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Thread: Self Rescue on Downe's Brook

  1. #1
    Senior Member ChrisB's Avatar
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    Self Rescue on Downe's Brook

    Solo hiker. Story is here.

    He did most things right, but SARS had to respond anyway.

    What would you have done differently?
    Nobody told me there'd be days like these
    Strange days indeed -- most peculiar, mama
    .

  2. #2
    Senior Member TCD's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by ChrisB View Post
    What would you have done differently?
    Easy quiz:

    1. Planned better, explained to my family that I might decide to stay overnight, rather than automatically triggering a rescue call at 9PM. (Especially since he had obviously (and wisely) packed overnight gear.)

    2. Not planned to bring out SAR during the night, when there is much less chance of finding the person, and a much greater chance of a SAR injury. "Failing to plan is planning to fail."

    3. Carried my Garmin InReach, and sent an "All OK" message at 9 PM to avert the SAR call out.

    This is not hard.

  3. #3
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    The upper Downe's Brook Trail holds snow very late in the spring . Due to its orientation the sun just does not get to the upper sections and it really tends to build up a lot of snow. Gray Knob had 4' of snow at similar elevation and exposure last week and the weather has not been particularly warm with snow earlier in the week.

    There was no discussion about his equipment or capabilities. IMO the big question is did he just overestimate his ability to complete the hike as a day hike?.

    I agree with TCD that using a 9PM cut off for what was at least partially a planned possibility was bad planning on his part. Depending on a cell phone is not acceptable in the whites so that set him up to fail on not establishing clear communication with his fall back plan. I also questioned that he was unable to signal to the rescuers when they walked by twice. A headlamp usually works pretty well to signal another party. Most of the LED headlamps have a flash or color mode.
    Last edited by peakbagger; 05-16-2020 at 08:02 PM.

  4. #4
    Senior Member Raven's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by ChrisB View Post
    Solo hiker. Story is here.

    He did most things right, but SARS had to respond anyway.

    What would you have done differently?
    I never tell anyone to expect a call by a certain time. I do tell them I have everything I need. If I talk at all.

    Cell service is sporadic, phones die, and usually the only technology I take on a hike are flashlights. Three of them.

    He was apparently able to spend the night trail side unharmed. That's not a bad reflection on gear and his ability to stay warm and dry this time of year. But it seems he's not familiar with the Whites in April/May, especially given that area. 12 miles in those conditions in spring is super aggressive even for a hardened trail beast. We all learned that the same way I'm guessing.

    Had he not had the 9 PM obligated phone call he was unable to make due to reception, he was likely walking out on his own in the morning with no one called out on a rescue.

    He was relying on something that is unreliable.
    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 ~

  5. #5
    Senior Member DayTrip's Avatar
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    This one really resonates with me. Several years back I had an "incident" in this area doing a loop up Downes Brook, across the Sleepers to South Slide, the Tri's and down Pine Bend. It was fall and snow was expected at dinner time but I had planned to be out of the woods by then. This was "pre-technology" for me and my usual routine was to print a map for my wife, give her an expected out of the woods time and head out. The snow came in earlier than expected and by the time I reached the South Slide junction there was an inch of wet, slippery snow on everything. My pace slowed dramatically. I negotiated the slide slowly but safely but walking the ridge in spikes was producing massive snow balls on my feet. I couldn't go 20' without knocking chunks off. The descent down North Tri and that steep, rugged pitch where Pine Bend drops off the ridge to the valley were really slow going. It had got dark at that point and the snow had been replaced with a cold, steady rain at the lower elevations. About a mile down the Kanc an off duty SAR member passed me heading to Lincoln for dinner and gave me a ride back to my car.

