View Full Version : Mountain sense and the learning curve

02-16-2008, 10:36 AM
I'll refrain from referring to the latest tradgedy ( out of respect for the hikers) to make my point. First off, you may discuss training, signs, classes, insurance, web sites and experience in all epics events and they all have their place, but at the end of the day commen sense and sound judgement are what means the difference between a bad day in the mountains and a tragic one.
We all start out as beginners, there is no way to start out with all the usefull knowledge and equipment we all throw out there after a tradgedy. So what gets you past the point of vulnarabilty to the point of a well versed mounatin climber? your judgement, period. I have turned around so many times in adverse conditions in the last 25 years, I couldnt even guess the number.
When teaching inexperiened hikers and climbers through my years, I have always tried to explain that a mountain is a funny thing, it has none of the fine qualities we humans do, ie.. remorse, tolerance and a willingness to cut some slack. When the weather turns bad, it does not matter if you forgot your compass , not familier with navigating in a whiteout? to bad, the sun went down to fast? doesnt matter, nature will envolope you with crulety at any time.
The list of deaths hanging in the Sherman Adams building if anything is a testament to the above, young woman, old men, strong tough men, they have all at some point been beat by the mountain and the mountains to thier credit dont know or care. The most important piece of advice you can hash over at any tragic event is, at what point did poor judgement take over.
There are also times where fate as crueling as it may be, just dictates the outcome of your time here. Avalanches on a low warning day, a storm front envelopeing you when clear weather was garanteed, rock fall, a simple twist of the ankle in the wrong spot. I believe in fate, Ive survived in some cases ie. buried in a avalanche, showered in rockfall, and a broken leg 12 miles and 2 major peaks from the road alone by shear luck, Im just me, Im not that good, not to get to wierd but I believe its my god protecting me ( to each his or her own on that subject).
The mountains are the most beautifull place to be for me and many others, but make no mistake, its not bowling, winter climbing is dangerous and the cost for those vistas can be high.
Use your heads out there, you cant beat a mountain and no mountain is worth dieing for, its not romantic to die in the mountains. When given the chance to teach or advise people, knowing when to say when, might be the best lesson you can offer.
God bless and be safe.

02-16-2008, 11:41 AM
..... but at the end of the day commen sense and sound judgement are what means the difference between a bad day in the mountains and a tragic one.

I agree with your entire post but this part is the whole story in a nutshell; not just for Mountaineering but life in general. Unfortunately IMO good common sense..I mean "REAL GOOD" common sense is something you have or not. Yes it can be learned but only to a degree. Therefore again IMO no matter what society does to educate and experienciate we will always have people venturing forward into the Mountains and other difficult areas of life with tragic results. On the other hand that does not mean that we should not do anything to facilitate a higher level of common sense but it must be accepted that there is a limitatioin to that facilitation.

02-16-2008, 03:04 PM
Sierra- I think that you give people too much credit. ;) BUT I agree with most of what you have written.

When I was starting out-and by all definitions I am still a beginner- but when I was a rank neophyt- I read alot; journals and magazines, "how to" books and I listened to what other, more experienced people had to say. Then I decided things on for own. Like where I wanted to hike and how. And I agreed to live and maybe die (hopefully no time soon), with those decisions.

While I am not a fan of monday morning quarter-backing, and we will never know all the details of a particular incident, It is still important to look at what we can and learn from it.

It should always be upper most in our minds to be humble when we go to the mountains and recognize that we are under there thrall.

02-16-2008, 05:10 PM
I'm with Woodstrider on this subject. I think I reduced my learning curve by reading everything I could find on the subjects of hiking, climbing, camping and navigating. There is no substitute for experience, but the knowledge gained from extensive reading can certainly complement that experience. I continue to read and learn as much as I can.

02-17-2008, 09:37 AM
I agree that common sense is important and along with that goes humility. I know some hikers who believe that because they are superior athletes and because they are experienced and because they have good gear they can take anything that nature dishes out. And to suggest otherwise is an affront.

My hero in this regard is Ed Viesturs, the first American to climb all of the world's 8000 meter peaks without oxygen. The last peak on his list was Annapurna and twice (in 2000 and 2002) he turned away within sight of the summit because he thought conditions were too dangerous. When you think of the time and money invested in an 8000 meter climb, that's amazing. He finally summited in 2005.

- Monadnock Volunteer (aka Steve)

... heading out the door to go for a hike!

