted by radair
Some would argue that extra clothes and gear should always be taken; others subscribe by the light-and-fast approach. These are the decisions we as individuals have to make to suit our own styles. Some believe that seat belts should always be fastened; others do not.

Frosty
03-28-2004, 09:50 PM
Originally posted by radair
Some would argue that extra clothes and gear should always be taken; others subscribe by the light-and-fast approach.

SOmeone on the AMC board is a strong proponent of light-and-fast, believing that it is better to get out in a hurry than be burdened with heavy gear.

This works as long as the light-and-fast hiker isn't hurt (light-and-immobile) or lost (light-and-moving-fast-in-the-wrong-direction).

Frosty

jjmcgo
03-28-2004, 10:03 PM
You can always jettison heavy equipment when there is a need to move fast but you can't add clothing, get into a tent or light a stove you don't have.

radair
03-29-2004, 07:02 AM
It's a fine line between carrying too much gear and not having enough to deal with unforeseen circumstances. In the words of Chouinard, "If you bring bivouac gear, you will bivouac".


Originally posted by Mohamed Ellozy
Some believe that seat belts should always be fastened; others do not.

Ridiculous analogy. It's apparent where you stand, though.

Peter Miller
03-29-2004, 08:50 AM
Maybe I'm hopelessly "old school", maybe I've been living in the shadow of the Whites too long, but IMHO light and fast is always unwise above treeline in the Whites. There is no such thing as a 100% guaranteed clement weather day. On the handful of best days, the guarantee might be 95%, but why chance it even then? The Coxes did not pick one of those "best" days, as could have been extrapolated from forecasts.

How to better educate hikers about above treeline risks? The skulls and crossbones at select gateways don't seem to be getting the message across sufficiently. Nor does the grim warning in the AMC guide. Maybe the guide should include vividly detailed accounts of some of the deaths in the Whites. I expect the AMC will take some new educational initiatives as a result of this winter's fatalities.

Maddy
03-29-2004, 09:06 AM
Originally posted by Mohamed Ellozy
Some believe that seat belts should always be fastened; others do not.

Pesonally, I relate to this analogy!
I work in a Level One Trauma center and I care for many belted vs non-belted trauma victims.
In most cases, the belted driver has one up on the non-belted.
Yes, there are a few cases where one can say the belt "trapped" the victim, but this is not the norm. It can make the difference between being a survivor vs. being an organ donor.
I want to be as prepared as I can be for the "unexpected" in those mountains, bearing in mind that there are no guarantees, anymore than there are with seat belts. All the same, it might give me a fighting chance. As someone mentioned, you can always ditch the gear if you absolutely have to.
There are times when I have not fastened my belt but as I drive away the thought inevitably comes "you choose the behavior, you choose the consequences". This will inevitably help me to come to my senses and fasten it. I will have that same mantra when I am packing my pack in the future.
I have learned a lot from all of you and I am grateful for the sharing of knowledge and opinions. Once again, I extend my deepest symathy to all who have lost loved ones.
Maddy

rondak46
03-29-2004, 09:11 AM
...don't have plan B's that call for 5 mile mad dashes down the mountain in under 2 hours, through a blizzard. I'll be carrying a bivy in places like that.

Mike

Jim lombard
03-29-2004, 11:08 AM
On Sunday night the snow cave the Cox's were in was so small that they both couldn't fit inside. Russ was on the outside of the cave and took the brunt of those conditions trying to shelter her. That must've been an utterly black and terrifying night.

On Monday they tried to hike out but his feet were in such bad shape that he couldn't walk out. Conditions were terrible again so they decided to wait for a break in the weather and hope for rescue. I can't imagine the thoughts that ran through their minds as they realized that they'd be spending another night on that summit.

According to the family a photo on the summit showed that they were both well dressed for a winter dayhike.

My heart goes out to Russ and his family.

Frosty
03-29-2004, 11:16 AM
Originally posted by Kevin Rooney


Frosty -

I wasn't aware the AMC's Board of Directors reviewed such issues.

Kevin

It's hell to get old. My son keeps telling me that there are no albums any more. Only CD's.

