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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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Re: Deaths, Accidents and Analysis

Postby usfgal » Wed Jul 24, 2013 9:23 pm

I agree that there are general rules of safety and precaution that we don't (or shouldn't) need a tragedy to reinforce. I fully agree with Steve Gladbach's sentiment against 'armchair quarterbacking.' I have a tough time with judgmental sentiments. Personally, when I hear about individuals' experiences with accidents in the mountains (regardless of how they ended), it affects me in a way that reading mountaineering safety guidelines (e.g., from Freedom of the Hills) doesn't. Within a week or two of Talus Monkey's death, my husband and I were on Longs (covered in snow at the time). We had just gone through the keyhole, and I was putting on my crampon and dropped the bar down the mountain. My husband went down to see if he could find it. He almost left his ice axe and said at the last minute, he thought about Talus Monkey and took it. He fell, and his ice axe probably saved his life. I remember the woman who fell from Crestone because a hold gave. Even though I know the rules 'test every hold,' 'keep three points of contact,' and 'don't pull out on a hold,' that woman's story is with me EVERY time I am on a more technical peak and serves as compelling reinforcement to do those things. Hearing how many people have gotten lost and in trouble on Holy Cross made us hyper-aware of paying attention to the route. There are plenty of other examples. The tone and intention behind revealing details of accidents, particularly ones that have resulted in deaths, matter, as do the time and location and the feelings of the people involved. I write TRs of every 14er--I tend to be kind of private and write those as a journal for my husband and I, but when we are done with the 14ers, 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).

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Re: Deaths, Accidents and Analysis

Postby BillMiddlebrook » Wed Jul 24, 2013 9:27 pm

Thanks, Darin.
Steve's wisdom will be with us for a long time
Only SNOW will end the madness

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Re: Deaths, Accidents and Analysis

Postby mattpayne11 » Wed Jul 24, 2013 10:03 pm

MonGoose wrote:Matt, while I think it's good to compose a database of climbing deaths, dates, locations and news articles, I think your efforts might be better served by focusing on a handful of climbing accidents in which the partners of the deceased have a desire to share information instead of trying to write up each and every incident.


This is a good suggestion. I have been talking a lot with my wife and with friends about this as you might guess the topic weighs heavily on my mind and thoughts and I have a lot of strong feelings about it. I am afraid that a lot of my loved ones encourage me to continue even though I see many great points to the contrary here.

One suggestion my wife had was to leave names out of the "reports" and to keep it less personal. I like the idea, but not sure anyone else feels.

In retrospect, I kind of wish I would not have gone about doing these reports on my own as I think I could have gained a lot by collaborating with other forum members and done a higher quality job of it, and gained more outward/open acceptance. Anyways...

susanjoypaul wrote:Bill has allowed us to "police" ourselves, and so far I think we've all done an excellent job of that.

While I think this has worked very well in most instances, I respectfully disagree when it comes to this topic specifically. I've seen many posts degrade into horrible name-calling and lots of personal attacks not only on me but others that have come to my defense directly or indirectly. Despite what people think, I have feelings. No one wants to see the site turn into a dictatorship, but a little respect could be afforded. In disagreeing with someone's comments you don't need to call them names, etc. Some might find that comment hilariously ironic since the very act of asking questions on a death thread is seen by some as disrespectful, so I guess it all boils down to perception. My perception is that people are allowed to bully others and very few do much to stop it. Read the 1st couple of pages of this thread and you will see that others feel the same way.

Fisching wrote:+1 to d_baker's idea of moving in the direction of covering "close calls." In that situation, the people who are a) still alive and b) willing to share their experience for others so they themselves can learn as well as interest members of the climbing community. After all, the idea of looking at accidents is to better understand mountaineering techniques and safety precautions, but it's far more valuable, and WAY less damaging, and significantly more accurate when it's a first-hand account off the experience.


I agree, it would be a good place to start and would go a long way. If the self-policed forum has no interest in discussion surrounding deaths (which I think this thread surprisingly shows just the opposite), then at least we can direct people there if they want to glean any teachings.

usfgal wrote:Personally, when I hear about individuals' experiences with accidents in the mountains (regardless of how they ended), it affects me in a way that reading mountaineering safety guidelines (e.g., from Freedom of the Hills) doesn't.


This is the point in my brain I can't keep shaking. Reading about safety is one thing. Reading about a real example really grabs your attention, and knowing where/how they died makes the knowledge that much more poignant and memorable.

Still the question persists as to whether or not that knowledge is worth all the effort or pain. I don't think we'll ever come to a conclusion on that (and how could you)?

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Re: Deaths, Accidents and Analysis

Postby Dex » Thu Jul 25, 2013 6:38 am

mattpayne11 wrote:
Still the question persists as to whether or not that knowledge is worth all the effort or pain. I don't think we'll ever come to a conclusion on that (and how could you)?



One thing about this site is that the vast majority of the posters have good intent when they post.

And,

Many of them do good things - post lost/found people/items, help with abandoned dogs, help with equipment advise, conditions report.

And,

Are concerned with the effect of posts on others.

