Mt Whitney fatality 20150916?

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FRUMY

Trad climber
Bishop,CA
Oct 1, 2015 - 10:58am PT
Sadly there have been deaths in the hut from lightning.
Jon Beck

Trad climber
Oceanside
Oct 1, 2015 - 11:52am PT
I was on the summit in late 80s or early 90s and recall seeing a crew putting in lightning rods, I believe it was in response to multiple lightning strike deaths in the hut. Has there been deaths since then?
Ryan-G

Mountain climber
San Diego
Oct 1, 2015 - 08:57pm PT
i believe a number of people died in the hut in the mid to late 90's. This tragedy brings to mind a recent post on Mountain Project about going lite alpine climbing. A number of people suggested just a wind shirt for Sierra alpine in summer. Although I have no idea what the party in question was carrying gear wise, the weather event, I think, points to the fact that carrying just a wind shirt, even in the Sierra, is very risky. Yes, 9 out of 10 times you might move faster, which ups safety, but that 1 time when rain gear/insulation is necessary could result in tragedy. Again, not to say that this team wasn't prepared, but the weather event itself is a good reminder, for me at least, that carrying that extra 16oz of insulation/weather protection may save your life one day, even if it results in you climbing routes 30 minutes slower 9 out of 10 times. My condolences to the families and friends of all involved. Let's climb safe, even if it is E Face of Whitney.
GDavis

Social climber
SOL CAL
Oct 1, 2015 - 09:16pm PT
points to the fact that carrying just a wind shirt, even in the Sierra, is very risky.

CAN be risky. It CAN be risky to go get something out of your car in shorts and flip flops if it is snowing outside and you accidentally lock yourself out. It CAN be risky to bring light layers, but just as in all things, black and white does not exist and people have to use their best judgement. I've done 14'ers with a water bottle and a pocket of Gu and was safer than many parties carrying the whole kit and caboodle. Prevention beats preparedness sometimes.
Ryan-G

Mountain climber
San Diego
Oct 1, 2015 - 09:27pm PT
CAN be risky. It CAN be risky to go get something out of your car in shorts and flip flops if it is snowing outside and you accidentally lock yourself out. It CAN be risky to bring light layers, but just as in all things, black and white does not exist and people have to use their best judgement. I've done 14'ers with a water bottle and a pocket of Gu and was safer than many parties carrying the whole kit and caboodle. Prevention beats preparedness sometimes.


Don't know how to quote but, in reply:

Yes, I guess, everything can be risky. Including driving to work. I get your overall point, but I'm not sure how carrying 160z of potentially life-saving safety equates to "prevention". Would 16oz really make or break your getting up and off a route safely? If so, you're probably climbing at a way higher level and limit than 99% of us. I too have been up multiple 14s with nothing but a wind shirt or less. I almost spent a night on N Ridge of Darwin 100ft below summit with nothing. Fear of hypothermia got me to solo the rest in running shoes...I was 25, and haven't made that mistake again.

I get "prevention" but I don't think 16oz is in that equation. Experience, good sense, good conditioning, mentally and physically, are all in there...but not cutting 16oz that may save you in the Black Swan event.

And, I'm just going to guess, might be wrong, but that by doing "14ers" with just GU and water bottle you mean hiking? No rack, rope, partner? yeah, well, hiking a "14er" is a little bit different than climbing one. I hiked a 14er butt naked once!
clinker

Trad climber
Santa Cruz, California
Oct 1, 2015 - 10:10pm PT
. Yes, 9 out of 10 times you might move faster, which ups safety, but that 1 time when rain gear/insulation is necessary could result in tragedy.

Mt Whitney East face 1981 was my first time up from Iceberg Lake via the East Face. Two of the six of our party tried a variation, got in over their heads, and didn't top out until the next morning.