When I said AMC board, I meant AMC forum. "Board" is short for bulletin board, a primitve form of messaging back before Internet explorer or Netscape Navigator. Anyone remember Mosaic? Archie searches? Anyone else here start off with a 150 bit (yes bit, not Kb) modem attached to their Sinclair 2K RAM computer back in the early 80's?

<sigh>

Frosty

Jack Waldron
03-29-2004, 11:19 AM
Will someone define what is acceptable Light and Fast gear when traveling above treeline in the Whites in winter? When I dayhike above treeline in winter I carry a 3000 cu in pack. I carry extra layers of fleece and wool for torso and legs, extra gloves, extra insulated head gear, a face mask, a thermos of hot tea, sometimes another thermos of hot soup, an emergency bivy sack, and a small insulating pad. If I'm solo I'll go with a bigger pack and add a sleeping bag, and a full length insulating pad. I don't carry a stove or full blown tent on a day hike. If not carrying a stove and tent makes me light and fast then I'd agree with the idea. If you fail to carry any of the other gear above treeline I don't think that you are traveling light and fast, I think that you are traveling unprepared.

radair
03-29-2004, 11:44 AM
I would like to clarify that I am not a proponent of carrying minimal gear. Judging by the responses, it seems unanimous to be prepared. What you carry is an individual decision - one guy might be happy with a pad & bivy sack, the next guy might also want a sleeping bag, someone else might want all of these plus a stove & fuel, then a tent, etc... Clothing options are limitless. At some point, one must weigh (pun intended) the options and come to a balance between what gear you will carry that will still allow you to complete your route within a safe & reasonable time window.

I'm bothered by people second guessing the Cox's equipment and decisions. Had they walked out on their own on Monday, they'd be receiving accolades on how well they did to survive Sunday night. The second night, in meager shelter, proved to be too much for Mrs. Cox.


Originally posted by Periwinkle
....Mrs. Cox had already died, said Pelchat, who was part of the rescue crew that found the Coxes. When she was found, she was wearing summer hiking boots, wind pants and a medium weight coat with parts of her skin exposed, said Pelchat.....

Mike Pelchat was not with the initial rescue team - he arrived after Russell had been airlifted and after we had pulled Brenda from the rock 'cave'. His statement about exposed skin refers to skin between Brenda's mittens and coat sleeves. What he is probably unaware of is that there were also overmitts with her body. Her boots were light boots, no doubt, but that's not what made the difference between life & death. IMO, the lack of adequate shelter was the deciding factor, not what they were wearing.

Mark_151
03-29-2004, 11:56 AM
Originally posted by Frosty


It's hell to get old. My son keeps telling me that there are no albums any more. Only CD's.

When I said AMC board, I meant AMC forum. "Board" is short for bulletin board, a primitve form of messaging back before Internet explorer or Netscape Navigator. Anyone remember Mosaic? Archie searches? Anyone else here start off with a 150 bit (yes bit, not Kb) modem attached to their Sinclair 2K RAM computer back in the early 80's?

<sigh>

Frosty

Started off on an Altair 8800 in about 1977 -- got into "boards" via Fidonet and Relaynet, ChannelOne BBS in Boston, )(evious in Framingham.

That's my geek contribution to this board for the year :D

soxfan
03-29-2004, 12:10 PM
I was wondering about this: Brenda is very petite (4' 11'', 100 lbs) and Russ is large (~6 Ft, 220 lBs). Is it possible that she could have "slipped into" his clothes with him? Would that have helped? Were the conditions so bad as to prevent this?

David Metsky
03-29-2004, 01:02 PM
In the SOLO Wilderness First Aid course they teach that external warming from body heat (getting into sleeping bags together, etc) does little good for the victim due to lack of heat transfer. And is potentially harmful to the rescuer by making them cool off quicker and limiting their movement.

The recommendation from the course is to not attempt body to body warming.

-dave-

Frosty
03-29-2004, 02:20 PM
Originally posted by soxfan
I was wondering about this: Brenda is very petite (4' 11'', 100 lbs) and Russ is large (~6 Ft, 220 lBs). Is it possible that she could have "slipped into" his clothes with him? Would that have helped? Were the conditions so bad as to prevent this?