02-17-2008, 09:50 AM
Great points, Sierra. It is always a tough thing learning a new hobby, and this one is made all the harder by the fact that a wrong decision can put you in a bad way real quick. I too reduced my learning curve by reading, joining sites like this one, and asking lots of questions. When you add the small experiences learned on the trail you build quickly enough of what you need to start you safely down the road to successful mountain travel. But I think even highly experienced folks can still make mistakes or miscues, however as long as we learn from those mistakes it is a benifit that will only make us stronger.


02-17-2008, 10:35 AM
Personally I consider some poor decision making skills and ignored common sense as 'summit fever' caused by completion lists, awards, scrolls and patches.

Have some forgotten to enjoy the journey, not the destination? There is no embarassment with turning around when you begin to feel uncomfortable with your ability, weather, surroundings, terrain or just not feeling 100%.

I agree with the AMC's reasoning for starting the list - to get people to explore areas outside the presidentials but do the extended and advanced lists descrease common sense and increase potential problems?

If there wasn't noteriety and recognition for completing such lists would the result be less SAR efforts and deaths?

02-17-2008, 10:51 AM
I don't know what the motivation of the most recent groups of people that have been in trouble were but they all had trouble on the most popular and accessible hikes/locations around. Rarely do you hear about trouble on Cabot. Its the obvious places such as Franconia Ridge and Mt Washington. IMO, the lists likely have nothing to do with this.

I think summit fever has as much to do with summiting to tick off a summit as it does the person's drive to want to succeed personally against better judgement, list or not. Again. IMO-

edit- But I do agree that grabbing another summit at times as opposed to taking it easy and enjoying is prevelant- but to each his own hike...

Mike P.
02-17-2008, 11:24 PM
I agree with Tuco, the last Cabot or Hale rescue was when? Without the list more traffic would be on Franconia Ridge & the Presidentials.

In my case since I set a date for a hike & head up on that date, I'll use the lists to pick alternatives if a planned above treeline hike looks to be treacherous that day. (hence the six Field & five South Carter visits)

Do lists & a society that is goal driven help drive a summit or die mentality? Maybe, thats one reason when I first started meeting people online to hike with, I was more interested in trips they turned back on then what they completed.

02-18-2008, 12:08 PM
Just a few random thoughts on this subject.
Most of the really intense situations occur above tree line where,if the conditions deteriorate quickly,your options,as well as your trail visibility,diminish quickly.
Dayhiking ,by the nature of it,has a higher risk element than overnight backpacking. Dayhikers in general,although I would exclude most VFTT dayhikers,rarely carry the equiptment to spend an unexpected night out in winter conditions. That said,what would seem to be a minor issue,like a twisted ankle,can rapidly become a life threatening situation.

Rescues on places like Cabot,are rare because these are peaks sought out by "peakbaggers",rather than casual,or novice hikers. If your serious about doing the NH48,you most likely associate with other doing the same,and your experience level increases fairly rapidly. The casual hikers are more likely drawn to the "name brand" peaks listed in the brochures and tourism web sites,i.e. Lafayette.

I never had to spend an unplanned night out in winter. I have spent many nights out,because that was our intention,and some of those nights might be described as life threatening(-15o,winds 30-40,or heavy snowfall)but I never felt I was in danger ,because I had planned to be where I was.
It just seems ironic that a planned night out in winter could be so much safer than a dayhike.
Mrs KD and I recently accompanied an AMC new winter campers trip to help out. It was enjoyable for us,because we got to share what we have learned over the past 10 years of winter camping,with the "newbies",hopefully shortening their learning curve. We didn't learn this way-we didn't know what resouces were available. It took lots of cold nights and trips to EMS to get it figured out. Fortunately,we did have a mentor in Dave April from EMS,who gave us a great start.
I guess it's natural to see others who get themselves in trouble and require assistance,and see the obvious errors they made. I think the memory of being vulnerable ourselves at some point in the past,fades quickly. Can you remember when ya didn't have a clue??

02-18-2008, 12:21 PM
Forgive me for sounding simplistic. But I have a personal rule that I always follow,and that is I never test Mother Nature, she'll always pass and I'll always fail.

Mike P.
02-18-2008, 11:51 PM
Here are three ways to work on increasing your mountain sense: (Somewhat preaching to the choir here, may post elsewhere too)

1.) Take a skills course: AMC & ADK offer these
2.) learn from others with years of experience, AMC Chapter Hikes, people here, local clubs like the Pioneer Valley group in MA, I believe theres a group in Manchester, NH also
3.) Go out locally at places you know, Bear (CT), Greylock, Monadnock, Grace, Race, etc can give you a taste of what to expect as far as wind & cold (I recall one cold winter day hiding behind the Race Summit to get out of the wind) A couple don't really have navigation issues but Monadnock can get you twisted around, ice covered rocks can look very similar.