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#97824 - 06/11/08 09:04 AM Exposure death on Mt Rainear
Jimshaw Offline
member

Registered: 10/22/03
Posts: 3967
Loc: Bend, Oregon
In the news - truly a sad account of unprepared "experienced" hikers being hit by a freak 2 foot snow storm. 2 are rescued and one dies below muir camp. Thius was on a day hike. How can a storm of that magnatude just hit without some warning?

Anyway it does say something about being prepared for sudden snow and cold while in the Pacific Northwest. It froze 2 nights ago at my house in Bend and I only live at 4,000 feet elevation.

I have been to Muir camp and with the steepness of that slope, I can see where descending in a snow storm could mean death, but freezing to death is just unacceptable. These guys own the gear to summit but left it at home.

The one time I was hit by a freak storm that dropped to minus 5 overnight, I had the extra clothes to be perfectly warm. A lot of people have said that I carry too much weight in insulation, but I did not die. <img src="/forums/images/graemlins/shocked.gif" alt="" />

Anyway these guys can be "climbers" or "hikers" and as climbers they have the gear to survive and as hikers they didn't.

Jim <img src="/forums/images/graemlins/blush.gif" alt="" />
_________________________
These are my own opinions based on wisdom earned through many wrong decisions. Your mileage may vary.

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#97825 - 06/11/08 10:54 AM Re: Exposure death on Mt Rainear [Re: Jimshaw]
hikerduane Offline
member

Registered: 02/23/03
Posts: 2124
Loc: Meadow Valley, CA
Thanks Jim, I hadn't followed the story. Seems would have heard something, whether a chance of bad weather or big storm.

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#97826 - 06/11/08 10:55 AM Re: Exposure death on Mt Rainear [Re: Jimshaw]
aimless Online   content
Moderator

Registered: 02/05/03
Posts: 3141
Loc: Portland, OR
I hate to hear about deaths from poor preparation. Over and over again I read the stories about people who die on the trail and it almost always comes down to novices who die from taking stupid risks, or 'experienced' hikers who die from hypothermia.

The take-away lesson is: every dayhike is a potential all-nighter. Be prepared to spend a night out, adequately warm in worse weather than you expect. Notice changes in weather and adjust what you're wearing. If you do get cold and wet, treat that like a life-threatening emergency, not a small inconvenience.

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#97827 - 06/11/08 11:04 AM Re: Exposure death on Mt Rainear [Re: hikerduane]
TomD Offline
Moderator

Registered: 10/30/03
Posts: 4963
Loc: Marina del Rey,CA
I put up a link to an early story on this in the mountaineering forum. There is another story with more detail on Yahoo News today.

The Yahoo story is from AP-if you can't find it on Yahoo News, your local paper might have picked it up from the wire service.
Rainer story

I know some people get annoyed at Jim and others who harp about these kinds of accidents and we often post them and comment on them when we see them.

One of the criticisms is that it is easy to "second guess" what went wrong from the comfort of our living room. Fair enough. We weren't there. But unfortunately, many of these incidents have what appears to be several common elements-
1. failure to get a current weather forecast (the big PNW storm last winter comes to mind);
2. failure to carry enough gear/food for bad weather;
3. lack of knowledge as to how to use the gear at hand or when to use it.

I make no claims whatsoever about being an expert on the outdoors, so when I go anywhere, (which isn't all that often), at least I take what I think I might need if something goes wrong.

I have no idea why these three found themselves where they were under those circumstances, so no second-guessing by me here, but there is a lesson to be learned.

There was a similar incident last year with two hikers/climbers who froze to death in the same general area for the same reason-they got caught in a storm. They were found with all the gear they needed to survive, but hadn't deployed it in time-tent, sleeping bags, stoves, food, warm clothes.

One plausible explanation in that case was that they died because they lacked the awareness to understand that the weather was deteriorating so fast that they needed to act immediately to save themselves. Is that fair to them? I don't know, but it seems reasonable to me based on what was reported.


Edited by TomD (06/11/08 11:34 AM)
_________________________
Don't get me started, you know how I get.

