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Overdue Climbers

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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Please be respectful when posting - family and friends of fallen climbers might be reading this forum.
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Re: Overdue Climbers

Postby BillMiddlebrook » Mon Aug 02, 2010 1:33 pm

You're right. I don't know what the forecast was in this tragic case, so my comments related to forecast planning are only on a more general level.

My planning usually starts with this:
1) If the 12k+ forecast is 30% or less and my climb is Class 1 or 2, I continue planning and may go if other things check out.
2) If the 12k+ forecast is 30% or higher and my climb is Class 3 or higher, I don't go. Period.

To me, a 30% NOAA thunderstorm forecast above 12,000' means 80% is more likely.
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Re: Overdue Climbers

Postby Rich H » Mon Aug 02, 2010 1:35 pm

BillMiddlebrook wrote:You're right. I don't know what the forecast was in this tragic case, so my comments related to forecast planning are only on a more general level.

My planning usually starts with this:
1) If the 12k+ forecast is 30% or less and my climb is Class 1 or 2, I continue planning and may go if other things check out.
2) If the 12k+ forecast is 30% or higher and my climb is Class 3 or higher, I don't go. Period.


I follow that as well...30% being the go or no go point on class 3 or up
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Re: Overdue Climbers

Postby Jon Frohlich » Mon Aug 02, 2010 1:37 pm

Sometimes the forecast is totally wrong though. The forecast for Capitol Peak last Saturday was 40%. It didn't rain until after 8pm that night and then only for 5-10 minutes. We never had any threat of weather on the climb at all. I find that reading the scientific forecaster discussion is more useful than going by the percentages much of the time. We went anyway last weekend because I didn't have a problem with the potential to have to turn around. You have to decide what you're comfortable with in terms of the weather forecast. I'm generally more conservative with the Sangres because things have the potential to go nuts in a hurry.

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Re: Overdue Climbers

Postby Wish I lived in CO » Mon Aug 02, 2010 1:44 pm

Jon Frohlich wrote:I'm generally more conservative with the Sangres because things have the potential to go nuts in a hurry.

Was in Colorado climbing all last week (Sawatch and Sangres on Tue, Wed.). Anyway, it seemed to me that the wind for much of the week was coming predominantly from the East. I thought this was strange. Anyone else notice? Is this somehow normal? Could an unusual wind direction like this have anything to do with this tragedy or the weather in general we're all talking about?
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Re: Overdue Climbers

Postby skiwall » Mon Aug 02, 2010 1:45 pm

Jon Frohlich wrote: I find that reading the scientific forecaster discussion is more useful than going by the percentages much of the time.


=D> =D> =D> =D> =D>
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Re: Overdue Climbers

Postby kenike » Mon Aug 02, 2010 1:52 pm

I totally agree. 30% is not reason for me to just flat out cancel a trip, BUT I do keep a very close eye and ear on the sky. We all know storms can brew and move in within an obscenely short amount of time and it's wisest to bail on the trip if it even thinks of looking threatening. The mountain WILL be there another day.

But we also have to remember that those of us who live close by are going to be more keen to follow our own advice. Those who are vacationing are going to want to make the most of the time and can get a little complacent...or maybe a lot complacent when it comes to weather. It's not an excuse, just an understanding. There is absolutely no excuse for ignoring the sky, even with a 30% or less chance of storms, of course.

I wouldn't say the weather is solely to blame for the high number of accidents this season, but I do believe it is playing a big role. We are very obviously in the midst of a climate shift (NOT starting an argument on the global warming thing), which does happen every number of decades, or so. As such, we may all have to reevaluate our outdoor planning and learn new ways to stay safe in the High Country.

My prayers remain with this Plano couple's family and friends.

Re: Overdue Climbers

Postby Jon Frohlich » Mon Aug 02, 2010 1:54 pm

skiwall wrote:
Jon Frohlich wrote: I find that reading the scientific forecaster discussion is more useful than going by the percentages much of the time.


=D> =D> =D> =D> =D>


I figured you'd appreciate the fact that some people do read those... :D

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Re: Overdue Climbers

Postby cbauer10 » Mon Aug 02, 2010 1:56 pm

Wish I lived in CO wrote:
Jon Frohlich wrote:I'm generally more conservative with the Sangres because things have the potential to go nuts in a hurry.

Was in Colorado climbing all last week (Sawatch and Sangres on Tue, Wed.). Anyway, it seemed to me that the wind for much of the week was coming predominantly from the East. I thought this was strange. Anyone else notice? Is this somehow normal? Could an unusual wind direction like this have anything to do with this tragedy or the weather in general we're all talking about?


Right now the weather is coming up from the Southwest with a lot of moisture. It is coming up and then swirling back towards the West, i.e. the wind would be coming from the East. This is not common, but by all means it is not rare either. It is just the way the weather goes sometimes around here. Just have to wait it out. It can be kind of depressing getting to those house projects though.

Rich H wrote:I follow that as well...30% being the go or no go point on class 3 or up


Since I am trying to plan trips that are class 3 and one that require a long weather window, i.e. Chicago Basin, I have been doing a lot of waiting lately. I should have done them earlier in the season. Darn.