I'm 6'5" 240# and I don't think anyone, no matter how small, could fit into my clothes with me. I bought 'em to fit me, and they don't flop around loose.

Frosty

crazymama
03-29-2004, 06:24 PM
Here's a story today from Boston Globe, in which Russell Cox was interviewed and explains what happened:

Hiker says wrong turn in poor weather cost wife her life
By Theo Emery, Associated Press, 3/29/2004 18:06

BOSTON (AP) Brenda and Russell Cox were married outdoors in the Vermont mountains seven years ago with a layer of new-fallen snow around them. Last Monday night, after the couple took shelter from a storm in a mountaintop cave in New Hampshire, Russell Cox reached for his wife, and felt that she had stopped shivering and her skin was cold.

''Brenda died doing what she loved to do, and I think that that makes me happy,'' Cox said Monday at Massachusetts General Hospital, where he's been since rescuers found him last Tuesday outside the snowy cave where his wife died in the night.

Cox spoke to reporters Monday, a wedding photo propped on a nearby table, along with the New Hampshire Fish and Game official who led the search for the couple, the stepson who alerted authorities they were missing and Russell Cox's physician, Dr. John Schulz.

Schulz said Cox could stay in the hospital as long as two weeks, while doctors wait to see the extent of the frostbite damage to his toes, feet, chest and fingertips.

''For Mr. Cox, it's still quite early. We're very encouraged by how his injuries have come along in the last few days, but it's quite early ... to make a prognosis for what the extent of tissue injury will be to his feet,'' Schulz said.

Under New Hampshire law, Russell Cox could be required to reimburse the state for the cost of the two-day search that eventually rescued him from the mountain ridge where he and his wife spent two nights last week, said New Hampshire Fish and Game Lt. Todd Bogardus. The state is looking into that possibility, he said.

Cox, 43, an engineer who designs computer chips for a North Shore company, spent the night of March 20 with his wife at a bed and breakfast before the two drove to Franconia the next morning, to the same trail they hiked about a year ago, he said.

''My wife and I have spent a number of weekends hiking in the White Mountains,'' he said. ''We enjoy hiking in the winter: the trails are less crowded, the water is always fresh and cold, the scenery is always beautiful.''

It was a roughly 10-mile loop to the summit of Mt. Lafayette, south along a ridge, over Mt. Lincoln and Little Haystack Mountain, and down Falling Waters Trail to the parking lot. The two had monitored the weather, brought food and were prepared for poor weather, he said.

They were on the Old Bridle Path by about 8:30 a.m. By about 11 a.m., they reached a hut part way up and met hikers who said the weather was turning sour. They decided to hike to the summit of Mt. Lafayette, then turn around, Russell Cox said.

After they reached the top, they turned around and began back down. But in the worsening weather, they chose the wrong trail, heading north. They strained to see the rock piles marking the trail through the whirling snow and wind.

The realized they had gone the wrong way when they reached a junction slightly less than a mile down the trail. By then, they could see almost nothing, their ski goggles frosted over and the 75 mph winds tearing at them.

They built a snow cave and spent a relatively comfortable night. But when they emerged early the next morning, the weather had barely improved, and as they continued down the trail that they hoped would bring them to the highway, their damp clothes froze on their bodies.

Unable to find their snow cave, they crawled into a rocky nook, lying back to back so that Russell Cox shielded Brenda Cox from the weather. They talked into the night, but in time, she fell silent, and her husband knew she was dead.

He crawled from the cave the next morning to find a brilliantly clear and warm morning. He managed to flag down the helicopter, which spotted him after several passes and airlifted him to safety, he said.

''I have the greatest memories of Brenda from the years we spent together, because we had a wonderful relationship,'' Cox said, fighting back tears. ''Brenda and I loved each other very much, and I'm very happy that we were together at the end.''

Mtn-top
03-30-2004, 09:38 AM
Originally posted by David Metsky
In the SOLO Wilderness First Aid course they teach that external warming from body heat (getting into sleeping bags together, etc) does little good for the victim due to lack of heat transfer. And is potentially harmful to the rescuer by making them cool off quicker and limiting their movement.

The recommendation from the course is to not attempt body to body warming.

