‘Yeah, I might die, but it’s a pretty nice way.’
February 1, 2015 8:19 PM   Subscribe

How A Chicago Man Hampered His Own Rescue From The Columbia Icefield, And What Searchers Learned From Him.
When you ask members of the Jasper Parks Canada visitor safety team if they remember the search for George Joachim, a common response is a deep sigh, and something like: “Ah yes…George.” Four years later, the name still conjures head shaking and wary glances. ... Joachim unintentionally misled searchers by listing his destination incorrectly in the climber’s registry, and then behaved so unlike other people previously have in his circumstance that he was repeatedly missed in the search. Parks Canada’s search and rescue community considers his case a valuable learning experience and have since tweaked search protocols to account for other behavioral outliers.
via BLDGBLOG: Algorithms In The Wild
posted by the man of twists and turns (85 comments total) 52 users marked this as a favorite

 
Shudder. Having read that, and having walked some unpopular (and semi-abandoned) trails I can totally see myself making mistakes that fall into the same class. I suspect that Midwestern habits of mind could be rather dangerous in the proper wilderness.
posted by wotsac at 8:45 PM on February 1, 2015 [4 favorites]


eponysterical?
posted by raihan_ at 8:45 PM on February 1, 2015 [26 favorites]


Well, now I know that I should move around a lot to leave tracks if ever lost in the wilderness. Also, maybe leave a note in your car about where you are going.

And they say what you don't know can't hurt you.
posted by Trifling at 8:48 PM on February 1, 2015 [1 favorite]


Last summer, an experienced hiker took a day hike in what is pretty much my back yard and never came back. She knew the territory and had covered it several times before. She didn't leave her travel plans with anyone. They never even recovered the body. It was a heavy reminder to me to give my neighbors a call about my route and to stick to it.
posted by Foam Pants at 8:52 PM on February 1, 2015 [11 favorites]


That was an interesting article. It kind of sounded like he fell into a gap between experienced (who would know what to do and hence be predictable) and total beginner (who would know nothing but also be predictable). Instead he kept doing things wrong but with enough knowledge to stay alive, and didn't fit their conceptual pattern.
posted by Dip Flash at 8:54 PM on February 1, 2015 [3 favorites]


Reminds me a bit of talking with some Alaskan park types about Christopher McCandless. Except way less tragic since this guy didn't die. Needless to say there was an awful lot of head shaking and wary glancing going on about McCandless too. Nobody wanted to speak ill of the dead but it was obvious they thought he was an idiot.
posted by Justinian at 9:02 PM on February 1, 2015 [5 favorites]


I realize it's not the point of the article, but it's kind of odd how emotionally dry this article is. I mean he calls his wife and she just says "Oh, they called off the search. " Presumably if she was notified they had called out the search they would have notified her that he was presumed dead? But she's just like "Ok, you're alive then?" And so he doesn't even bother to tell anyone until the next day that he's out and alive?
posted by If only I had a penguin... at 9:03 PM on February 1, 2015 [28 favorites]


I've been keeping up with Tom Mahood's Searching for Bill Ewasko series since the Hunt for the Death Valley Germans FPP two years ago* and that has been a long string of behavioral assumptions just not panning out in the search, it's fascinating and frustrating in equal measure. They've long since exhausted the things that make sense, and now 75 searches later by Tom and friends and it's been a long string of testing "well if he made this unusual decision, maybe it led to that, and if that caused him to make this other unusual decision..." theories with no Bill in sight so far. I respect the hell out of their determination, and I really hope they find out what happened to him.

*if you haven't read this series, you really really should because it's amazing but make sure you block off a few hours because you will totally get sucked in and it's a long read
posted by jason_steakums at 9:18 PM on February 1, 2015 [35 favorites]


He arrived at the climber’s parking lot and was dismayed to see his car had been towed. “There was a bag of chips in there,” he said.

I hope he got his chips back!
posted by Iridic at 9:26 PM on February 1, 2015 [30 favorites]


He didn't act as expected but he also took care of hmself in just fine and made it out so you can't really say he did anything stupid besides be inexperienced. He handled the situation his inexperience got him into better than most.

It sounds like the biggest unexpected thing he did was strike out across country. Most mountaineers follow trails like ants; it's a common joke but it's kind of true. They are predictable.

That and not stamping a giant SOS into the snow and dyeing it red with Kool Aid.
posted by fshgrl at 9:34 PM on February 1, 2015 [7 favorites]


I really don't know quite what to make of this guy.

