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Thread: Thursday June 13th 2019 " A Rough day up on the Rock Pile"

  1. #31
    Senior Member sierra's Avatar
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    I do find it annoying that people think that he was reckless just because he's 80. A 40 year-old could have made the same mistake. Unless there is evidence of reduced mental faculties, then it's not a useful generalization; it's just a way for people to build a narrative that matches up with their own biases.[/QUOTE]

    I agree, I do not think age was factor, we both could be wrong. He was obviously a casual hiker, like 90% of the hikers out there. Climbing mountains has always fascinated me, in the sense that it is a fairly complex endeavor. To the average hiker it is not, it's a walk in the woods to have some fun. There lies the rub. Casual hikers have a weak skillset. They can walk and they can follow most trails, that might be it in most cases. Weather, terrain, food, water, objective dangers, wildlife, injuries, these all require proper education. Many simply do not have it. Unlike many other pursuits, mountain climbing can actually kill you. The board up in the summit building is long with people that found this out the hard way. People like to analyze these rescues to find out what went wrong, I do too. But at the end of the day, regardless of the specific reason or reasons. It boils down to not being skillful enough. Even avid hikers in a lot of cases are really not that educated, they just get lucky nothing bad happens. I've come upon 3 scenarios in my years that were dire. In all three, the group was standing there like a deer in the headlights, no idea how to remedy their situation. Mountain climbing is like any career to me. The more education you get, the more successful you will be. Fail to educate yourself, one day you will get unlucky and you might not see a paved road again. Many on this site are well educated in mountain climbing, it makes it a nice place to talk about stuff. I had to leave all the 4k pages. A bunch of people who think they know what's going on, but if you analyze their augments, its obvious they don't. The old man bless his heart made many mistakes not just one or two. He's damn lucky he might see 81. If I was his family, I'd find him a safer hobby for his golden years.

  2. #32
    Senior Member TEO's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by DayTrip View Post
    And that makes me wonder even more. A seasoned and experienced hiker only 30 minutes into the day got into such bad trouble he had to be rescued? I got the impression he was rescued where they split up because he underestimated the difficulty of the trail and was cold and tired but they also indicated that he was carried out to Auto Road so I presume he went up Lion Head to treeline somewhere after they split up. Did I miss a piece of info? If it was only 30 minutes into day it seems much more plausible that Clark was perfectly fine when he told kids to go on ahead, which makes then decision seem perfectly normal. I need to go back and reread the article again.
    Based on his quotes in the Union Leader article he was not in bad trouble 30 minutes into the hike, he was simply moving more slowly than his grandchildren, and didn't want to hold them up.

    From the article:

    ". . . Clark said he thought he and his grandsons had planned well for the trip, mapping out their routes and coordinating a spot to meet should they miss connecting on the trails.

    "'We planned for that,' Clark said. 'It would be quicker and they would know where I was all the way up.'"

  3. #33
    Senior Member dave.m's Avatar
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    I've always thought its appropriate for the climbing/hiking/skiing community to discuss these events so we can all collectively think through our risk decisions. Questioning things isn't the same as blaming the victim - although that can happen.

    Stepping back for some perspective, I think we might do well to consider some framing questions, which I offer or somewhat rhetorically.

    1) Is it morally acceptable for a person to go into a wild place despite its mortal risks? Does the morality of this change when doing so is likely to invoke a rescue that would likely put the rescuers at risk?

    2) Does society have a moral obligation to send rescuers after risk takers who willfully and intentionally take on risk? Does this change when conditions are such that the rescuers might face mortal risk themselves? Does this change when the risk taker does or doesn't adequately understand the risk they are assuming?

    3) How should society fund rescue? Is this a "goods and services" sort of thing that should be provided by a free market solution on a fee for service basis? Or is this a social service to be funded out of commonized taxation?

    4) Do land managers have a moral or legal obligation to alert visitors of the land that they may face mortal consequences in a manner similar to the legal concept of an "attractive nuisance"? Are posted signs sufficient or are barriers of some sort required?

    5) Do land managers have a moral responsibility (to the land and/or future users) to protect the land from over use?

    IMO, the WMNF is long, long overdue for a permitting system for trailhead access. Permitting systems are excellent ways to control visitor volume, encourage better distribution of use, and to educate. The number of these incidents seems to me to be an indication of a "freedom of the hills" and "live free or die" type of mentality run amok. The trails, campsites and parking lots are overrun and people wander up the mountain utterly ill equipped.