-dave-

I was not aware of this new change- thanks. The US Coast Guard, along with hypothermia.org, still recommend body to body warming in addition to body core warming techniques for those that cannot be transported to medical care immediately. They say, "Provide rescuer's body heat. When wrapped together in a blanket or sleeping bag, a rescuer can donate body heat to a hypothermic patient. This technique is not without risk however, since slow external rewarming in this way may aggravate the frequency of abnormal heart beats. It should only be used when there will be a long delay in transporting the patient to a site of complete medical care."

I wonder if their recommendations will change or if there will be a schysm of sorts emerging.

-Charlie

Peter Miller
03-30-2004, 03:04 PM
Tragic fate met on a mountain

Frostbitten spouse recounts errors that killed wife on hike
By Mac Daniel, Globe Staff, 3/30/2004

Dressed and equipped for just a 9-mile day hike over the summit of three New Hampshire peaks, Russell and Brenda Cox kept heading up toward the summit of the first, Mount Lafayette, even after descending hikers warned that conditions were deteriorating. When the Andover couple finally decided to turn back, Russell Cox said yesterday, they headed down the wrong trail.

That last error, on March 21, led to the Andover couple getting trapped near the summit for nearly 48 hours in a late-winter storm.

Sitting in a hospital wheelchair next to a framed photograph from his wedding seven years ago, Cox, 43, yesterday recounted the critical hiking mistakes that led to his wife's final, shivering moments in a cave near the Mount Lafayette summit.

At times tearfully, Cox spoke at length about the experience during a news conference at Massachusetts General Hospital, where he is being treated for frostbite and hypothermia.

Brenda Cox, also 43, was unresponsive when rescuers used a helicopter to rescue the two from the mountainside. She was pronounced dead at a nearby hospital. Her funeral was scheduled for this morning in North Billerica.

Also present yesterday was a New Hampshire Fish & Game official, who said the fatal hiking trip on the 5,260-foot peak is under investigation by his agency and the New Hampshire attorney general's office. Under a 1999 law, Cox could be charged with negligence and required to pay thousands of dollars for the cost of his rescue.

"In my opinion, it was a case of a failure to turn," said Lieutenant Todd Bogardus of New Hampshire Fish & Game, who initiated the two-day rescue operation. "Upon trying to summit on Mount Lafayette, there may have been a period when they should have made a different decision and turned to go back."

The Coxes did not bring a sleeping bag, a tent, or a stove on their day hike, items that Fish & Game officials said could have saved Brenda's life. They were not wearing any insulating layers of clothing, nor did they leave an itinerary with anyone before leaving the trailhead.

Asked about the investigation, Cox said he hadn't thought about it.

"It doesn't concern me," said Cox, whose fingertips were still purple from frostbite. "I'm very happy to be alive. I miss Brenda with all my heart and I'm glad she lived the active life that she lived and that she died doing what she loved."

Cox said he and his wife hiked the White Mountains on numerous occasions before traveling to the Lafayette Campground on March 21 to take a popular day-hike loop that runs over the summits of Mount Lafayette, Mount Lincoln, and Mount Haystack before returning to the parking lot.

When the couple reached Greenleaf Hut en route to the first summit, descending hikers there told them conditions were deteriorating on Mount Lafayette. Despite the news, the couple continued climbing.

After being told by more hikers returning from the summit that conditions were "too bad," Cox said he and his wife decided to curtail their route and return after reaching the Mount Lafayette summit, skipping the other two peaks.

A group of ascending hikers from Quebec passed them as they neared the treeline, Cox said, and before he and his wife reached the summit, they met the same group descending, saying the conditions were worsening. Now above treeline, Russell and Brenda Cox decided to turn around and head back to the parking lot, but they mistakenly headed down the wrong trail. With the wind picking up and snowfall becoming heavier, the couple quickly lost sight of the cairns -- the rock piles that mark the trail routes on the bleak, treeless mountainside.

"We would forage in one direction, return to the trail, forage in another direction, look around, see if we could see the trail marker, return to the trail, and eventually we were able to follow the cairns all the way down to this junction," Cox said, using a map to show his route.

When they unexpectedly reached a trail junction, he said, "we realized something was wrong."