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#97828 - 06/11/08 12:02 PM Re: Exposure death on Mt Rainear [Re: TomD]
Mattress Offline
member

Registered: 05/14/07
Posts: 109
Loc: Victoria, BC, Canada
It is a dangerous activity we all partake in, and preparedness does play a big part.
Unfortunately what often happens is you push yourself (or are already exhausted) to beat the storm/cross the river/find the trail/whatever and render yourself incapable of making good decisions. When you have no energy you lose a lot of cognitive functions, and even lose what we refer to as good instincts.

It is easy to armchair hike, and say what we would have done differently. And I think it's not a bad idea, as the more we talk about it, the more people will realize they need to be prepared for the unexpected.

There's a small mountain I hike once or twice a week after work, it's about a 1 hour round trip with a fair amount of exposure. A lot of people do it with nothing more than shorts and a tshirt, and are perfectly fine. I never attempt it without a small pack containing first aid kit, water, snack, cel phone, and windshirt or jacket depending on the season. It doesn't slow me down, but would enable me to wait out a storm or other such problem. The hardest part is knowing when to admit that summiting isn't safe, but I make it a point to check the weather reports, use common sense, and hit the gym if it looks unsafe to hike.
_________________________
http://lighterload.blogspot.com/

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#97829 - 06/11/08 12:15 PM Re: Exposure death on Mt Rainear [Re: aimless]
midnightsun03 Offline
member

Registered: 08/06/03
Posts: 2936
Loc: Alaska
A couple of months ago I participated in a fascinating experiment where we were attempting to make someone go into a hypothermic state. Our poor subject stripped to his skivvies in 39 degree temperatures, then got doused with a 5-gallon bucket of snow-water. Our fella was quite fit, without much body fat, and his thermogenic effect kicked in quite effectively. While he was shivering violently his body temperature rose to 99.5 degrees, and stayed there for quite some time. During this time he complained of being quite uncomfortable and wishing to get the experiment over and done with. As we were filming this for a TV program, the crew wasn't willing to end the experiment until we got our subject's temperature lower. To this point our subject had been standing, so we had him lie down in the snow. Within about 10 minutes his temperature had dropped to 97.2, which is still technically above hypothermia (considered 96 degrees core temp). At first he continued to complain of discomfort, but after another 10 minutes he suddenly became very comfortable with the idea of lying in the snow, and was willing to keep laying there as long as it took to get hypothermic "for the good of the show." The crew and I looked at each other and decided it was a good time to call it a show. Our subject never dropped below 97.2 core, but he rapidly began to decompensate mentally, and his shivering had slowed markedly. He also started feeling warmer, despite laying in the snow with nothing but wet cotton skivvies on. The most interesting thing was that we had to almost physically force him to get up off the snow and get into the hypo bag.

The lesson I took away from this is that you don't even need to be hypothermic, just about 1.5 degrees or so below normal, to start making very poor decisions.

MNS
_________________________
YMMV. Viewer discretion is advised.

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#97830 - 06/11/08 12:36 PM Re: Exposure death on Mt Rainear [Re: midnightsun03]
Jimshaw Offline
member

Registered: 10/22/03
Posts: 3967
Loc: Bend, Oregon
Thanks Midnight. So when is that going to air - can we see you?

I think a major problem is the resistence to "digging in." People want to run out because its uncomfortable being wet and cold, and digging in, conserving your body heat and eating is just too far from their fight or flight thing. You have written to me about that - like drowning - you do anything to get air.

It takes time to deploy your gear. The time to start is before the $$it hits the fan. While you are still warm. Like starting to dig a snowcave when someone is already hypothermic is not a good thing.

I have to say that a down jacket and fleece pants do not weigh over 3 pounds but can save your life. Why cut things so close? Is the desire to look really cool with a tiny pack, or none at all?

Jim <img src="/forums/images/graemlins/cool.gif" alt="" />
_________________________
These are my own opinions based on wisdom earned through many wrong decisions. Your mileage may vary.