    Also IMO, it's morally wrong to treat rescue as a goods and service on fee for service basis. I'm somewhat callus and rejecting of the line of argument that the cost of rescue should be either socialized or privatized based on a judgement of whether or not the victim was using good judgement. Either we as a society rescue travelers in wild places or we don't. We can never really sort out the just from the unjust climber as this thread demonstrates.

    Diving back into the weeds... the age of victim is certainly a factor in the decision to split the party or to even attempt the hike. Really anybody trained in managing risk in the backcountry on behalf of a group would recognize that population demographic as being more likely to run into trouble. On average, an 80 year old body is different than a 50 year old body is different than a 20 year old body. The margins are thinner.
    - Dave (a.k.a. pinnah)

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  4. #34
    Senior Member iAmKrzys's Avatar
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    After reading Union Leader article I don't have any issues related to family separating (intentional at the urging of grandfather) or Mr. Clark's age (hiking daily 20 miles probably keeps him in better shape than most hikers going up Mt. Washington.) I do wonder however about three things:
    1. Why did Mr. Clark not turn around to descend below tree line if things were not going well? Was his judgement affected by hypothermia until it was too late?
    2. Why didn't he carry a cellphone? If he were able to communicate with his grandsons this might have been a non-event. Before I get flamed for advocating over-reliance on technology let me just say that I believe that many close calls are avoided because of cell phone use and we just don't get to read about them. Also a cell phone by itself is not a substitute for proper preparation for each hike but only a useful addition to one's survival strategy where service is available.
    3. According to the article he did not have a flash light. Apart from accidental omission this would be a sign of poor planning and perhaps insufficient mountain hiking experience.

  5. #35
    Senior Member Grey J's Avatar
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    "3 is an ideal party size in bad weather"


    I see your point regarding safety in redundancy but one could also argue that it triples the chances for something to go wrong.
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  6. #36
    Senior Member DayTrip's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by TEO View Post
    Based on his quotes in the Union Leader article he was not in bad trouble 30 minutes into the hike, he was simply moving more slowly than his grandchildren, and didn't want to hold them up.

    From the article:

    ". . . Clark said he thought he and his grandsons had planned well for the trip, mapping out their routes and coordinating a spot to meet should they miss connecting on the trails.

    "'We planned for that,' Clark said. 'It would be quicker and they would know where I was all the way up.'"
    Yes I went back and reread. I misunderstood the 30 minute detail in my original reading. It makes me feel much better about the kids decision to go on ahead at grandfather's urging. That would have been back in the trees without a full look at the weather, the trail hadn't become challenging yet and the grandfather likely did not seem weak and distressed at that point.

    As I've mentioned in my original comments, even with my misread, I don't think being 80 or splitting the group in itself was necessarily wrong or negligent. Without knowing what kind of gear the kids had I still question their choice to go on to summit once they saw the weather at treeline. If the grandfather didn't have the right gear I suspect the grand kids didn't either. The grandfather clearly made a lot of bad choices and pushed himself to far when he knew he was probably making a mistake. I don't find this situation to be negligent though as defined by the state for billable purposes. I think most reasonable people in this scenario would have made very similar choices and the majority of them would have probably made it back down without incident. I think the press sensationalized the incident focusing on Clark's age and the fact that young kids "abandoned him" on the mountain. I doubt most people saw the follow up articles and passed judgement without much information.
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  7. #37
    Senior Member Raven's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Grey J View Post
    "3 is an ideal party size in bad weather"


    I see your point regarding safety in redundancy but one could also argue that it triples the chances for something to go wrong.

    "One man alone can be pretty dumb sometimes, but for real bona fide stupidity, ain't nothing beats teamwork ". Ed Abbey
    Humankind has not woven the web of life.
    We are but one thread within it.
    Whatever we do to the web, we do to ourselves.
    All things are bound together.
    All things connect.
    ~ Chief Seattle, 1854 ~

  8. #38
    Senior Member dave.m's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by DayTrip View Post
    As I've mentioned in my original comments, even with my misread, I don't think being 80 or splitting the group in itself was necessarily wrong or negligent. Without knowing what kind of gear the kids had I still question their choice to go on to summit once they saw the weather at treeline. If the grandfather didn't have the right gear I suspect the grand kids didn't either. The grandfather clearly made a lot of bad choices and pushed himself to far when he knew he was probably making a mistake. I don't find this situation to be negligent though as defined by the state for billable purposes. I think most reasonable people in this scenario would have made very similar choices and the majority of them would have probably made it back down without incident. I think the press sensationalized the incident focusing on Clark's age and the fact that young kids "abandoned him" on the mountain. I doubt most people saw the follow up articles and passed judgement without much information.
    We hiked with our kids a lot. Both participated in the outdoor programs at their colleges. One went on to be a trip leader and got her WFR. The other does trail work. My kids aren't mountain rock stars but they didn't just fall off the back of the turnip truck either.