With their ski goggles frosted over and conditions worsening, they carved a cave in a large drift of snow and decided to wait out the storm. There, out of the wind, the couple huddled together Sunday night, hugging and talking.

"We were in a position where we could hug each other, and I remember I could get up close to Brenda's neck and breathe real slowly against her carotid artery and it would warm her up," Cox said. "And we just talked about everything. We talked about everything except for the possibility that we weren't going to make it."

The next morning, despite little change in the weather, the couple left the snow cave. But their clothes had become damp, he said, and the high winds and freezing temperatures froze the outer layers, making the couple immediately uncomfortable.

They returned to find their snow cave had drifted over, Cox said, and after finding a shallow rock shelter, Brenda Cox crawled into its deepest part, and he turned his back to her "to protect her," bracing his legs against rock.

"We could talk to each other, but we were not facing each other," Cox said. "During the middle of the night we were both shivering a lot. The shivers would come and go. And we were talking. And at one point she stopped moving, and I could see her legs were right behind me. And when I put my hand on her legs, they were no longer warm and she had just stopped moving altogether."

"At that point, I realized it was out of my hands and I just had to keep thinking positive."

Cox said he tried to get up and walk, was overcome with nausea, and returned to the cave.

"I just sat and waited," he said, "either to join Brenda or to be rescued."

A few hours later, Cox said, he heard the helicopter overhead that would rescue him.

© Copyright 2004 Globe Newspaper Company.

[end news article, begin Peter Miller comments]

Even with their lack of insulating clothes, their ignoring the warnings of three parties while pushing on to the summit, their failure to use a compass (or correctly read it) exiting the summit, the Coxes could have extricated themselves from their dilemma by turning left down the Skookumchuck Trail when they reached that junction. This trail would quickly have dropped them below treeline. IMO, it is the easiest, most sheltered route up/down Lafayette. Even if less packed down, it offered an immediate bailout. Getting off the ridge and out of the wind is a no brainer. Why didn't the Coxes descend Skookumchuck?

They could not have been hypothermic that early on. Even if the trail signs had been obscured with snow, they should have known which trail this was and the basic facts about it from prior experience or pre-hike prep. Did they not choose it because it wouldn't bring them back to their car? The more I learn about this tragedy, the more plausible this possibility seems. These unfortunate souls seem to have been woefully unprepared for the challenge they took on in nearly every way conceivable.

audrey
03-30-2004, 04:13 PM
On that Sunday we were just up the road attempting to climb Peak Above the Nubble. Although it snowed all day, wind and cold were not a factor at those lower elevations. I too don't understand the decision not to descend Skookumchuck, which would have given instant shelter.

bobmak
03-30-2004, 04:49 PM
A very experienced climber once told me that the difference between an epic and a disaster is that you survive an epic. We in the community of climbers and hikers tend to admire those people that accept the challenges the outdoors offers and push to accomplish their goals. When we gather as a group we love to share "war stories" of the challenges we faced and the close calls we have had. Had things been slightly different Brenda would be sharing her story with us, maybe even at the next VFFT gathering.

The Cox's tragedy and Ken Holmes tragedy both hit home for me, because either one of those stories could have involved myself or a close friend. These instances were more about being in the wrong place at the wrong time rather than blatant error. It's always easy to say "they should have done this, they should have done that" from the comfort and warmth of your own home. They should have carried more gear, they should have turned around sooner, they should have carried a GPS, they should have stayed home and watched reality TV instead, blah, blah blah..... Hindsight is a wonderful thing. When the proverbial sh*t hits the fan, you don't always make the best and most logical decision, especially when survival is your top priority. I can honestly say that I have been there myself. Have you?

Mike P.
03-30-2004, 05:01 PM
No problem going down skookumchuck if you know it or have read the trail description. Since it was 180 degrees in the opposite direction of their planned hike, getting info on a trail 3/4 of a mile out of your way doesn't make sense. (Those of us who have been on it know that shelter was close at hand in the trees, also staying on Garfield Ridge would have also broght them into the trees.) In a white out you wouldn't know if treeline was close by or a mile away.