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#97831 - 06/11/08 12:57 PM Re: Exposure death on Mt Rainear [Re: Jimshaw]
JAK Offline
member

Registered: 03/19/04
Posts: 2569
I think if they had done that experiment after he just finished running 20k things would have progressed much much faster. Knowing when and how to slow down, chow down, and throw on more clothing to store up energy in advance of a storm is a pretty good skill to develop I should think. Something I'm more in tune with from small boat sailing, but I try and transfer it over to hiking and camping. Food and insulation is key, and the experience of knowing how much energy is needed to do stuff, and how much energy you got. I don't really like paddling on the Bay of Fundy unless I'm prepared to spend the night out there, not that I would. Mountains are something I know nothing about, but I think they require more of the respect of an ocean than a pond.

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#97832 - 06/11/08 01:08 PM Re: Exposure death on Mt Rainear [Re: Jimshaw]
midnightsun03 Offline
member

Registered: 08/06/03
Posts: 2936
Loc: Alaska
If you're in Great Brittain, you'll see it this month. If in the US, they said it would air in September on Animal Planet. I haven't gotten a copy of the show yet, so I don't know how much you'll see of me, if at all. It was a really fun experience.

From my own experience, it can be really hard to realize you're getting cold. I was explaining to the film crew that classic hypothermia is insidious because it comes on so slowly that you, and often your partners, don't even realize that your mental faculties are declining. In our case the change in mental status was rapid and very obvious to everyone but our subject, who had no idea he'd become so irrational. I haven't been in touch since they left to see how he responded to viewing the video. His mates were really quite stunned by what they witnessed, and I think it really had a powerful impact on them.

MNS
_________________________
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#97833 - 06/11/08 01:15 PM Re: Exposure death on Mt Rainear [Re: JAK]
midnightsun03 Offline
member

Registered: 08/06/03
Posts: 2936
Loc: Alaska
JAK...

Absolutely. He started out shortly after eating a nice breakfast and resting. He was also a well developed, athletic young man with plenty of energy reserves. Shivering violently burns something like 220kCal/hr. That's alot of calories. Imagine trying to maintain an adequate shiver on empty fuel tanks.

Food, water, insulation. Must haves for any hike where hypothermia could be even a remote possibility.

MNS
_________________________
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#97834 - 06/11/08 01:38 PM Re: Exposure death on Mt Rainear [Re: midnightsun03]
TomD Offline
Moderator

Registered: 10/30/03
Posts: 4963
Loc: Marina del Rey,CA
Sounds like a good experiment, MNS. I hope I get to see it.

One thing that you see often in accounts about high altitude mountaineering is that when someone gets really cold, their body reacts as if it is warm and they start taking off their gloves, hats and even their down suits. This happened to one or two of the climbers involved in the multiple deaths portrayed in Into Thin Air. If I remember right, the re-creation in a recent tv show about those climbers showed how the others found one of them just sitting on a ledge with no gloves on and his jacket unzipped in about -30F or so weather, as it he was sitting somewhere on a nice warm day.

So, just as with your test subject, once you get really cold, it may be too late to do any rational thinking.
_________________________
Don't get me started, you know how I get.

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#97835 - 06/11/08 01:58 PM Re: Exposure death on Mt Rainear [Re: TomD]
midnightsun03 Offline
member

Registered: 08/06/03
Posts: 2936
Loc: Alaska
Tom...

Based on our experiment, you don't have to get very cold at all to lose rational thinking. Our subject was at 97.2 for at most 15 minutes, possibly even less. We listened to his declining judgement for several minutes before we realized that he wasn't just being heroic because it was his job. I can easily see how someone could power through the discomfort in an effort to "escape" and then start to think that the situation isn't as bad as they thought as they start to get colder and feel less uncomfortable.

MNS
_________________________
YMMV. Viewer discretion is advised.

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#97836 - 06/11/08 03:00 PM Re: Exposure death on Mt Rainear [Re: TomD]
mockturtle Offline
member

Registered: 06/06/07
Posts: 251
Loc: WA
I agree about not second-guessing. Having lost several friends and acquaintances to the mountains, I happen to know that the various media don't always get the facts right, adding to the heartbreak of an already tragic situation.

I also agree that we can learn from the apparent mistakes, mishaps and misfortunes that can befall even experienced hikers and climbers.

As someone has correctly stated, hypothermia is insidious and impaired judgment occurs early in the game .

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#97837 - 06/11/08 03:22 PM Re: Exposure death on Mt Rainear [Re: mockturtle]
JAK Offline
member

Registered: 03/19/04
Posts: 2569
Heck I don't even have to get cold to lose it.
It happens spontaneously, and often.