    It was way beyond the 6PM out of woods time I had given my wife and that was all I could think of. I couldn't get cell service anywhere. As I dropped down the Kanc into Lincoln I caught cell service and my phone exploded with texts and voicemails. This was probably 9PM or so. Hearing a tearful voice mail from my wife imploring me to please call was a defining moment for me. When I finally reached her she had just called Fish and Game, gave the guy the run-down on my situation (experienced hiker, well prepared, my intinerary, etc) but she was able to call him right back before he had even gone out to his car.

    So after this I started carrying a PLB and shortly thereafter a SPOT (and now an inReach). And I don't give a "hard" time anymore. I usually just message from the trail head and provide periodic updates throughout the day. I'll send an "all clear" text when I'm back at the car. Inability to communicate, from both parties, can be very stressful. I knew I was OK on the trail but not being able to convey that to my wife was more stressful than the bad conditions. I think that stress can often lead to rushing and poor decision making. I think the more rigid the plan the more stress you pre-build into the day when things change or communication is not possible.
    NH 48 4k: 48/48; NH W48k: 48/48; ME 4k: 2/14; VT 4k: 1/5; ADK 46: 6/46; Cat 3.5k 10/35

  6. #6
    Moderator bikehikeskifish's Avatar
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    Find my iPhone works pretty well too. With spotty coverage, it's not real-time, but when it can connect, it updates, and you know when the last update was. And when you start driving, for sure it will have coverage so concerned people know you're on the way home.

    Tim
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    Quote Originally Posted by ChrisB View Post

    What would you have done differently?
    I've never hiked the Downes Brook trail, so the first thing I would have done is read the trail description in the AMC Guide. Hmmm, it says there's 10 brook crossings that may be difficult or impossible at high water. Second thing would be to read a report from someone who's been there recently. https://www.newenglandtrailcondition...?entryid=47319. Next, I would have planned an out-and-back hike rather than a loop that returns down the trail. I would have established a conservative turn-around time and would be prepared to return early if the brook crossings were too scary. But, because of the stay-at-home thing, I never would have been there to begin with.

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    Senior Member Mike P.'s Avatar
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    I think we are missing some details or he did a few things really wrong. He said if you did not hear from me by 9:00. I used to do that also and that involved leaving a good two or three hours of extra time. If you have a call time, you need to have a turnaround time. if doing a loop that means being past the 1/2 way point before 1/2 of your time.

    As others mentioned relying on a cell phone in a that area was unwise. As others said, looking at a map at the approach from the north on a wooded peak should have indicated that it would hold snow. They got a bunch last week. Snow and warm temps equal high water as jfb brings up and is described in the WMG.

    He saw rescue personal twice but they could not hear him over the water. Why didn't he signal them with his headlamp? Why is there no headlamp mentioned? I'm guessing he didn't have one.

    It reminds me of the Eagle Scout SAR in the Presidentials, in I believe 2009. The Scout injured his leg a little bit & should have turned around but pressed on for a while & then on a very warm April Day, descended into the GG and was trapped by highwater due to snowmelt. After a couple of days of the water not receding, he went back up onto the ridge and was walking back to Washington when they found him. While he did many things right, not knowing enough about his escape routes and what he might find on a real warm April with all that snow should have been planned for. I was just talking to my daughter about that rescue as she and I were hiking Bear Mt. that day. I wore a tank top as we had record warmth. Silly me, we had some leaves at home but there were none on the trees going up Bear. I got an ugly sunburn that day.
    Have fun & be safe
    Mike P.

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    Senior Member maineguy's Avatar
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    Whenever I read something like this, I am reminded of an article in the December 1995 issue of Appalachia entitled "Let em Die: The Case Against Search and Rescue". If you have access to back issues of the magazine, I encourage reading it. It is thought provoking, to say the least. I don't know if the author is still alive, but he used to live in Randolph, NH.

  10. #10
    Senior Member TCD's Avatar
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    Long ago before technology I would occasionally go on solo bushwhacks. Like others above, I relied on leaving a map with my wife, and sticking faithfully to my planned route.