The other four of us decided to bivy in the hut and wait for our friends. This consisted of sitting on our ropes laid out on the ice covered bench and taking turns sandwiched in the middle away from the cold wind blowing through the door. It was my first unplanned bivy, with no sleep, good stories and very cold compared to anything I had experienced at 16 years old.

Our friends on the face spotted a pack on a ledge beneath them and were able to retrieve it. The contents helped make their night on the face bearable. A father/son team had dropped it and were happy to get their pack and film back.

My attitude toward the mountain has varied. A cheeky sub-4hr ascent from Portal up the Mountaineers Route, to the time we trained, and in the best shape of our lives and had our asses handed to us by the altitude. I learned to respect the mountain.

Over the last 3 1/2 decades I have seen the mountain change, the summer snow and ice have pretty much gone, but still on our latest trip up the trail I noted a slightly blue hiker descending in Birkenstock's, a t-shirt and shorts on a windy afternoon. One of my four brothers, Chris woke me up at 10:30 that night saying he could't breath. We broke camp in 10 minutes and started to head down taking turns with his pack. After about 20 minutes he started hallucinating and had no clue where he was, then it started raining. He was in bad shape, ended up in the hospital with a collapsed lung. I was scared we were going to loose him on the way down.

Chris was the fourth person I had helped evac off the mountain. The altitude alone is enough to kill you. Add weather and bringing no emergency gear and you could be neck deep in trouble fast.

The mountains collect tolls at their own whim, evade what you can but your not going to get out scot-free every time.
10b4me

Social climber
Oct 2, 2015 - 11:47am PT
Back in October(2008) my buddy, and I went in to climb the SE face on Emerson. We slept in the parking lot at North lake, and woke up to bluebird skies.
this was three hours later.
needless to say, we didn't get on the route.
donini

Trad climber
Ouray, Colorado
Oct 2, 2015 - 10:11pm PT
The East Face of Whitney with its moderate rating, located in an area renowned for good weather and close to a large population base will continue to attract climbers who are prepared for the ascent if all goes well. Unfortunately, mountains worldwide that look so inticing on warm sunny days become traps at the slightest whim of mother nature.

Look at the records on such moderate peaks as Mount Hood and Mount Washington. Tragedies like this will serve as warnings for some but go unheeded by many.
apogee

climber
Technically expert, safe belayer, can lead if easy
Oct 2, 2015 - 10:17pm PT
There was a lightning-related death in the early 90's in the Whitney shelter that resulted in a wrongful death suit against the NPS, saying that shelter was an 'attractive nuisance', that somehow lured this unsuspecting human being to his demise.

Prior to that incident, there was no grounding system on the shelter, nor that warning placard on the door. However, the NPS had documented in the past that this shelter (built for astronomy purposes decades earlier) did not have any such grounding system. When the legal counsel of the shockingly departed discovered this, the case was pretty much sealed against the NPS.

Thus the current grounding system, and placard on the door.
Myles Moser

climber
Lone Pine, Ca
Oct 2, 2015 - 11:44pm PT
Drop it.
GDavis

Social climber
SOL CAL
Oct 5, 2015 - 09:26pm PT
I don't think a simple wind shell is enough to make substantial differences in the back country during severe storms as compared to several other items just as compact as a rain shell that can collectively weigh less than 16 ounces - a space blanket, compass, map, headlamp and pair of gloves / hat, to start.

I get that rain shells are helpful, but so are so many more myriad of things. Should they have had one? Probably. Whatever happened it sounds like a rain shell is not enough to have fixed the myriad of issues.
clarkolator

climber
Oct 6, 2015 - 09:00am PT
So sad. These were the guys I met at Lower Boy Scout Lake when I was hiking out. They were really psyched.

We talked about the route, how my partner and I took forever to find the Fresh Air Traverse, and where to go when you get there. I mentioned that our 30 pound pack made following miserable, and the guy who later died gestured to his pack, which was visibly larger than his companion's packs, or mine for that matter. He said "See how big my pack is? I'm making a point about how important it is to carry everything and be prepared!"
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