I think you have to be prepared to be unprepared,
and practice at keeping your wits when you losing your mind.

I think it helps to spend a lot of time playing in the same sand box.

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#97838 - 06/11/08 08:50 PM Re: Exposure death on Mt Rainear [Re: Jimshaw]
lv2fsh Offline
member

Registered: 04/27/08
Posts: 111
Loc: socal
Not much to add. I hope that it helps someone not to make he same mistake. I never leave the TH without thinking about the what ifs. Having lived in the mountains for 30 years now I think I pay more attention to weather forcasts and weather changes. I worked construction for about seventeen years up here and have learned to spot sudden weather changes coming. Sometimes it means ruined "stuff", sometimes the cost is your life. I'm with Jim, see it and get ready. My thoughts and prayers for the family and I know that they would be the first to hope someone could learn from their tragedy.

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#97839 - 06/11/08 11:48 PM Re: Exposure death on Mt Rainear [Re: lv2fsh]
TomD Offline
Moderator

Registered: 10/30/03
Posts: 4963
Loc: Marina del Rey,CA
When I used to teach scuba diving, the easy part was teaching the technical stuff; the hard part was teaching judgment. That only comes with experience. I think people tend to be more afraid of the water since it is not your natural element, but, somewhat like hiking, learning when to just say, "oh well, I'll just sit on the beach for a while, then go home" sometimes takes a bit of getting banged around to get the big lesson.
_________________________
Don't get me started, you know how I get.

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#97840 - 06/12/08 07:35 AM Re: Exposure death on Mt Rainear [Re: TomD]
johndavid Offline
member

Registered: 04/23/08
Posts: 260
Loc: jersey city NJ
Irrelevant, annoying, inaccurate statistics about rarity of hypothermia:

http://www.nws.noaa.gov/om/hazstats/cold06.pdf

http://www.nws.noaa.gov/om/hazstats.shtml

Do consider that alpine camping in Washington is generally in the 5000-6000 foot range with most higher summits topping out around 8,000 feet. Only two peaks in Washington are higher than Camp Muir, which is at 10,000 feet.

Also consider that currently, for the Cascades, it's still very, very early in the season (really pre-season) even apart from the recent, extremely unusual weather.

For almost anything except Rainier summit, torso insulation layers to bring along in summer in Washington (July- Aug.) could be easily limited to a light pile jacket and a mid-weight poly turtleneck plus a light shirt. This excludes wind/rain layer, etc. A sleeping bag rated at 30F-40F can work very well, sometimes wearing all available clothing.

Obviously being prepared is important, but going overboard isn't necessary and there is a remote chance that getting exhausted from carrying too much stuff could contribute to your untimely death.

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#97841 - 06/12/08 03:25 PM Re: Exposure death on Mt Rainear [Re: johndavid]
OregonMouse Online   content
member

Registered: 02/03/06
Posts: 6738
Loc: Gateway to Columbia Gorge
First, Washington has _four_ peaks (not two) over 10,000 feet elevation (including Rainier) and another 10 (if I counted correctly) between 9,000 and 10,000 feet. Timberline in the WA Cascades is about 5,000-5,500 feet, so conditions there can be comparable to 11,000 feet in Colorado.

Second, you don't have to be caught in a blizzard or in below-freezing temperatures to get hypothermia. All you need to do is get sopping wet with no dry clothes or means of getting warm. My daughter got to the incoherent stage at a temp of about 60* while hiking a river-valley trail through waist-high wet vegetation in blue jeans. Her brother and I set up camp in a hurry, got her into her sleeping bag and filled her with hot cocoa. She learned a good lesson about fashion vs. safety. I learned a good lesson about persistence with stubborn teenagers!

Third, I've encountered frost and snow (not a lot, but enough to make things miserable for the unprepared) on high Cascade trails in July and August. While the weather normally isn't as severe as in the Rockies, it can be severe enough to do the job! I would never go out without being prepared for temps in the upper 20's. Overkill 90% of the time, but vitally needed the other 10%.