    I may be guilty of youthism in saying this but there are very few 19 year olds who I would entrust a 14 year old in bad weather on Mt Washington. Nothing against my kids, but I wouldn't have trusted either of my kids at 19 in that situation. And they've each summited multiple peaks in the Presis and both had done a traverse up there long that age.

    Maybe this 19 year old had sufficient training and experience to take care of a 14 year old up. I hope so. It would be pretty remarkable though.

    Regarding the victims age... Walking 20 miles a few time a week in central Ohio is impressive. But, I grew up very close to that and it's not that impressive. It's not dead flat like up my Lima but it's pretty flat and on it's own wouldn't strengthen the proprioceptors and support muscles that give us good "trail legs". I think this is something that those of us who work out in gyms and on the road regularly and then go hiking understand well.

    If this story had been repeated and everything was the same except the victim's age was changed to 50, I think those of in the hiking community would correctly point out that walking, while providing a great base for hiking, isn't the same has hiking the high peaks in the northeast. And hiking 3 high peaks in a few day's time is asking a lot in terms in terms of recovery. If his age was 50 and not 80, we would correctly conclude that he probably bit off more than his body could handle in terms of recovery time and a lack of deep trail fitness. Most of us have been there.

    Muscle mass and recovery issues are more profound in 80 year olds than they are in 50 year olds. That's not agism. The same thing is true comparing 50 year olds to 20 year olds?

    Age is definitely an issue here and walking 20 miles several times a week in central Ohio, while noteworthy, isn't enough to make age not an issue, particularly on the 3rd hike in a several day window. IMO.
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  9. #39
    Senior Member Raven's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Grey J View Post
    "3 is an ideal party size in bad weather"


    I see your point regarding safety in redundancy but one could also argue that it triples the chances for something to go wrong.

    "One man alone can be pretty dumb sometimes, but for real bona fide stupidity, ain't nothing beats teamwork ". Ed Abbey
    Humankind has not woven the web of life.
    We are but one thread within it.
    Whatever we do to the web, we do to ourselves.
    All things are bound together.
    All things connect.
    ~ Chief Seattle, 1854 ~

  10. #40
    Senior Member dave.m's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Grey J View Post
    "3 is an ideal party size in bad weather"


    I see your point regarding safety in redundancy but one could also argue that it triples the chances for something to go wrong.
    Yes. In classic risk terms, increasing the group size increases the threat (chance of something going wrong) while decreasing the impact (the consequence).

    I've encountered the recommendation of a party size of 3 in several sources. Can't remember. The general line of thinking is this allows for the ability of 1 person to stay with an incapacitated victim while the other goes for help. It's worth noting that this rule of thumb comes from "back in the day" before the availability of cell phones, sat phones or PLBs.

    I think solo travel in hypothermic conditions is particularly risky. One of the pernicious things about early hypothermia is the clouding of judgement and the erosion of will. I've seen it a few times and have been on the other side of it (altitude and exhaustion). Groups of 3 can help monitor the well being of others in the party and can help make better decisions when operating at the margins. They can also be worse depending on the experience of the party.

    The victim in this situation transitioned from fine to fetal position. That doesn't just happen. It happens in stages and a team of 2 or 3 who know the signs to watch for would have seen the early stages and could have made better decisions on behalf of the victim even as his decision making and will were diminishing. (Aside: it's not clear to me that the kids would have had the training, skill or equipment to respond to recognize or respond to early stage hypothermia and if they didn't, that would be an indication that the party was in over their head relative to the conditions.)

    Perhaps I'm old school. But IMO, splitting up contributed to this outcome.
    Last edited by dave.m; 06-20-2019 at 07:07 AM.
    - Dave (a.k.a. pinnah)

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  11. #41
    Senior Member TEO's Avatar
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    Dave.m, all of your points are good. I would agree that they made at least a couple of errors, which as we often see in analysis of rescues and recoveries, compound. My problem is the first the notion that they would be charged with negligence, and be fined for their rescue. The State of New Hampshire seems to think that if you make any mistake while recreating in the outdoors, you are negligent, and should be fined. Furthermore, this decision is made by an individual, which as this case and others have shown, seem to lack an awareness of reality.

    Secondly, it is disappointing that the public—including VFTTers—excoriates the hikers with little knowledge of the situation, while making huge assumptions, and a seemingly no awareness of their own fallibility.

