Deaths, Accidents and Analysis

Threads related to Colorado mountaineering accidents but please keep it civil and respectful. Friends and relatives of fallen climbers will be reading these posts.
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gb
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Re: Deaths, Accidents and Analysis

Postby gb » Thu Jul 25, 2013 9:25 am

I've lost friends over the years. I lost a very good friend to an avalanche in BC a few years ago. There was a thread on TGR- but it stayed positive- so much so that his family signed in to TGR to say how much the thread meant to them as they grieved for Jack. There were lessons to be learned, but in the end those lessons were only learned by those of us close to Jack who discussed it in private, off the web.

I was also good friends with one of the victims (Jim Jack) of the Stevens Pass avalanche a couple of years ago (and knew several others in the party). That accident received one of the best, and most in-depth, accident reports I have ever seen. It's an incredible piece of journalism, taking advantage of new technologies to give the reader a sense of what happened better than anything I have ever read. http://www.nytimes.com/projects/2012/snow-fall/#/?part=tunnel-creek

In both cases, what was on the internet was good. But those are two extremes, and most accidents end up in the middle, with too much blame, and not enough info. Dawson's sheep creek post has been discussed, but that one falls into the "incomplete info" category for me- 2 of the victims and the only survivor are from Crested Butte, so much of what I heard around town didn't mesh with what Lou said, and therefore his conclusions weren't necessarily valid.

Every case is different- I guess that's what I'm trying to say. Unfortunately it's tough to say when the discussion should center around condolences, and when the discussion should center around analysis.


Weird idea I just had- obviously not every climber is here on 14ers. But for those of us who are, maybe our profile could have a box to check saying whether or not we would like an accident, should we have one, be discussed (almost like an organ donor card). Sgladbach's wishes have been honored- but only because he happened to spell it out very clearly. Just a thought for those who may have a strong opinion about it. If a box like that was on my profile, I'm not sure if I could check it or not. Like I said, just throwing it out there.
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Re: Deaths, Accidents and Analysis

Postby lodgling » Thu Jul 25, 2013 9:52 am

gb wrote: Just a thought for those who may have a strong opinion about it. If a box like that was on my profile, I'm not sure if I could check it or not.


Whoa, interesting idea and a tough call. Perhaps a decision that should be pondered while hiking Quandary or Conundrum? Sorry, couldn't resist.
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Re: Deaths, Accidents and Analysis

Postby Tim A » Thu Jul 25, 2013 11:13 am

I typically abstain from all memorial threads because of their tendency to degrade to pointless conjecture and opt instead to pray for the families in private. I do find it fascinating that most people who have been directly involved in an accident or who lost close friends in the mountains tend to feel very strongly about keeping those moments to themselves and only discussing them with trusted individuals much later and in private. As MountainMedic said about "the point" being lost on most people, I think for many the loss has to be personal before they "get" it. Most people (fortunately) will never experience that kind of intimate relationship with death in the wilderness and so will remain ignorant as to why survivors and first responders typically get so defensive when asked for details.

I am reminded of one particularly egregious instance of the pointless conjecture which so often plagues these kinds of threads. When the infamous avalanche near Loveland Pass was first reported, the preliminary reports suggested that the lone survivor took off from the slope towards the road to get help. On the first page of that thread on this site, a poster immediately slammed that person for taking off, as "everybody knows not to do that." I remember reading that in real time and thinking "Do we even know that's actually what happened? Does that survivor really need that kind of attention at this point in time? Do we as a community of posters and observers really need to remind ourselves of our superiority in decision-making when those five people are still considered "missing" and haven't even been unburied yet?

A respected poster of this site stepped in quickly and said, in summary, "That kind of speculation is not appropriate at this time," and fortunately it didn't degrade too much further.

A few pages (and hours of real time) later, the reports changed and it was discovered that the lone survivor had in fact been buried for many hours and had to be carried off the mountain by SAR folks. So the ENTIRE premise of the post attacking him (or, in the words of our Accident Investigators Commission on this site, "the post educating the public") was completely and utterly pointless because it was critical of something which in this universe hadn't even happened. That poster has since edited his posts for posterity's sake (i just re-read the first pages of that thread) but it highlighted to me so clearly why I am disgusted with our general level of community ignorance and ego. Most of us have deceived ourselves into thinking our morbid curiosity is actually a wholesome impulse born out of the instincts of self-preservation when in fact it is little more than an even baser primal instinct: that of being fascinated with death and allowing our inner defense mechanisms to kick in to void our insecurities about it potentially happening to us personally.

All this being said, I read all of the reports posted on Matt's site before I got into climbing in Colorado last year as well as many of the accident threads from the previous years posted in the Memorial Section of this forum. I considered myself "educated" on what to do and not to do. I reached the summits of two 14ers that year and felt like I was a climbing master.