So,

That is another reason why attempting to censor what people post does not sit well with me.
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"Please use the comments to demonstrate your own ignorance, unfamiliarity with empirical data and lack of respect for scientific knowledge. Be sure to create straw men and argue against things I have neither said nor implied. If you could repeat previously discredited memes or steer the conversation into irrelevant, off topic discussions, it would be appreciated. Lastly, kindly forgo all civility in your discourse . . . you are, after all, anonymous." Barry Ritholtz

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Re: Deaths, Accidents and Analysis

Postby CarpeDM » Thu Jul 25, 2013 7:30 am

rijaca wrote:Back to the subject....

The purpose of accident investigations and analysis is to prevent future accidents. Period. Not to satisfy some macabre desire to know more. And to conduct an investigation properly requires analysis of the facts surrounding and leading up to the accident. Not speculation based on news media reports and social media 'sound bites'. This requires interviewing witnesses, analyzing environmental conditions, and typically on site observations of the accident scene. All very difficult to do with the case of mountaineering accidents.

There is a time and place for accident analysis. Being critical of another's decision(s) on the mountain publically before all the information is available is rude at best and downright disrespectful in most cases.



I've not read the whole thread, but I understand the different sides - and sympathize to some degree with many of the opposing points made. But rijaca's language jumped out at me. It jumped out at me because I was in a group that was involved in an accident that was "covered" in the Forum, and I know something about both the “rude” and “disrespectful” tone as well as about “proper investigation.”

At the time, I did not offer my account of the events on this board because: (1) it seemed inappropriate in this public forum at that time. There had been some nasty speculation in "our" thread and in some previous threads, and there were some people who just seemed a little too fascinated with accident threads in a "macabre" sense (as far as I can recall, the OP was not one of those - and I harbor no personal animosity to him). (2) out of respect for the wishes of other people who were there (3) our accident was one of those "freak accidents" where knowing the particulars wouldn't help anyone to learn much of anything except that mountaineering is dangerous and that experienced people who follow all the rules can get killed, too. (4) At the time, and even now, it just seems to me that you cannot convey in a public forum like this all that needs to be conveyed to fully express what actually happened. Kind of a "you just weren't there" answer - as unsatisfactory as that is to both you and me.

Having said that, I was (and am) willing to discuss the accident in more personal settings in which people tend both to behave more respectfully and to get more nuance. As I'm sure happens in most cases, I found it helpful to talk about it with trusted friends and acquaintances. And I know that other people feel differently about sharing details of their accidents here. I respect their right to do that, and feel that many who have shared have often done so with good, respectful reactions from this community. It just wasn't right for me.

Another reason this language jumped out at me is that it's emblematic of a position expressed here by others that we should rely on the results of professional analysis instead of our own "amateur" "speculation." I reject that for two reasons: (1) in the case of our accident, every one of the news articles that we saw contained mistakes - many of them about very basic information like how many people were in the group, or where the accident took place. No one asked us for our account. (Perhaps they were trying to give us respectful distance.) Furthermore, the ANAM volume that discussed the accident had several factual errors and few details. Again, it seems that no one contacted us to get a first-hand account. Instead, they relied on the thread on this site and the articles that were linked to it. I also highly doubt that anyone conducted any "on site observations." So there's your "professional" analysis. (2) Don't sign your life away to "experts" and "professionals." Asking questions, seeking answers to enlarge your understanding - especially when it comes to a dangerous activity that you participate in - is not a bad thing. Just be mindful of when and in what manner you do it. It is human nature to raise questions and seek detail even when we know how unsettling it seems. I've done it myself. I just don't do it on public forums. And I don't call out people for making idiotic mistakes that of course I surely would never make, especially based on questionable or incomplete accounts.

Yes, there is a tension here between the two sides. How you handle it makes all the difference.
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Re: Deaths, Accidents and Analysis

Postby Tory Wells » Thu Jul 25, 2013 9:32 am

For a little perspective from the family's point of view, ngladbach wrote this in the 'Death Threads' thread:
Very well said, Crossfitter. I am very grateful to report that all of the posts for Steve Gladbach were very positive. I thank you all so very much. Steve's 13 yo daughter read the posts nightly, it helped with her recovery. Thank you 14ers.com community. Those positive words were priceless.
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Re: Deaths, Accidents and Analysis

Postby gb » Thu Jul 25, 2013 10:25 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.

Re: Deaths, Accidents and Analysis

Postby lodgling » Thu Jul 25, 2013 10:52 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 12:13 pm

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 1:25 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 2:10 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.
"Skepticism is the first step towards truth." - Denis Diderot
"It is not what the man of science believes that distinguishes him, but how and why he believes it. His beliefs are tentative, not dogmatic; they are based on evidence, not on authority or intuition." - Bertrand Russell
"Tell people there's an invisible man in the sky who created the universe, and the vast majority will believe you. Tell them the paint is wet, and they have to touch it to be sure." - George Carlin
"Some say they're goin' to a place called Glory And I ain't saying it ain't a fact. But I've heard that I'm on the road to Purgatory And I don't like the sound of that.
I believe in love and I live my life accordingly. But I choose to let the mystery be" - Iris Dement

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Re: Deaths, Accidents and Analysis

Postby summit2sea » Thu Jul 25, 2013 4:08 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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