The higher glaciated peaks such as Mt. Rainier, are well-known for making their own weather, and such things can happen very suddenly. There was a winter storm watch for the Mt. Rainier area (in fact, the whole Washington Cascades) in effect before these folks started up. Whether they ignored it or neglected to check the forecast, we'll probably never know.
_________________________
May your trails be crooked, winding, lonesome, dangerous, leading to the most amazing view--E. Abbey

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#97842 - 06/12/08 04:14 PM Re: Exposure death on Mt Rainear [Re: OregonMouse]
ringtail Offline
member

Registered: 08/22/02
Posts: 2296
Loc: Colorado Rockies
I agree. Hypothermia is most dangerous in the 30 to 40 degree range. Water is much easier to manage in the solid state and will even provide some insulation. 35 degrees, a steady drizzle and a stiff wind are VERY dangerous. Push too hard trying to make your miles through the muck and mire and exhaustion exacerbates the situation.
_________________________
"In theory, theory and practice are the same. In practice, they are not."
Yogi Berra

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#97843 - 06/13/08 03:38 PM Re: Exposure death on Mt Rainear [Re: ringtail]
johndavid Offline
member

Registered: 04/23/08
Posts: 260
Loc: jersey city NJ
Well Harumph!

Right, four peaks over 10,000 feet. However, two of those are only a tad over 10,000 feet. Hence, there are only two peaks in the state that are (meaningfully) higher than Camp Muir, as I mentioned.


Only a handful of others break 9,000 (is it 10??? Lezzeee....Bonanza, Stuart, Goode, Logan, Black. Maude?......) and as I said , most of the higher peaks in Washington top out at about 8,000 feet. I've climbed about 25 routes out there, which is damned few, considering that I started in 1978.

What hiking trails there are, generally don't get too close to many actual summits and the average Cascades backpacking trip tops out, as I said, at an elevation significantly lower than Camp Muir.

As for my proposed clothing list for the torso in summer Cascades, it is essentially identical to that currently advised by American Alpine Institute in Bellingham for mountaineering in the region.

See:

http://www.aai.cc/pdf_download/am_tl_equipment_list.pdf

They suggest carrying down or "puffy" jacket only before July and after mid-September. If they're wrong about the gear list, they'd sure hear about it from their high-paying, nicely coddled clients.


With only 2 hypothermia deaths reported by NOAA in the 50 states during a recent year, I'd say it's easy to get cold, harder to freeze to death & yeah it's good not to get too cold and wet.

I definitely agree with you !!


The timberline environment in Washington is different than the Colorado timberline.

Interesting facts*: Timberline generally corresponds to where the mean July temperature is 50F. In Cascades, however, the excessive summer snowpack results in a slightly lower treeline than isotherm would suggest.

"In the interior of Western North America, temperature drops an average of 3 degrees for each 1,000 foot gain in elevation. However, in the Maritime PNW, it's closer to 1.4 degrees drop per 1,000 ft" So what does that mean? Dunno exactly, but I find it interesting. Maybe I'm even slightly doubtful, but I guess it's true.

*Reference: "Timberline," (Arno & Hammerly, The Mountaineers, 1984).

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#97844 - 06/13/08 06:10 PM Re: Exposure death on Mt Rainear [Re: midnightsun03]
tarbubble Offline
member

Registered: 04/18/03
Posts: 996
Loc: ca-li-for-ni-a
when i had hypothermia, i was OK as long as we were retreating (got caught in an unexpected hail/sleet storm trying to get over a pass - poor decision making on our part). once we stopped and started setting up camp, I began to mentally deteriorate.

if you are ever hiking with someone who you believe is beginning to get hypothermic, DO NOT BELIEVE ANYTHING THEY SAY. They may, like i did, insist that once they have changed into dry clothes they are fine. I wasn't. I was still cold, disoriented, and in danger. You basically have to treat them like a baby - supervise everything they do. i got into dry clothes, but still had on my wet underwear - my poor husband was busy making me hot food and didn't supervise me. He saved my life, but I sure didn't help!

Again, someone who is hypothermic, even mildly, must be treated like and taken care of like a small child. They will be embarassed about it, may fight you, but unfortunately you have to take over and be Mom or Dad until they are out of danger.

