Scary Hiking Observation
So on our Sunday hike up Washington we came across several groups with obvious rented equipment who had left their packs half way up the mountain in a bid to make things lighter going up to the summit - one of these groups seemed to be a family. I didn't want to get in the way of their fun but I did try to point out how dangerous this potentially could be. Does this happen very often on Washington? What should one do in general when witnessing unsafe hiking? I know one could just ignore it, but I'm not particularly interested in hearing stories on the news if they can be avoided.
If somebody was littering or walking on the tundra I'd say something. With a case like this I'd probably keep my mouth shut. The difference being harming themselves versus the environment. People are free to do what they want to themselves, especially if I don't know them. I wouldn't tell somebody I didn't know not to smoke. I'd argue that smoking has close to a 100% of killing you, while making a run to the summit without a pack just a small fraction of 1%.
I've done this before under special circumstances, based on several factors. Mostly weather and my skill level. On summit day on Everest you don't really carry a pack. You wear all your clothes and your pack has your O2, thermos and maybe a small snack. On the other hand, on Denali you carry your sleeping bag and enough gear to bivy for a night or two.
During the spring on Mount Washington you'll see dozens of people doing this. They leave their pack in Tucks and hike up the bowl. They get to the top of the bowl and realize the summit is right there and they make a quick dash.
What to do?
When hiking in the Whites you will see this and worse all the time. Very accessible to millions of people. I used to be very judgmental about stuff like this and occasionally made comments. It is hard to do without sounding a little ticked off. If you say anything at all it should be in a non-judgmental, educating way.
While volunteering at the summit one time I was outside and came in through the turret door on the deck. There huddled in the cold were two hikers, obviously exhausted, overloaded and unprepared. I went and got the observer who sent me to find Mike Pelchat, (WEMT and head of the State Park.) Mike got them downstairs and evaluated them. Basically let them warm up, gave them some energy food and told them the easiest way down was the auto road. When he felt they were ready he sent them on their way.
Through the whole thing I was thinking, "Dummies. They had no idea what they were gettin' into or how to prepare. They should have turned back long ago. It's almost dark." etc, etc.
Mike never questioned why they had done this, what they were thinking. He never spoke a cross word. He never scolded them at all. He saw things for what they were. Here were two people in need of assistance. He had the knowledge to help them out of their situation and he shared it.
Afterward I questioned him, "Mike, how do you keep your cool with people like that? You know, the ones that are asking for it?"
All he said was "For nearly 30 years God has let me get up and down this mountain alive. I'm just giving back what I've been given."
Alright, if anyone is still following me, what I'm trying to say is you can't be too judgmental in these situations. Everyone hikes their own hikes. Everyone makes mistakes. The smart ones learn. Those who may know better need to impart their knowledge without being arrogant. It's not easy, but I learned a valuable lesson that day with Mike. I try to apply it when I can. Sometimes I forget, but that makes me human.
I think the thing to do in that situation is keep an eye on things, and if conditions are changing, you may want to mention that.
Guy Waterman (Forest and Crag, probably one of the most celebrated and experienced White Mountain Hikers ever) did a Presi Traverse with his then 16 year old son during the winter of '67. The deepest snow ever recorded in the area fell that February. They were in the middle of it. They left their packs below to summit Jefferson. The snow covered the packs. They circled the summit twice in white out searching for their packs. No GPS in those days. Only through incredible luck and blind chance did they find their packs.
I wouldn't risk it myself. Conditions can change too quickly up there.
Where's an applause icon when you need it?
Originally Posted by KD Talbot
Thanks for writing that -- well said.
I am sure we all could share dumb decisions we have made and tough situations we have been in. It is not that it is expected - it just happens. As Kevin states - we should learn from these experiences.
The beauty of the Presidentials is that they are close to a lot of people and they can enjoy them. The common issues I see are people who are not prepared (even in summer) and start too late in the day thinking they will summit. Quite often I have had pleasant conversations with folks telling them it is too late to think about summiting - just go up to the snow at the base of Tuckermans and turn around. Many times they just need someone to reinforce their concerns. If they have not done it before, they do not know what they are in for. So, some calm sage advice can be helpful.
Yea, like the week I was volunteering, I went out for a walk one night in the dark and fog down to the lower parking lot with my headlamp on. I decided to hike up the rocks to the top instead of taking the stairs. As I was climbing up the rocks (looking down so I could see where I was stepping) I ran my head into an outcropped rock and nearly knocked myself unconscious. I learned how easily and quickly something can happen and to take more care in the fog to slow down and know my surroundings.
Originally Posted by Brad
when i was up on mt Mansfield on a summer day there was a family with two young girls [ about 9-12] and a boy [about 6-8] and they wanted to hike over to the highest point from where there is a shack with some antennas on them .it looked like it would be a long hike and the boy was saying that one of his feet was hurting but the girls wanted to go and they were thinking of going . then they said they would try ,so i was watching some large black clouds coming in and said to my self they did not rain gear [ they all had shorts and had sandals on]
so i said i hate to be nosey but i hearing you are going all the way to the top but did you see the dark clouds coming in , he said no i did not and we should get back before the come in .i said i would hate to see you get out there and the rain start and the temp drop and you have no rain gear so have a safe hike .
well i started back to the car and was taking pictures along the way so it took some time .well just as i came through the short pine trees i can hear the kids behind me .then the wife got to me and said thanks for saying something we dont do this a lot and im glad you had a concern ,i said i am a member of a SAR team and what you were going to do was the same thing they had a training film on where the family thought they could make it to the top and the next day a search team found that the dog was the only one to survive .
i said your welcome and i had a good feeling about what i did
so if it looks like some one can get hurt then i would say something
I personally think it's fine to say something -- it's all in HOW you say it. If it's in a completely nonjudgmental tone and worded kindly...and then you walk on....that's fine. I had someone say something to me when we first bought our tiny place in NH, I had taken both girls a bit up Tecumseh in April. There was snow on the ground, I did not yet know what I was doing -- girls were dressed properly and we had food and water, etc. but I didn't realize the difficulty of trying to walk up in rotting snow. Sage was miserable. I had stopped maybe half a mile in, and a passerby kindly said that the snow got a lot deeper and nastier further up, just wanted to let me know. He then went on his way.
That was great, I appreciated that, we turned back then and there. Had he said, "you crazy person with two tiny kids, what you are doing to them, you'll never make it, jeesh are you an idiot" -- well, I would have deserved that comment but it would not have been as effective as his kind, simple words. ;)
I think the cases that Charlie and Trish recounted here are great examples. People who are putting themselves in danger aren't always unwilling to listen to advice from an experienced person that they meet on the trail and may be very happy to be saved a miserable experience. If you give them some simple kind words to tell them what they are up against and suggest possible alternatives (like Brad mentioned) there's a good chance they will listen. If they don't, no harm done. Better to at least try.