Climbers' ethics and rescue

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Climbers' ethics and rescue

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Edited: Aug 28, 2008, 4:21pm

KOMO News in Seattle is reporting that two "hikers" are stranded on the Ptarmigan traverse.

The Ptarmigan traverse is an off-trail, high altitude route connecting several glaciated peaks in the North Cascades in (the state of) Washington. Very fit climbers can race through the traverse in 3-4 days, but most take a week or longer, bagging up to 13 peaks at altitudes of 7400-8920 feet (2255-2719 meters).

Apparently the 33 year old man and his 27 year old girlfriend lost much of their gear while downclimbing Spire Point. They are on a narrow ledge at 6000 feet (1828 meters) elevation, miles from any road, and apparently 10-12 hours from the nearest access point for rescuers. The woman is reported to be hypothermic. Well duh - it is Washington state, and they are at high elevation in an area with strong onshore weather systems. The access trails are through rainforest!

So the question is, do these idiots have any right to expect a rescue, merely because they had the "foresight" to bring along a cell phone so they could call for help?

ETA - Here is a TerraServer image of the Spire Point area.

Aug 28, 2008, 5:24pm

Well, you can't very well just leave them up there to die, once you know that they are there. At least I couldn't. However I think you have an excellent point. I keep seeing these heartfelt obituaries for people dying in exotic locals as they mountain climb, with so much fluff about the "tragedy". Please. These people have money and free time to spare and make a conscious decision to risk their lives, and we're supposed to be traumatized when the inevitable eventually happens?

For this duo, it might make sense to charge them for the cost of the rescue, and if it is prohibitively expensive, make them work it out in community service.

Aug 28, 2008, 7:40pm

Most climbers (well, maybe not the big ego types who climb in the Himalayas) have the sense to learn about and prepare for the hazards before they go. If these people had reviewed the route and the local conditions ahead of time, they could have made sure they had their "10 essentials", and selected a route appropriate to their skill level. And if they hadn't taken the cell phone, they would be left to their own devices.

But now, because they dragged the phone along (and were lucky enough to get a signal so far from civilization), dozens of rescuers will have to risk their own lives in this very rugged terrain. It is a designated wilderness area, so rescue by helicopter is not an option.

Aug 29, 2008, 4:42am

If they hadn't lost much of their gear presumably they'd be ok. If this was an accident, then it's fair to expect a rescue* if they lost the gear through being stupid, then perhaps not - but you can't police stupidity. Cell phones are the bane of all rescue teams.

* Although only a few years ago this would be when you go overdue a week later. Most mountaineers would manage to self rescue rather than wait that long. Very difficult to say without knowing specifically where they are stuck.

Edited: Sep 2, 2008, 12:40pm

The people on Spire Point were rescued on the 29th. Earlier in the week, three teenage boys were rescued after spending the night stranded on Three Fingers. On the 28th, a hiker from California died after scrambling up the Haystack on Mount Si, a popular year round training route near Seattle.

Over the weekend, three hikers had to be rescued from the Three Sisters Wilderness area in Oregon. They were at 8600 feet (2600 meters) elevation on the South Sister when they encountered snow, and couldn't find their way back to the trailhead. Apparently they couldn't be bothered with carrying appropriate clothing for the season and the elevation, or with learning the routefinding skills one might expect to need at that elevation, but they did have their cell phones. It took approximately 8 hours for rescuers to reach them with food, shelter, and dry clothing, after which they were able to evacuate with assistance.

Sep 2, 2008, 12:56pm


Astoundingly, I've never climbed/hiked Mount Si, even though it's close to Seattle, where I live, I love climbing, and my first name is Si.

Sorry for the threadjack.

Sep 3, 2008, 11:15am

Who is the rescue force? Volenteers or Public Servants (catchall phrase for paid state employees, police, rangers, ambulance crews etc)?

Not sure it makes a huge difference.

In the caving community rescues are all by volenteer local cavers, you lend a hand because it might be you next time - and you go to some lengths to ensure it isn't: which leads to situations where rescue should have been called but wasn't because the party did want to embaress themselves.... But then you can't just phone for help underground.

The alternative is the I've paid my taxes for rescue if I get stuck mentality which isn't good either.

Sep 3, 2008, 7:18pm

>6 Glassglue:

You should climb Mount Si on your birthday. Actually it isn't a climb, just a hike with a nice scramble at the top. Approximately 4 miles and 3200 ft elevation gain to the base of the Haystack, and great views from the top on a clear day. Lots of people use it as a year round snow free training route - you will see people hiking with fully loaded climbing packs, runners with nothing but their Camelbacks, and casual hikers who consider it the climb of a lifetime.

>7 reading_fox:

Mountain rescue in the US is usually a combination of volunteer climbers in trained rescue units, county sheriffs, off duty fire department, etc. If helicopters are used, they typically come from the nearest state national guard unit.

It used to be that climbers' ethics required self rescue whenever possible. I was on one climb where a member of the party glissaded into a tree moat on the return hike, breaking the tibia bones in both legs. We stabilized him and carried him and his pack several miles back to the trailhead.

Nov 8, 2008, 10:29am

I don't climb but in response to the first post, anyone who purposely goes against the rules , regulations or recommendations deserve what they get, but being human, we all take stupid chances I guess.

Nov 8, 2008, 3:59pm

I was just on vacation in Oregon and drove by the Sisters...can't imagine the heights of hubris necesssary to climb them without proper equipment or preparation. Gorgeous mountains. Stupid people.

Edited: Nov 10, 2008, 3:44pm

>10 Bookmarque:

I hope you had a great vacation. You must have been out near Sisters and Bend? Gorgeous area, and much less rain than we get on the wet side of the Cascades.

Nov 10, 2008, 8:48am

Yeah we were in Bend for a while. Was pretty, but gave me the creeps - that Stepford, ultra-planned community vibe.

Nov 10, 2008, 3:46pm

I haven't been over to Bend in quite a while. Those ultra-planned communities you can blame on the Californicators moving in.

Nov 10, 2008, 3:49pm

That's what I heard. Someone told us that those stupid roundabouts had to all be rebuilt because snowplows wouldn't fit. Hahahaha! Too funny.