Since that time I've read some sections of "Mountaineering: Freedom of the Hills" (the ones applicable to my own activities) as well as the entirety of "Staying Alive in Avalanche Terrain." I have since had my life saved by properly carrying my axe in the self-belay stance and arresting a completely unexpected fall on a downsloping ridgeline near a short cliff band. I have bailed on a climb on Bierstadt in winter not because of avalanche danger on the west slopes but because I knew I hadn't the strength to summit and make it back to the car given the unsupported snowpack after Winter Storm Triton and after digging a pit to look at it. I chose a unique approach to climbing to the Sherman/Sheridan saddle this past June because I had memorized the sections of "staying alive" dealing with wet slides, temperature gradients, and the effect of rain on a snowpack. I climbed about 600 feet of Cristo Couloir under the tutelage of Bobby Finn, and listened to everything he said as well as watched every move he made during our short climb there before turning around due to my own altitude issues.

Which resources really made me a better climber? Climbing with a mentor? Reading (and studying, and rehearsing) resources written by the masters? Or clicking through pages of threads on websites written by people I don't know who are conjecturing on "facts" they don't know about people they don't know who's deaths in the mountains were ultimately caused by reasons nobody but they and those closest to them know?

It's pretty straight-forward to me.

-"Freedom of the Hills" had four pages of text and illustrations on self-arresting various types of falls and slides. Youtube had a few more videos I watched posted by guides in various places.

-"14ers: Victims of the Game" had nearly 20 pages devoted to slamming the character of Talus Monkey and all I ultimately walked away from after that was "carry an axe on snow."

Which resource saved me when a gust of wind knocked me over and I began sliding down the snow with wet chunks of it coming loose and stinging my eyes and nose as I struggled to flip my axe from self-belay to self-arrest stance and get my weight over it?
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Re: Deaths, Accidents and Analysis

Postby GeezerClimber » Thu Jul 25, 2013 12:25 pm

usfgal wrote:I plan to revisit them and put together something for this forum that includes both highlights and mistakes we made, and I hope that can help people who are new or have questions about a particular peak or weakness that they are dealing with. I think there is a lot to be gained from people's personal accounts, regardless of how they end, but tragedies and my own emotional memory of times I actually wondered if I was going to die probably are the most powerful reminders of the importance of safety and taking good care in the mountains (for me).


Perhaps you have stumbled on a great idea for a sub forum. "Mistakes I've made and lived to tell about." Some people have posted close calls and I've sometimes learned from them. Who among us who have climbed quite a few have not found themselves in a scary situation? There is a saying that experts are merely people who survived their mistakes. What does everyone else think?

Dave
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Re: Deaths, Accidents and Analysis

Postby CarpeDM » Thu Jul 25, 2013 1:10 pm

ameristrat wrote:If we truly believe a discussion is required on risk mitigation, then let's remove the context of a climber's death. It doesn't do anything to aid the discussion or education.


I'm reading more of the thread now, and while I agree with some of what ameristrat has said, I don't agree with this and similar statements.

Context is critical! Yes, it's easy to pick up FOTH, and that's where you actually learn how to self arrest. But having an example that grabs someone by the collar and shows them that this happens to real people is often very important for making them understand why they need to read FOTH.

Perhaps ameristrat was simply referring to anonymizing an account - in which case, of course, names should be removed and some details smudged out where family & partners do not consent.
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Re: Deaths, Accidents and Analysis

Postby summit2sea » Thu Jul 25, 2013 3:08 pm

So I have sat on the sidelines on this for a while. I normally do unless there is something I might add that can be helpful. Maybe a slight different point of view. Over the past decade I flew very fast, very maneuverable jets. Sometimes these jets would become not so fast and not so maneuverable which can often lead to deadly consequences. I have had several friends get out of those situations with a few bruises and a few who didn't make it at all. Regardless of these outcomes, we (our community) would always review what led up to the incident. Sometimes it's pilot error, sometimes it's an act of God. The worst is what we call the Swiss Cheese effect, where numerous small mistakes all compounded on each other to make one big mistake, all the holes in the cheese lining up to make one continuous hole...it's an analogy, just go with it. Obviously the purpose of this is to learn from, and prevent, future occurrences. Sometimes this might just be in the form of recognizing when you yourself are getting into a progressively worse situation, before all those holes line up. It can sometimes be painful, especially when you hear that your buddy screwed up and paid for it with his or her life, but how else do we learn how to avoid that same screw up the next time we strap into a jet?