From one interview it looks like they had little more than mid-weight clothing & G-Tex. not extra insulating layers, regardless if you carry a stove & full tent & sleeping bags, extra insulating layers should be part of a winter day pack.

As far as Mike Pelchat's remarks, he does a lot of SAR & sadly for Mike has seen too many of these accidents. If Russell's feet had not been frostbitten they may have pushed farther down the Skookumchuck trail as the thought of extra walking in maybe the wrong direction would not have been so awful a thought for someone with warm feet. The fact that they pushed beyond the hut & more importantly (as there is some cover above the hut) out above the trees & to the summit in those conditions was the chief culprit. Had hiked in winter, had been there before, no view to be had & in fact it was the first full day of spring, if season bagging, they could have gone back on Flag Day in June as a Spring Hike.

One thing I will take away from this though is next time I head to the Northern Presidentials where my knowledge of trails other than the major trails is sparse, I'll read those descriptions so that if I plan on doing Adams & Madison but find myself at the junction of Gulfside & The Israel Path in poor conditions, I'll know if that is a good escape or if I should find the Spur trail or Randolph Path. Before this week I would not have read up on those trails for a hike planned for Lowe's, Gulfside & Valley Way, they are not really near where I'm going. However, if I'm not near where I planned on going, I better know how to get back home.

Jack Waldron
03-30-2004, 05:47 PM
Why the Coxes didn't choose to descend Skookumchuck is a mystery. If you are not familiar with the Skookumchuck trail then you don't know how quickly it descends below treeline. With poor visibility and high winds assaulting them they may have "guessed" that the Skook would expose them to another 20-45 minutes of punishing weather before reaching treeline. It's about 30 - 40 minutes from the summit of Lafayette to treeline via Greenleaf, their intended trail. It's also possible that they couldn't see the first cairns on Skook but could discern the next cairn on the Garfield Ridge Trail. For unclear reasons, they decided to continue following roughly along the Garfield Ridge Trail for another 0.1 mile before finding an area to construct a snowshelter. Shortly beyond that point the Garfield Ridge Trail also begins descending below treeline. I can only assume that they had never hiked this section of Franconia Ridge and were unaware of how close they were to getting below treeline and out of the maelstrom via either Skook or Garfield Ridge Trail. Instead of continuing to hike unfamiliar terrain in the gale they decided their best short term strategy was to retreat into a snowcave, protected from the weather.

Mohamed Ellozy
03-30-2004, 06:35 PM
From the New Hampshire Fish and Game Newsroom (http://www.wildlife.state.nh.us/Newsroom/News_2004/News_2004_Q1/Hiker_Cox_Update_033004.htm):
Under New Hampshire law (RSA 153-A:24), search and rescue missions are reviewed to determine whether there was recklessness involved. If such a determination is made, the person rescued may be held liable and be billed to cover the cost of the rescue. The New Hampshire Fish and Game Department will not request reimbursement of expenses associated with the rescue of Russell Cox.

jjmcgo
03-30-2004, 07:55 PM
There are some awfully good people on this website and this is a difficult subject because people like us made mistakes that cost them their lives. As has been said here many of us have faced similar challenges and survived them. The difference between a tragedy and an epic, indeed.
I offer encouragement to those seeking all the details to learn the mistakes that were made while endorsing those who say criticism is unwarranted. I think most people here feel the same way.
For all the mistakes made, some good decisions were made under the circumstances. Prolonged dangerous conditions defeated their survival efforts. We must always be mindful that that can happen. It's not always a squall. Sometimes, it's a front, sometimes an unexpected confluence ("Perfect Storm," the Coxes), sometimes a rarely seen atmospheric situation (Ken Holmes), some peaks are known for their chaos (Lafayette, Washington, Madison).
The most amazing, telling and important post I've seen is from another hiker on a nearby peak who sat in clear weather and watched the tempest on Lafayette. When someone asks you what's the weather in the White Mountains?" The answer is, "Where specifically in which 15 minute interval."
Russell Cox is remarkably at peace with what happened, from the tone of the interviews. They loved each other, fought it together, talked about everything, shivered together and he was ready to go with her but the dawn brought sunshine and no wind and he was rescued.
God bless us all, we could be talking about anyone of us.