  12. #42
    Senior Member dave.m's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by TEO View Post
    Dave.m, all of your points are good. The State of New Hampshire seems to think that if you make any mistake while recreating in the outdoors, you are negligent, and should be fined. Furthermore, this decision is made by an individual, which as this case and others have shown, seem to lack an awareness of reality.

    Secondly, it is disappointing that the public—including VFTTers—excoriates the hikers with little knowledge of the situation, while making huge assumptions, and a seemingly no awareness of their own fallibility.
    My sense of this, and I could be very wrong on this, is that New Hampshire's position on this is reflective of the state's politics, which leans towards low taxation and fee for services. I also sense that New Hampshire is responding politically against the USFS's land management policies in the Whites, which one could argue they are operating as an attractive nuisance.

    Recall, in many locations you can't just drop an in ground pool in your backyard. You generally have to have a fence enclosure around it to prevent small children from falling in unattended and drowning - an attractive nuisance.

    Many places in the US have gone to permitting systems to control crowds and provide a mechanism for educating users of the hazards they face. The USFS should do the same in the same in the Whites IMO but doesn't, I suspect, because of local input on their land management policies which again are rooted in NH political biases. Live, Freeze and Die, as the joke says.

    These discussions are alway perilous. I still recall the discussion of Haas/Tinkham on usenet back in the day. I think we, as humans, are always engaging in some level of risk denial and these discussions are a part of that.

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  13. #43
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    The reality is a permitting solution is not going to work as there are two privately owned strips of land to the summit that could not be regulated as they are owned by private parties. Put in a permit system to limit use on the WMNF land and I expect at least one of those private land owners would respond with a permit free pay to hike option. The cog has already instituted the day use pass for accessing their property last winter.

    The WMNF long ago reduced its overall staff, district ranger stations and backcountry staff well below the point where they could manage a permit system. Few folks even realize that the headquarters is hidden away off a low use exit in Campton. As it is the remaining ranger stations front desk are generally staffed by volunteers that are selected for their ability to show up and work for free or summer staff who are usually bright eyed college kids without a lot of hiking knowledge of the area. If the front desk person is lucky there may be some paid staff hiding out back trying to get paperwork done that they can call. Pinkham Notch and the Highland center is not much better, there are no paid experts to assist in hiker education, if someone does have questions the sales staff who are selected on their ability to survive on low wages and a long daily commute generally ask around the staff that is working and hope they find someone who incidentally has some knowledge that may or may not be useful. They are nice people trying to make a buck but their job is to sell stuff the hordes of tourists.

  14. #44
    Senior Member DayTrip's Avatar
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    I'd hate to see a permit system. And as peakbagger notes there really is no staff to support much of anything right now anyway without some big staffing changes. You're not supposed to camp above treeline or in restricted areas but there are plenty of very obvious, well used camp sites in all of these areas with big camp fire pits, etc. I wouldn't think they'd wear out as thoroughly as they have if these areas were being patrolled sufficiently enough to prevent use. (I've noticed this too in the Catskills with many, many spots right on top of summits above 3500' despite the "No Camping Above 3500 Ft" signs prominently posted on every trail. I'm not up to speed on staffing in NY so I can't comment on ranger staffing,etc).

    I'd imagine even with permitting many people would just go hiking anyway without a permit and chance not being caught, or like many other things in NH, people wouldn't realize they need it in the first place. There are just too many convenient access points off major roads to get in the woods and access trails. It's not like Baxter or other spots where the location is far more remote and the effort to get in and bypass the gates is more significant (not too mention the longer ride from major metro areas like Boston which is already a deterrent).
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  15. #45
    Senior Member dave.m's Avatar
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    Peakbagger,

    I largely agree with you. My understanding is that the reduction of force in the WMNF largely coincided with the larger federal austerity measures that took place under Bush along the same time as the introduction of the parking fee program. As is typical with many austerity cuts, the goal is less about balancing a budget and more about trying to move state/federal run programs to private enterprise for-profit management. Documents that circulated at the time showed that the real goal of Bush USFS was to move the public towards accepting a "fee for service" way of thinking about the USFS, along with privatizing many management aspects. Which is to say that underfunding and understaffing is a feature, not a bug of the austerity measures. The goal is to force federal infrastructure into failure so that private industry can save it. A properly funded USFS could certainly manage a permitting system.

    I do disagree a bit about the issue of the private property access issues of the toll road and cog. This is no different than public road access to trailheads. The permits apply to and are enforced on USFS land. No permit would be required for people to ride up to the summit (assuming there is an easement). But leaving the private lands on the summit should require a permit. IMO.
    - Dave (a.k.a. pinnah)

    " Power corrupts. Absolute power is kind of neat." - John Lehman, US Secretary of the Navy 1981-1987

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