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#97845 - 06/13/08 06:28 PM Re: Exposure death on Mt Rainear [Re: johndavid]
Jimshaw Offline
member

Registered: 10/22/03
Posts: 3967
Loc: Bend, Oregon
from 1979 to 1999 NOAA reported 27 temperture related deaths in FLORIDA. The Florida office of Vital Statistics sets the number at 249 - in FLORIDA!

You do not have to do much research to find about very large numbers of deaths in Storms in America. The NOAA is simply incompetent, they can't even forecast anything right. We had more than 2 people die on Mt Hood last year.

I wish I knew what your agenda is because I don't believe you are as stupid as you try to sound. But I would love to drop you off at a remote trail head in the Cascades equipped as you reccommend. <img src="/forums/images/graemlins/blush.gif" alt="" />

I have considered that you might be my brother in law and that would explain a lot of things.
Jim <img src="/forums/images/graemlins/cool.gif" alt="" />
_________________________
These are my own opinions based on wisdom earned through many wrong decisions. Your mileage may vary.

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#97846 - 06/13/08 07:45 PM Re: Exposure death on Mt Rainear [Re: johndavid]
Pika Offline
member

Registered: 12/08/05
Posts: 1813
Loc: Rural Southeast Arizona
I hiked, climbed and worked outdoors in western Washington for over 30 years. I think I can claim at least a full year and a half of camping out throughout the year there at all elevations, in all weather and undertaking many different pursuits. In addition, I spent six months on a field research expedition in Antarctica. I think I have a pretty good idea of the various flavors of cold weather.

My experience in the Cascades includes winter ascents of Mt. Rainier, Mt. Hood, Glacier Peak, Mt. Shuksan, Mt. Stuart, Mt. Baker and many less well-known summits. I have had to deal with hypothermia as a "first responder" on eight separate occasions; mostly in the summer and with parties other than my own (dayhikers) and with two exceptions, below 3000'. Why did the hypothermia occur? Because the individuals were not prepared for the wet and cold and when they started to deteriorate, they, and others in their party, lacked the warm clothing and shelter necessary to reverse the situation. Two of the people died.

You seem more than a little bit cavalier about the conditions one might encounter in the Washington Cascades. I suspect that this results from inexperience. Mark Twain once said "the coldest winter I ever experienced was a summer in San Fransisco". He was referring to the cold, damp, sunless weather that can inflict the Bay area in summer. The Cascades, especially above timberline, can be like the Bay area in spades. You may not have encountered bad weather on your summer trips there but if you keep going, you will. If you do, I hope that you will be better prepared than you appear to think necessary. Any outdoor endeavor is best approached with humility, not hubris.

I guess I don't really care that much what the American Alpine Institute in Bellingham recommends for their pampered clients; to me it sounds like a lawsuit waiting to happen. I suspect that Jimshaw alone has more outdoor experience than the collective experience of their entire staff.

You cite a lapse rate of one and a half degrees per thousand feet for the maritime Cascades. That is about right. The reason for the low lapse rate is that water making the transition from vapor to liquid releases heat. This is what keeps the temperature drop low; it also results in a lot of rain on the western slopes. Most hypothermia deaths occur at temperatures above freezing with high humidity, wind and rain; conditions that are not that uncommon in July and August in the Washington Cascades.
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#97847 - 06/14/08 09:24 AM Re: Exposure death on Mt Rainear [Re: Pika]
johndavid Offline
member

Registered: 04/23/08
Posts: 260
Loc: jersey city NJ
So....I guess -- what? -- that you are highly experienced & that I've learned less than you have learned.

. have no reason to doubt you, (though I have much distaste for the dueling resume game). Nor do I doubt whatever Jimshaw may know, for that matter, other than that he can't or doesn't care to spell "Rainier."

I always assume good faith in these matters.

But what you say about AAI and its Cascade gear list offers no wisdom. A perplexing contradiction.

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#97848 - 06/14/08 11:33 AM Re: Exposure death on Mt Rainear [Re: johndavid]
midnightsun03 Offline
member

Registered: 08/06/03
Posts: 2936
Loc: Alaska
This thread has devolved into a rather odd exchange.

JD, what exactly is the point you're trying to make? Surely you don't really believe that hypothermia is an invalid concern?

MNS
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