My only advice -- downhill is almost always better. When people say things can change fast in the Whites, change for the better happens fastest going below treeline. And, heed every warning. Serious, experienced people are telling you what's best for you. The mountain will be there tomorrow.

Mark
03-30-2004, 08:43 PM
Hiking a long exposed ridge like Franconia Ridge, it's a good idea to turn around and check the weather behind you every 10 or 15 minutes. Particularly when hiking southbound, some nasty weather can creep up on you pretty quickly. If you see it coming, you might be able to outrun it to Falling Waters or retreat back down to OBP. Same idea for exposed hikes like a Presi traverse.

Maddy
03-31-2004, 08:07 AM
[QUOTE]Originally posted by Mark
[, it's a good idea to turn around and check the weather behind you every 10 or 15 minutes.

Excellent advice Mark. Thank you.:D

JohnL
03-31-2004, 09:43 AM
Good point by Mark. Though be aware that some storms come out of the southwest, which is at your back if you're heading north on the Franconia Ridge. This photo (http://community.webshots.com/photo/127101695/130099732ntiVxU) shows a storm that chased me from the ridge. So keep an eye on your back no matter which direction you are heading.

JohnL

Mark Driscoll
03-31-2004, 10:43 AM
John,

Nice photo. Shows what can be behind you.

Mark

Peter Miller
03-31-2004, 11:51 AM
To express the outlooks on these message boards that I sometimes do is to be perceived as "critical", "Monday morning quarterback", etc. I call it prudence, forethought, common sense. If that makes me a maverick, fine.

Perhaps the Coxes were too overwhelmed by circumstance to tap into information in their memory banks that would have steered them down the Skookumchuck - topography as seen from high viewpoints or even roadways, info gleaned from having leafed through the AMC guide or its maps, for example. Whatever happened to the notion of researching ALL the trails in the general vicinity before setting out, committing maps and trail descriptions to memory? There are many circumstances that can cause or require departure from itinerary besides wind - fire, flood, etc. Whatever happened to the idea of mentally rehearsing unexpected scenarios and one's response to them? Aren't there times you need that automatic pilot to kick in?

Fish & Game's decision not to charge for rescue is to be expected. Considering the magnitude of Cox's losses, a fine would be cruel. Had both he and his spouse survived relatively intact, I do believe they would have been billed for rescue.

One wishes that contemporary hikers shared pre-white Native American perspectives on nature and mountains. To Natives, mountains were alive, they possessed personality. They "spoke" through the wind, the brooks, the birds, the insects. Each return to a familiar mountain was an opportunity to renew the dialogue and deepen the relationship. Mountains were best visited alone, spiritually. If approached with reverence and respect, they might eventually reveal their secrets, their mysteries. If approached with disregard, they might choose to remind man of his insignificance. To view mountains as "things" to be conquered, collected, or checked off on a piece of paper is White Man foolishness.

The old Natives would have woven the deaths of Holmes, Jaytrek, and Cox into their teaching legends. Where are today's storytellers, where are those with the capacity to hear? Instead, we have bulletin boards, and this is called progress.

JackH
03-31-2004, 12:01 PM
I am a relative novice to winter climbing and have found these posts enlightening. I was trying for Lincoln the Monday the Coxes were up there and I turned back because of the wind on Little Haystack. The sad news was an awakening for me. Although I consider myself to be obsessive about bringing extra gear and planning my trips, my experience that day; and these posts, have taught me that, sometimes, no level of preparation is adequate. This sport requires such diligence on so many levels as to make it both the draw and the danger of the sport.

ChrisB
03-31-2004, 01:19 PM
In all the posts, newspaper articles and press coverage of this sad incident, I do not recall anyone mentioning whether or not the Cox party was equipped with a map and compass.

In his TV interview Mr.Cox says they took a wrong turn, but he never mentions having a compass or a map.

Does anyone know if they carried these two essentials?


cb

CaptCaper
03-31-2004, 03:59 PM
Originally posted by ChrisB
In all the posts, newspaper articles and press coverage of this sad incident, I do not recall anyone mentioning whether or not the Cox party was equipped with a map and compass.

In his TV interview Mr.Cox says they took a wrong turn, but he never mentions having a compass or a map.

