Mt Whitney fatality 20150916?

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1Oldman

Trad climber
NM
Topic Author's Original Post - Sep 19, 2015 - 11:05am PT
Is there any information on the fatality on Mt. Whitney this week? I presume it involed the party on the East Face route just before the flash snow storn hit Monday afternoon. We arrived at Iceberg Lk. just before the storm blew in. Snow blew horizontal for a couple of hours and accummulated to about 4 inches in protected areas. The mountain was obscured by clouds most of the next morning. I understand the party bivouacked Monday night, attempted to get off Tuesday, became disoriented and were forced into a second bivy Tuesday night Temperatures dropped and the wind howled all night Tuesday. Furthermore, I understand that that victim expired just as a group of climbers undertook action to assist their fellow climbers off the mountain. Certainly, without their assistance the other two members of the party would likely have expired as well. I would like to nominate the rescuers for AAC's David A. Sowles award. Condolences to the surviving party members and the victim's family.
Jon Beck

Trad climber
Oceanside
Sep 19, 2015 - 11:09am PT
My condolences, so tragic that help was almost there. Not hard to see how you could get caught off guard with the weather we have been seeing lately. I read somewhere that September is the deadliest month for weather in the mountains.
CCT

Trad climber
Sep 19, 2015 - 01:26pm PT
I can't find any news reports about this. Anyone got more info?

There is some cell phone service in that area, and shouting would likely have been heard by the parties below. A 2-night bivy plus a death seems really extreme.
Cragman

Trad climber
Mammoth Lakes, California....via the Damascus Road
Sep 19, 2015 - 01:32pm PT
Once the S.O. report is complete and all family members of the deceased have been notified, the Sheriff will do a press release.
CCT

Trad climber
Sep 19, 2015 - 01:39pm PT
Wow. So this actually happened. My condolences to everyone involved.

I have always thought of Mt. Whitney as a relatively safe place for people to learn alpine skills. Cell phone access, easy routes, other parties nearby, well-trained SAR.

This is a good reminder that the mountains always deserve our respect.
1Oldman

Trad climber
NM
Topic Author's Reply - Sep 19, 2015 - 03:11pm PT
Cragman - where would one anticipate finding the report once it is released?
The Chief

climber
Down the hill & across the Valley from......
Sep 19, 2015 - 03:18pm PT
CCT

Trad climber

Sep 19, 2015 - 01:26pm PT

There is some cell phone service in that area, and shouting would likely have been heard by the parties below. A 2-night bivy plus a death seems really extreme.

Minimal to Zero Cell Service on the actual EF.

"Shouting"?? Have you actually ever been on the EF of Whitney when the wind is howling (40-70+mph's) and it's shetty ass conditions?

Sorry but this prevailing complacent mindset is precisely why in the past ten years Whitney has claimed over 20 lives and injured many dozens requiring SAR extractions.


FWIW: 4th July 2012 is another reminder of the complacent mindset that many these days have of Whitney and the others summits in the area. Heavy TSer's, which were NEVER in the local NWS forecast, came in and remained for three days and trapped over 78 people on the hill. Several portions of the Main Trail were completely washed out/away and Inyo SAR, China Lake SAR, NANG Chinooks and CHP Eurocopters were busy mofo's the ensuing five days plucking many of them folks from the area. Thankfully I bailed with my two clients from LBSL just after we nearly got nailed by a bolt of lightning that struck no more than 50 yards from us as it all began around 11am and got down to the PL just in time. The NFLP creek crossing just below the E-Ledges was a full on 50' wide waterfall that we actually walked under. It was the worse TS conditions I ever saw up on the hill.

Also, if a party has NEVER descended the northeast side of Whitney (Summit Hut to the MR to Iceberg Lake) before, it can be a nightmare to do so in any weather event as visibility is shetty at best and not knowing where to initiate the final 400 gully or the NF descent can be more fatal than remaining on the summit. Three people have died trying to do so the past decade. The same goes for the Main Trail. Not knowing where to initiate the walk off from the Hut can lead to getting cliffed out on the west side of the summit etc.

Condolences to the family and friends.....
CCT

Trad climber
Sep 19, 2015 - 04:32pm PT
Chief, I agree with you. Whitney presents an illusion of relative safety. When things like this happen, that bubble gets burst. When I first started doing high sierra routes, I could easily see myself in their shoes, heading up under slightly dicey conditions, or not making the decision to retreat fast enough, because of lack of knowledge and also because having so many other people around makes it feel safer than it would otherwise.