    But regarding a return time:

    >I always carried what I needed to survive a night out;
    >I would only go solo in summer; surviving a night out in winter required carrying so much stuff that the bushwhacking was unpleasant with the big pack;
    >I ALWAYS emphasized that the time to call SAR was the next morning, not in the evening.

    If you are going to survive the night, there is no reason to have SAR folks out potentially getting injured wasting time trying to find you in the dark. In fact, in those days, many SAR groups would wait until morning to start searching, if it was summer and there was no indication of an emergent situation. So no point in calling out the cavalry at 9PM.

  11. #11
    Senior Member ChrisB's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by bikehikeskifish View Post
    Find my iPhone works pretty well too. With spotty coverage, it's not real-time, but when it can connect, it updates, and you know when the last update was. And when you start driving, for sure it will have coverage so concerned people know you're on the way home.

    Tim
    Ditto on iPhone, with Verizon as network.

    Often a text message will go through when signal strength will not support voice. Wonder if he tried a text?
    Nobody told me there'd be days like these
    Strange days indeed -- most peculiar, mama
    .

  12. #12
    Senior Member skiguy's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by maineguy View Post
    Whenever I read something like this, I am reminded of an article in the December 1995 issue of Appalachia entitled "Let em Die: The Case Against Search and Rescue". If you have access to back issues of the magazine, I encourage reading it. It is thought provoking, to say the least. I don't know if the author is still alive, but he used to live in Randolph, NH.
    Could not find the Appalachia article but here is one from ADK Explorer that resonates a different perspective. https://www.adirondackexplorer.org/o...cue-wilderness
    "I'm getting up and going to work everyday and I am stoked. That does not suck!"__Shane McConkey

  13. #13
    Senior Member skiguy's Avatar
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    To this gentleman’s credit he did self rescue eventually. What I would have done differently would have to chosen a trail on a southern slope with a whole lot less river crossings. This trail can also be very tricky in the late fall after the trees have shut down resulting in high water. Also short days with low light can lead to glazing on the rocks at the river crossings. Speaking from experience on the latter. Never forget doing that trail in November for the first time back in the early 80’s.
    Click image for larger version. 

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    "I'm getting up and going to work everyday and I am stoked. That does not suck!"__Shane McConkey

  14. #14
    Senior Member Grey J's Avatar
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    This story and the associated discussion has prompted me to revise the rather informal system I have with a friend who serves as my home-based monitor for lack of a better term. For years, if I'm hiking solo, I let him know where I'm going and what trails I'll be on. We're talking anyway so why not? I generally check in via phone or email the night before and then at some point when I return from a day hike both to give him the rundown and let him know that I'm safe and sound. We've never had an issue and he is not one to panic, but I like the idea of making it explicit that I would not want him calling out SAR until the following afternoon at the earliest. If I didn't make contact, he'd probably come looking for me himself. Eventually.
    "I am a pilgrim and a stranger"

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    My guess is fish and game is in quandary on this. They do not know the real level of experience of the hiker. Others in the past claimed to be properly equipped yet got in trouble due to lack of experience or possible hypothermia. Thus F&G has to err on the conservative side and do a HASTY search as soon as they are notified. They were notified about a lost hiker so they had to assume the worst and do the search. Yes it does burn up overtime and require personnel but its far less resource intensive than a litter carry the next day. If the hiker was capable and intended to stay out all night than he left the wrong instructions. IMHO the cell phone should not have been part of the rescue plan. Cell generally requires line of site and that side of the ridge is facing the Kanc and Pemi. The nearest cell tower is possibly servicing Attitash and expect its on the north face of the ridgeline.

    The net result is the hiker gets a bill for F&G overtime unless he has hike safe card. The bill is paid and hopefully someone learns something by publicizing it. Luckily ATV season has not yet started up north so the the limited resources of F&G does not need to be divided between hiker rescues and the near constant ATV accident calls that will start soon.

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