Does anyone know if they carried these two essentials?


cb

Trouble is, if there was white out conditions like they said then there wouldn't be any reference points to use.

Also trying also to hold a map and read it in high winds would have been a challange.

Jack Waldron
03-31-2004, 04:57 PM
Whether they had a map and compass is very relevant. I haven't seen any public information stating whether they did carry map and compass.

When they were disoriented on the summit searching for the Greenleaf trail, a compass reading would have told them pretty quickly that the cairns they were following were leading them north not west toward Greenleaf. Under the prevailing conditions it may have taken them 45-60 minutes or longer to reach the Skookumchuck junction and realize they were on the wrong trail and apparently lost.

Once they had retreated to the snowcave a map and headlamp should have allowed them to identify the junction they had found as the Skookumchuck junction. Knowing their location, they could plan their next move intelligently.

There is no evidence they used a compass but they may have used a map in the snowcave. We just don't know.

afka_bob
03-31-2004, 09:26 PM
Originally posted by Peter Miller
To express the outlooks on these message boards that I sometimes do is to be perceived as "critical", "Monday morning quarterback", etc....

One wishes that contemporary hikers shared ...White Man foolishness.
Which "White Man"?


The old Natives would have woven the deaths of Holmes, Jaytrek, and Cox into their teaching legends. Where are today's storytellers, where are those with the capacity to hear? Instead, we have bulletin boards, and this is called progress.
Well, this is a sort of learning process to those who would, uh, hear, I think. And up-to-the-minute weather reports are kinda nice -- might even have saved some lives. I'd call that progress. Gore-Tex, too. And Polar Fleece.

A certain amount of, uh, "White Man" (and other) non-foolishness is practiced by most hikers I know and see on the trails. Certainly, things can happen that can't be prepared for, but all of these cases mentioned involved taking substantial risks and not taking certain substantial precautions and cautions.

Don't hike alone. Take enough clothes and food to stay warm overnight, even on a day hike. Bring at least one sleeping bag in the group. Leave an itinerary. Map, compass for each person. Talk about bail-out routes ahead of time and modify as needed enroute. Don't depend on cell phones.

As far as legends go, I'm legendary among my group for being the first to say "let's go home."

I don't mean to speak harshly of any of these victims -- I wasn't there (though I have been in many of these same places in many seasons and conditions) -- but to just say, hey, it happens could cost more lives someday.

ChrisB
04-01-2004, 07:48 AM
I was thinking of the map and compass issue in terms of liability.

I believe other parties who failed to carry these items and subsequently got lost have been tagged for rescue costs.

I know the Cox party did not have to pay for the cost of rescue, so one would assume that they carried these essentials, yet no mention is ever made of them.

cb

dave.m
04-01-2004, 09:29 AM
Originally posted by afka_bob

As far as legends go, I'm legendary among my group for being the first to say "let's go home."

What? You don't like lightening?

Cool to "see" you!!

I've been reflecting a lot on this, for obvious reasons. I've been thinking particularly about the time in '99 when you and I ran the Lafayette ridge on a sunny Feb day with Salzer. I've also been thinking about the time when Jimmie and I pressed on to the summit of Adams in poor conditions and another time when maohai, Laurie and I summited Adam in white out conditions. I've also been thinking about bivy gear for xc skiing trips (or the lack there of).

While I can look at some of the things that we did correctly in all of these settings, I can find things that give me real pause in all of them. When we ran the ridge with Salzer, his boots weren't really up to the task and we only had bivy gear for 1 injured person. While I feel like I know the north slopes of Adams like my backyard, I wonder if familiarity has bred contempt?

I still struggle with some basic questions that I've not been able to answer in the midst of all this discussion.

* When do you decide to turn around and not proceed up?

* How much bivy gear is enough? How much is too much?

* How should you respond when hypothermic and exposed?

CaptCaper
04-01-2004, 10:49 AM
We probably won't get an all for one answer on any of those three points. It must be that every hike and person involved has a different set of circumstances.

Everyone has to find his own answers for a given time.

In the case of the Cox's I find that the second hand reports to be vague and confusing at times to draw any conclusions or give any answers.