This is a terrible tragedy. It could have been me a few years ago. Heck, maybe it could still be me today. That's why it's so eye-opening.
T Hocking

Trad climber
Redding, Ca
Sep 19, 2015 - 04:37pm PT
RIP and Condolences to family and friends.
Cragman

Trad climber
Mammoth Lakes, California....via the Damascus Road
Sep 19, 2015 - 04:44pm PT
1Oldman.....you can check the website for Inyo County Sheriff...I suspect it will come out on Monday though.
The Chief

climber
Down the hill & across the Valley from......
Sep 19, 2015 - 08:03pm PT
Burch...

Flash flood came down just as we were coming out of the lower E-Ledges. Water was poring down all the walls in the lower section of NFLP Creek below LBSL. The shet happened faster than I could have ever imagined it would. Had no choice but to move fast... really fast once we got to the crossing. It was pretty gnarly.

In hindsight I would have considered taken that route if I ever thought it would have gotten as bad as it did. My primary concern was the lightning and getting out of the completely open and very vulnerable area between LBSL and UBSL.

Word after the fact was over 6.3 inches of rain fell from 11am through 5pm the following day.
phylp

Trad climber
Upland, CA
Sep 19, 2015 - 08:10pm PT
That is an astonishing amount of water in that time frame.
Fudgefudge

Sport climber
NM
Sep 19, 2015 - 08:25pm PT
Several of us were camped at Iceberg Lake over this period and we never heard any shouting or whistles. We saw them start the climb, but after the storm rolled in, we could never spot them on the rock. Keep in mind, there were low clouds, and lots of wind and rain noises. My partner and I started the East Buttress climb a few hours before these guys and we just made it back to camp when the real snow started falling. We all had no idea where the three were. All of us were concerned and I have FULL FAITH that we would have tried to attempt a rescue had we known that they were in need. Perhaps we might have been able to hear whistles blowing an SOS, but I really don't know. We could hardly hear shouting between campsites over the storm.
My deepest condolences to those involved.
MikeL

Social climber
Seattle, WA
Sep 19, 2015 - 09:40pm PT
My sincerest condolences.
rottingjohnny

Sport climber
Shetville , North of Los Angeles
Sep 20, 2015 - 08:47am PT
The East Face is not a good place to be in a storm and i imagine having snow-covered lower 5th class rock would be slow going...I remember a story about Chuck Wilts having bad luck whenever he attempted doing that route because of bad weather...
StahlBro

Trad climber
San Diego, CA
Sep 20, 2015 - 09:34am PT
Very sad. Condolences to everyone involved.

I have been caught in a storm on the east face. It can be pretty brutal. When we started it was beautiful, but clouds quickly started developing below us, and once we were above the Shakey Leg, we were enveloped. We only had one jacket because we were going light. The other two were in T-shirts. Poor planning.
It started snowing hard when we hit the granite staircase, and route finding became serious business in the whiteout. The belayer used the jacket while the leader poked around and the third just sat there and shivered. We had a hell of time communicating, and had to actually us rope tug signals at one point.

When we finally topped out we were borderline with hypothermia and passing the jacket around. When we found the hut there was a bunch of boy scouts there, and we must have looked like sh*t because they started backing away when they saw us.

Managed to get down the mountaineers route without trundling on each other, but it was dicey.

Never take anything for granted. Things can get bad in a hurry.

Stay safe everyone.
CCT

Trad climber
Sep 20, 2015 - 10:07am PT
It's shocking just how fast the weather can change up there.

Last year I got caught in a monsoon rainstorm hiking on White Mountain. In half an hour, it went from beautiful to freezing cold rain and hail. We had our jackets, but other parties were in shorts and t-shirt, some with young kids. The storm was not in the forecast at all, and it happened unusually early, around 9am. I can't imagine what that would have been like under more technical conditions. And it sounds like the weather on Whitney was even worse.

Stay safe out there, everyone.

@fudgefudge: It was obviously a really tough situation. You did the best you could with the limited information that you had. That's all any of us can do.
Reilly

Mountain climber
The Other Monrovia- CA
Sep 20, 2015 - 10:18am PT
So, RJ, you sayin' I wasn't too bright to head up the E Face wearing only painter pants, a
cotton T-shirt, and a cotton wind shell?
rottingjohnny

Sport climber
Shetville , North of Los Angeles
Sep 20, 2015 - 10:30am PT
Reilly...Beings that you were probably on top before lunch , i would say no...When i did it with 2 friends , i missed the fresh air traverse and followed these more interesting vertical cracks...Shaky legs..? Being rookies and not wearing painters pants , it took us 12 hours...
High Fructose Corn Spirit

Gym climber
Sep 20, 2015 - 10:51am PT
So just how cold did it get mon and tues nights, anyone know the numbers?
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