Jul 25, 2007 at 7:36 pm #1224277
Understanding the concept of going light means going as light as skill and technology will allow, for the worst conditions you are likely to encounter. In my limited experience it seems a shovel and/or tent-bivy sack are mandatory when you climb a significant mountain.
These 4 climbers died of exposure at only 13,000 ft, and this is summer! They were found yesterday:
Another group dug a cave and survived.
Edited; I guess I should not judge so simply when there could have been other factors involved.. and another source is reporting there were two Itallians also in the group, for a total of 6.
While researching the routes, I found this mountain has a fascinating history:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mont_BlancJul 25, 2007 at 8:07 pm #1396501
@butukiLocale: Kanto Plain, Japan
13,000 ft on Mont Blanc is not the same as 13,000 ft in Japan. Mont Blanc is much more dangerous than any mountain in Japan because of the latitudinal and climatic differences. Many alipine climbers don't use tents. Even then those climbers should have been better prepared skillwise.Jul 25, 2007 at 9:05 pm #1396509
@kdesignLocale: Mythical State of Jefferson
Not enough info to judge. Those were horrific conditions. Hard to know if lack of equipment, of experience, or other unknown factors were on hand. I've climbed Mont Blanc without a tent (although w/ a shovel and a bivy sack) and felt that was a reasonable decision. It is a BIG Mountain and to be respected as such.Jul 26, 2007 at 7:10 am #1396531
Sorry Brett, I must respectfully disagree.
The key to survival in the mountains is your mind and your ability to make rational decisions and act in a rational manner.
I certainly don't know enough of the details to really know what happened in these tragic deaths. I feel safe in saying that I've spent enough time in the mountains to make a few basic comments about why I disagree with Brett's conclusions.
Apparently, the temperature dropped from 10c to -15c over the course of four or five hours while the weather went from bluebird skies to light snow and then a storm. When you're faced with that kind of change, you must drop your plans, give up on your dreams, and make the kind of decisions that you don't want to make. You have to run away as fast as you possibly can.
That's the hard part. Let's face it, you've got a week off for vacation, you've planned and trained for months, the last thing you want to do is admit that the weather sucks and you need to give up. I've trained for a climb for six months, gotten time off from work and traveled two days to get to the route. Three hours into the route, with at least 16 hours to go, my partner started puking uncontrollably. One hour later of trying to ignore reality, we were on our way out. It's so bloody hard to give up on what you've planned and worked for. Facing the fact that my partner had food poisoning was incredibly hard for both of us, facing the fact that my success or failure in "traditional terms" was totally out of my hands meant a serious change in my attitude and my expectations.
Kelly Cordes and Colin Haley did the third integral (from top to bottom) climb of Cerro Torre last January using my packs. As such, I know exactly what they carried, and what their choices meant. In Kelly's joking words, "the pack was 200 grams lighter, so I brought ramen for the first time on a climb in years…"
This series of deaths proves one thing: the most dangerous thing in the mountains is being in the mountains. Objective hazards like weather and falling rocks are part of the mountain experience. When the weather changes dramatically, the best thing to do is to spend every bit of effort getting out of the area. You need to keep going until you are out of the danger zone. You need to fail down.
Failing down is making the hard decision that continuing is stupid, and it's time to run away as fast as possible. It is compared to "sticking it out" or bivying. Any extra weight you are carrying is going to slow down your flight to safety.
It took Kelly and Colin something like three weeks of waiting to then climb their route in just over two days. They got up and down alive because they knew how much weight they could carry at top speed, whether going up or down.They were willing to fail down rather than get stuck up in a far more dangerous environment. I think they tried the route two or three times, and gave up each time as the weather took a turn for the worse.
The vast majority of mountaineering deaths happen because people don't escape quickly enough. You don't know how long a storm will last. You do know that the mountain top will be the last place to recover from the storm's effects. The rational choice is to get down as fast as possible.