So how do I apply the above to this forum? I can compare climbing and mountaineering to flying, both are inherently dangerous at times. A lack of judgement, a distraction, or even a act of nature can greatly endanger you or others in a blink of an eye. We can't prevent natural acts, we can learn from those types of accidents as far as knowing what to look for, but that's about it. The other cases though, we can learn from, and apply in our next venture out into our beloved mountains.

I tend to think that an open discussion of lessons learned, analysis of accidents that doesn't stray into speculation or finger pointing can be a good thing. I think Ryan Marsters' (monster5) write up on the accident on Snowmass two years ago is a phenomenal piece, written by a first hand account of what happened and, more importantly, what was done in response to the accident. The key to this however is that it was written when some time had passed, enough to let the immediate feelings of the accident pass over, but soon enough that analysis and memories hadn't been changed by time. The condolences thread, is not the time and place to do it. Another thread, which has been proposed, would give an opportunity for those who wish to learn from those that came before to do so.

People come to this site to become more informed on this passion of ours. To learn what route to take, what gear to bring, what super rigged 4x4 will you need to get up to Lake Como. Is the analysis of these accidents not another form of learning? I don't know, my 2 cents.
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Re: Deaths, Accidents and Analysis

Postby Kodachrome » Thu Jul 25, 2013 3:33 pm

summit2sea wrote:Regardless of these outcomes, we (our community) would always review what led up to the incident.


Are your community reviews publicly visible to 2.7+ million "visitors" annually and subject to be found by friends or family of the missing, maimed or deceased via Google search?
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Re: Deaths, Accidents and Analysis

Postby summit2sea » Fri Jul 26, 2013 7:33 am

As a matter of fact yes, eventually they are. http://www.ntsb.gov/investigations/reports_aviation.html
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Re: Deaths, Accidents and Analysis

Postby rijaca » Fri Jul 26, 2013 7:40 am

summit2sea wrote:As a matter of fact yes, eventually they are. http://www.ntsb.gov/investigations/reports_aviation.html


And written by professional investigators after a thorough investigation of the circumstances.... (and posted months after the accident occurred).
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Re: Deaths, Accidents and Analysis

Postby summit2sea » Fri Jul 26, 2013 8:05 am

I agree completely. Have you read Ryan Marsters' (monster5), report? Months after the accident, written by someone who was there. He's not a professional (I don't think) but it is an outstanding analysis of the events that occurred on Snowmass.
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Re: Deaths, Accidents and Analysis

Postby Tim A » Fri Jul 26, 2013 8:39 am

One can hardly compare the investigation of an airplane crash with that of a mountaineering incident. Unless the person in the accident is wearing some kind of neural 'black-box' which records data from all of their muscle strands, we'll never know what happened.

I don't think anyone is against accident analysis as a whole. When a 'primary source' to an incident feels compelled to share their experience, we all stand to benefit. The issue many people (myself included) take is when individuals who were not present either begin fishing for details or making up detailed scenarios themselves, as if not talking about it somehow puts us more at risk in the mountains than before the incident.

This whole push for creating a private forum for accident discussions just doesn't have any merit as far as real safety is concerned. The only people who have anything real to contribute are those people who were present, and if and when they are ready to share their experiences in an anonymous online format, I imagine it will be long after the 'recency effect' has worn off and discussions on a particular incident (all conjecture up to that point) have since faded.
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Re: Deaths, Accidents and Analysis

Postby BillMiddlebrook » Fri Jul 26, 2013 11:17 am

After reading all of the posts and taking some time to think about it, I'd like feedback on adding a 2nd accident-related forum section specifically for analysis+discussion and hide it from the 14ers.com home page thread list. Additionally, I could rename the current section so it's clear there's a section for reporting accidents and different one for analysis:

- Climbing Accidents: Memorial
- Climbing Accidents: Analysis and Discussion


Having that second section hidden from the home page would help keep some of the spotlight off the discussions. Moderators could keep an eye on them to make sure the posts are appropriate for the specific section and move threads/posts as necessary. I would also post some clear, blunt instructions on what is appropriate (and not) in each section and remind people that friends and family read the threads. Of course, not every accident needs much analysis so threads won't be automatically be created in there just because there's an accident.

Accident threads usually start with a post made in the 14ers section or somewhere else but we (moderators) will continue to move them to one of the Climbing Accident sections when it's appropriate.

I agree that there's benefit in civil, thoughtful discussion but, like many, I care most about family and friends of those involved in accidents. Since our forum is focused on Colorado mountaineering, I think most people here aren't just posting to cause trouble but sometimes tempers flare and the best we can do is try to keep things on track and apply some moderation when necessary. This is not the CNN.com comment section so it's not like we have to worry about every single thread deteriorating into political rants and name-calling.

Thoughts?

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