I wanted to see a picture of a person who could go through that with so much casual aplomb, and I found an article told mainly from his point of view which did very little to enlighten me.

He doesn't look that big; he's slender and sinewy and I'd guess he has a very high strength to body weight ratio and tremendous physical toughness plus a very resilient and resourceful metabolism to back it up -- but no apparent awareness that there's anything unusual about him.

Hmm!
posted by jamjam at 9:34 PM on February 1, 2015 [2 favorites]


There's an outstanding espresso bar in downtown Jasper called Snow Dome Cafe. It's attached to a laundromat. Fratello (artisanal Calgary roaster) coffees made with a Slayer, just superb.

I didn't know the reference of Snow Dome, but do now. I hope Mr Joachim does :-)
posted by ethnomethodologist at 9:34 PM on February 1, 2015


He doesn't look that big; he's slender and sinewy and I'd guess he has a very high strength to body weight ratio and tremendous physical toughness

A really good sleeping bag and a bivy sack are what got him through this. Physical toughness won't do bumpkiss without a way to stay warm. He didn't travel very far.

Although it sounds like he soaked his sleeping bag right away so I guess a good bivy sack and pad got him through it! He was lucky.

And a cool head I guess.
posted by fshgrl at 9:38 PM on February 1, 2015 [4 favorites]


he Hunt for the Death Valley Germans FPP two years ago* and that has been a long string of behavioral assumptions just not panning out in the search, it's fascinating and frustrating in equal measure.

That's still going on? I remember getting sucked down into that hole from that FPP.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 9:38 PM on February 1, 2015 [1 favorite]


A really good sleeping bag and a bivy sack are what got him through this. Physical toughness won't do bumpkiss without a way to stay warm. He didn't travel very far

His bag got soaked the first night and he had a day and a half supply of food for the whole nine days:
“Then it proceeded to snow hard, windy, white out conditions for two days.”

Battling the snow throughout the night, Joachim would get out of his warm cocoon and ensure the snow wasn’t building up around him.

Consequently, his down sleeping bag was soaked by morning, but he was still not too concerned, because the forecast was good.
...
Given his exhaustion, and coldness, Joachim admits he doesn’t remember much of the second night.

“I stopped somewhere, kicked out a trench, get in that sleeping bag and now you start fighting to keep warm.”

The realization of his troubles kick in, as he’s only got a little bit of food and all his gear is drenched.
...
Frozen, Joachim doesn’t even get in his sleeping bag on the third night. Nor did he take off his shoes, instead putting them inside his empty backpack, for added insulation. Doing callisthenics throughout the night, he battles through another blizzard night.

“At one point, I had got out to scrape the blowing snow out of my trench… so my hands are freezing. I think I passed out, so I didn’t get that foot in the backpack, so that left foot is just frozen.”
posted by jamjam at 9:56 PM on February 1, 2015 [6 favorites]


Weird, I was just re-reading Hunt for the Death Valley Germans today. If you're interested in this kind of thing, may I recommend: Off the Wall: Death in Yosemite: Gripping Accounts of All Known Fatal Mishaps in America's First Protected Land of Scenic Wonders
posted by jcruelty at 10:05 PM on February 1, 2015 [14 favorites]


There's also a Death in Yellowstone book. Both are "gripping" for sure!

Especially since I did a similar thing in my idiotic youth: I was hiking solo in the Tetons, hadn't told anyone I was going, and went off-trail to shortcut. I ended up in a very precarious position and had to back out on hands and knees....

Thank goodness I didn't end up as a paragraph in one of those books....
posted by CrowGoat at 10:11 PM on February 1, 2015 [3 favorites]


Something people can carry to avoid this situation is a Personal Location Beacon (PLB) or Satellite Messenger. They're small and relatively light weight. PLBs run about $300 and don't need a subscription (as the satellite messengers do) and are the land equivalent of Emergency Position Indicating Radio Beacons (EPIRBs).