I hope I've managed to convey my opinion effectively. Forgive me if my post is a bit disjointed, it's a bit difficult to explain this knowledge without using climber's nomenclature and jargon.Jul 26, 2007 at 11:07 am #1396548
Re: "In my limited experience it seems a shovel and/or tent-bivy sack are mandatory when you climb a significant mountain." I am no expert, but I suspect you have to balance getting too tired against having too little, climber's choice, and I for one don't dare second guess that choice: "Markus Kronthaler died last year from exhaustion on the descent after successfully summiting Broad Peak (8047m). This week a recovery team is entering the final stages of retrieving Kronthaler's body from the summit ridge." However, I have a nit to pick: can you really die from being too tired? Hypothermia, yes, altitude problems, yes, but "exhaustion?"Jul 26, 2007 at 11:37 am #1396553
Uber-badass high-altitude peaks have been climbed with less than 40lbs of gear… by superhumans admitedly.
Adventure racers have overnighted in the himalayas with nothing more than one space blanket for the 4 of them.
Many a climber has bivied on mont-blanc with nothing but a sythetic parka.
So there is a LARGE discretionary window from light to "too light", much of that depends on the individualJul 26, 2007 at 7:35 pm #1396586
Graham, thanks for that excellent discussion. The term 'fail down' has just entered my vocabulary; that is a concise term which sums it up perfectly. Just two weeks ago I canceled an alpine climb I had been planning for months due to a typhoon, so I also understand the resultant frustration.
Maybe I sounded like I was saying, go 'heavy' so you will survive; not at all; carry the lightest gear which will get the job done in the expected conditions. I doubt that cold front snuck up on the mountain without appearing on Wx radar a day or two out. Anderson and House's gear list for Nanga Parbat is a great example of a light and right list, and they did carry a 1kg tent.
Oh, It was your Cilogear 45L worksack I had packed for my summit attempt; now scheduled for Sept.
Robert and Robert, I'm no expert either.. light for the conditions includes an evaluation of the weather, and it was forcast to be bad; so bad the rescue copter couldn't go get them.
I don't think people die from exhaustion, but in ANAM there are many cases of people giving up and being found dead later from exposure. Lesson there is don't expend all your energy getting to the summit; at the summit your only 1/2 way there.
ummit your only 1/2 way there.Jul 26, 2007 at 8:36 pm #1396595
Actually, I think that people can die, still on their feet, simply from exhaustion. I'd have to research further if you wanted particular cases, other than, IIRC two Spaniards who died on the descent from the Nord Eigerwand and you could possibly count Toni Kurz as well (died hanging on the rope).Jul 26, 2007 at 9:13 pm #1396600
I had not hear of Toni Kurz until your mention; then researched him; what a tragedy. His death might have been complicated by Harness Hang Syndrome (Compression Avascularisation Re-perfusion Syndrome); a scary(because its difficult to prevent) type of quick death for people hanging in a climbing harness.Jul 26, 2007 at 9:41 pm #1396603
There are other sad exhaustion-related deaths, such as Robert Falcon Scott, the snotty Englishman, dying slowly in a tent in Antarctica not far from the next supply depot, a Soviet team of women climbers stranded in a storm high on a peak, in radio contact, dying off one by one until you could only hear the click of the transmit button, and of course the debacle in 1996 on Everest where guide Rob Hall lingered long enough to be patched in to his wife and to pick a name for their unborn child.Jul 27, 2007 at 10:57 am #1396642
>>I had not hear of Toni Kurz until your mention; then researched him; what a tragedy. His death might have been complicated by Harness Hang Syndrome (Compression Avascularisation Re-perfusion Syndrome); a scary(because its difficult to prevent) type of quick death for people hanging in a climbing harness.