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Re: Overdue Climbers

Postby coloradokevin » Mon Aug 02, 2010 2:07 pm

This is sad news.

Obviously we seem to be working with limited information at this time, and I'm not sure that it is clear that weather played a role in the demise of these two climbers. However, given the severity of the weather that others have reported from that area during that approximate time, it probably isn't unreasonable to assume that weather may have been a factor.

I think it is always important to remember that YOU are the weather forecaster when you are on a mountain. A lot of folks get hung up on forecasts, seasonal weather patterns, and times of day. These are certainly useful considerations, especially during the planning stage of a trip. I've bailed on more than one climb (before it started) because of a really bad forecast, and I've often planned my start times around the weather pattern I'm anticipating.

However, a weather pattern is simply a trend; it is not a guarantee, for good or for bad. What you see from the trailhead, and while you are on the mountain itself, is far more important than the information that a guy in a suit gave you on the evening news the night before. Don't be afraid to make the tough go/no-go decisions for yourself! When all is said and done, the appropriate decision is usually self-evident.

In the past I've seen people turn back under perfectly stable blue-bird days simply because they were running 15 minutes behind schedule, and were anticipating the usual "30% chance of showers/thunderstorms". I consider this behavior to be overly cautious in many cases, but each climber chooses their own adventure. But, on a more concerning note, I've also seen climbers continue to climb into the heart of a building storm simply because the "weather forecast says it isn't supposed to storm today".

Finally, I must admit that I've been surprised by storms in the mountains myself, even when I've followed all of the "rules". I also believe this has happened to many (most) other experienced backcountry travelers at one point or another. The wilderness environment is not without inherent risks, and storms are a major risk factor in the Colorado mountains during the summer months. It is entirely possible that the deceased climbers made reasonable choices at the time of their climb, and simply ended up being tragically unlucky. It is always sad to hear about these incidents, and we all want to believe that it could never happen to us. Unfortunately, the truth is that risk is never eliminated, it is merely mitigated. I hope we'll eventually hear more details on this particular tragedy, since we can often learn from the mistakes/mishaps/bad luck of those who've gone before us!

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Re: Overdue Climbers

Postby Mark A Steiner » Mon Aug 02, 2010 2:14 pm

My condolences to the survivors of this couple. Colorado high country has had some horrific storms lately - apparently worse than in recent memory.
NickJ wrote: by NickJ » Mon Aug 02, 2010 12:30 pm
Yes


As Nick pointed out (above, sorry I missed the entire quote), these things can approach almost unnoticed if you are on the wrong side of the hill. It happened to me once - many years ago - and I haven't forgotten. I was only 12,915' at the time and not on a 14er.
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Re: Overdue Climbers

Postby Neil » Mon Aug 02, 2010 2:25 pm

In addition to watching a general forecast or even drilling down to the more detailed scientific models put forth by the government, I am surprised more mountaineers do not develop some degree of meteorological proficiency themselves. I had to learn quite a bit about the weather obtaining a pilot's license, but it has paid great dividends mountaineering as well. To me, being able to look at things like temperature, relative humidity, and wind speed/direction and the effect they have on air stability, cloud formation, etc. is invaluable. The three ingredients for severe thunderstorms are moisture, atmospheric instability, and rising air -- understanding how and when those three interact is an incredible tool for mountaineers. Supplementing a government forecast with more timely information on the ground analyzed by you will allow you paint a much more accurate, reliable, timely, and safer weather picture. During the winter months, many people on this forum are chastised for relying only on CAIC forecasts for avy info, yet most mountaineers I know rely almost exclusively on weather forecasts issued by third-parties without up-to-the-moment information. Granted, experienced climbers can fall back on weather experience and familiarity, but weather is VERY unpredictable, rarely repeats itself, and is better observed using a scientific basis. Anyway, I certainly don't suggest that inclement summer weather is of equal severity as avalanches, but I think the analogy is appropriate. Learn how to forecast, observe, and analyze weather conditions, and your ability to travel safely in the mountains and attain summits during poor weather periods will improve. Certainly, nothing is fail safe and it is impossible to forecast and observe weather with 100% accuracy, but improving safety margins can be achieved with a higher degree of individual ability and understanding. And it sure beats relying exclusively on the government forecasters or arbitrary rules relating to time-of-day, route, etc.

Neil

EDIT -- I wrote this without seeing coloradokevin's post. Well said and I agree with you 100%.
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Re: Overdue Climbers

Postby Timmy » Mon Aug 02, 2010 2:48 pm

I've probably been very lucky but I generally don't attempt a 14er if there's a 20% chance of storms (or greater). Maybe if it's an easy hike I might break the rule however if it requires 8+ hours then I would just wait it out. Granted I live in Denver and without the time constraints as the folks from out of the state.

I couldn't believe all the people on this forum who were planning on hiking a 14er last weekend. The forecast called for storms all weekend long. To each his/her own but I certainly don't find hiking in those conditions enjoyable and I want my hike/climb to be a positive experience; not a check-off on a list.
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