Actually, I doubt his death had anything to do with HHS. I'd have to reread The White Spider to be sure, but I believe that in 1937 (when Kurz died) alpinists generally did not use manufactured harnesses (nylon would not be invented until the mid forties), instead tying in to the natural fiber ropes with a bowline on a coil. Also, HHS usually takes between 6 to 10 minutes of hanging before onset. Kurz was hanging on the rope for approximately 14 hours before he died. Kurz was trying to pass the last knot on the rope between him and rescue (complicated by the fact that, due to a dropped mitten, his left arm had frozen solid during the night). He didn't die of hypothermia or exposure. He simply used all of his energy trying to stay alive and reach rescuers, until he had nothing left. After hours of attempting to undo a knot with nothing but his teeth, while hanging on the rope with his frozen arm, he famously uttered "I'm done", then simply slouched over dead.Jul 27, 2007 at 11:30 am #1396649
@owareLocale: Steptoe Butte
Perhaps similar, one can die from lack of sleep,
faster than lack of food. This is why there are
allegations of sleep deprivation being torture.Jul 27, 2007 at 8:01 pm #1396677
Re: "He didn't die of hypothermia or exposure." Forgive my arrogant and snotty attitude, but were you there at the autopsy?Jul 28, 2007 at 9:33 am #1396712
Very interesting remarks.
If you expend all your energy and are now incapacitated in the cold, your immediate cause of death will be exposure, in my opinion. Sure, an underlying event is exhaustion. Everest moutaineers get so tired they sit down, fall asleep, and die from exposure. There are probably other factors in the sleepiness at extreme altitude.
About death from total sleep deprivation (TSD), I find nothing to confirm that for sure in humans. Rats have been shown to die from TSD by a mechanism of hypermetabolism and basically starvation. But, I think the stress of TSD could theoretically kill a human by causing heart attack in a person with heart disease, or other ways in those with underlying heart or lung disease. I saw some stuff about WWII torture, but I didn't find a reputable source.
BBC (The real victims of sleep deprivation)
Scientific American (How long can humans stay awake?)
Website (The Effects of Sleep Deprivation on Brain and Behavior)
http://tinyurl.com/23evv3Jul 28, 2007 at 3:59 pm #1396730
>>Forgive my arrogant and snotty attitude, but were you there at the autopsy?
No, and I doubt one was even done. I just base that on the general symptoms of death by hypothermia. Certainly he suffered a horrible night hanging on the rope (suspended from the anchor by the frozen corpse of his companion), suffering deeply from frostbite and exposure, which weakened him greatly. However, the next day he labored for hours in an attempt to lower himself to rescuers waiting above the gallery window (the Eiger has train tunnels running through it, which creates, IIRC 2 openings on the north face). Building anchors while hanging on rope, undoing tight, frozen knots with his teeth, then lowering himself down the frozen natural fiber rope, all with one arm does not strike me as the type of activities that one could accomplish while in the final stages of hypothermia. Also, as evidenced by his statements to rescuers, he was in a fairly lucid state right up until he died.Jul 28, 2007 at 9:29 pm #1396753
I do not have an M.D. from an accredited medical school, nor have I had extensive post-graduate training in determining cause of death, nor have I had years of experience in making cause-of-death determinations in actual, real-life cases, so a court of law or the court of public opinion would not certify me as an Expert Witness in matters relating to cause of death. Therefore, I have absolutely no qualifications to be pontificating on what caused a death 70 years ago.Aug 1, 2007 at 12:18 am #1397004
@adrianbLocale: Auckland, New Zealand
>These 4 climbers died of exposure at only 13,000 ft,
13,000 feet is still high. Regardless of the season I'd feel uncomfortable at much less than that height without some sort of shelter.Jan 19, 2009 at 8:41 am #1471191
there was an english or canadian fella climbing with hillarys son on k2 that died from exhaustion, he made it back to camp 2 after 2 days or so, no food or water, hit the sack then never woke up.Jan 19, 2009 at 9:01 am #1471194
"The key to survival in the mountains is your mind and your ability to make rational decisions and act in a rational manner."
Well, put. This is why people like Ed Viesturs are still alive.
Personally, while I do not climb the big boys, I have faced choices that at the time were difficult to make but once off the mountain, were perfectly clear.
I attempted a summit once and turned back within a few hundred feet due to conditions. I returned the next year and a storm blew in at the last minute. I was even closer than the previous year and I spent a good portion of valuable time seeking a safe route as conditions worsened. I made the right decision and quickly made it down the mountain to safety. But, it was a gut-wrenching choice for me and I can totally understand why some climbers struggle on against the odds, and often perish.
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