I don't have one, but I've been considering getting one.
posted by ShooBoo at 10:45 PM on February 1, 2015 [15 favorites]


Can't really expect a statistical model to work well when all the data are incorrect.
posted by Segundus at 10:47 PM on February 1, 2015 [2 favorites]


Back in my survivalist (hah) days, I remember seeing "marker panel" on a number of suggested packing lists. I never really gave it much thought, but it would seem to be useful in situations like this.
posted by wuwei at 10:54 PM on February 1, 2015 [3 favorites]


I've been keeping up with Tom Mahood's Searching for Bill Ewasko series

I just read that whole thing. It's hard to believe someone could get that lost in JTNP! I hope they find him.
posted by fshgrl at 11:01 PM on February 1, 2015


This article makes George's decisions all (or almost all) sound so sensible. It's a bit confusing when the thesis is that he did so many strange things.

But yes, *shudder*. It brings back memories of traversing something dumb, and the "ledge" crumbling out from under me, and quickly plastering my body against the slope to balance on the tiny toehold that was left. And as I stood there trying to figure out whether I should finish crossing or go back, half my mind was instead occupied with wondering how hurt I'd be if I didn't make it ("it's close enough I could definitely make it back on a broken ankle") and trying to remember just what had I written in the trailhead log. Good times.
posted by salvia at 11:12 PM on February 1, 2015 [6 favorites]


If only I had a penguin...: "I realize it's not the point of the article, but it's kind of odd how emotionally dry this article is. I mean he calls his wife and she just says 'Oh, they called off the search.' Presumably if she was notified they had called out the search they would have notified her that he was presumed dead? But she's just like 'Ok, you're alive then?' And so he doesn't even bother to tell anyone until the next day that he's out and alive?"

According to the article, George was never officially presumed dead. The Jasper Parks Visitor Safety Team gave up their search and "turned the investigation over to Jasper RCMP," which I imagine means it turned into a standard missing-person case. The team seems to have concluded privately that he was probably dead - and I'm pretty sure private conclusions like that are not announced publicly or passed on to family members, particularly since they ought to have found a body if he were dead. More likely they told her the truth - that George's chances weren't good, but his body had not been found, and they'd exhausted all options for searching.

I agree that the article has some coldness, although I found that refreshing personally.
posted by koeselitz at 11:37 PM on February 1, 2015 [3 favorites]


I've been keeping up with Tom Mahood's Searching for Bill Ewasko series since the Hunt for the Death Valley Germans FPP two years ago* and that has been a long string of behavioral assumptions just not panning out in the search, it's fascinating and frustrating in equal measure.

I have a deep love-hate relationship with these types of stories, and more so now that I'm a parent. I went down the rabbit hole of the Death Valley Germans a year or so ago, and I can't help but think what must have been going through their heads when they realized they'd doomed not only themselves, but their kids. Makes my hair stand on end.

See also the story of James Kim (a former CNet editor) and his family. His family, at least, made it.

As far as McCandless's stupidity goes -- he was young, and from what was by all accounts (mainly: his sister's) a broken home. I did some pretty dumb things when I was his age. The difference is that I lived to tell it (or not, in some cases). It's probably why so many people identify with his story.
posted by offalark at 11:37 PM on February 1, 2015 [3 favorites]


I hike quite often here in the UK and via the web get to hear about a lot of mountain rescue call-outs - most teams list each one so you can read about what they've been up to. Makes you realise how compact most UK teams' search areas are , although I'm not trying to belittle them as they're volunteers who save a lot of lives each year.

Also, 'I'm a behavioural outlier' is my new explanation for pretty much everything.
posted by dowcrag at 12:23 AM on February 2, 2015 [2 favorites]


Search and Rescue is a remarkable construction of civilization.
posted by Nelson at 12:41 AM on February 2, 2015 [25 favorites]


For some reason the cold tone of the article made it really funny to me, legitimately laugh out loud. There's this massive search party out looking for him and he's lounging around sun tanning.

(likely influenced by my mental image of him turning into Mr. Bean part way through)
posted by mannequito at 12:43 AM on February 2, 2015 [17 favorites]


fshgrl: "That and not stamping a giant SOS into the snow"

This is the weird part. Though I have to wonder what colour his sleeping bag and bivy sack were.

wuwei: " I remember seeing "marker panel" on a number of suggested packing lists. I never really gave it much thought, but it would seem to be useful in situations like this."

Orange plastic leaf bags or drum liners are lighter, cheaper and can double as ponchos/rain jackets. I have several in my hiking emergency sack.
posted by Mitheral at 1:41 AM on February 2, 2015 [9 favorites]


RCMP and Parks Canada officials visited Joachim’s apartment in Fort Saskatchewan (where he was working temporarily), and hacked into his computer.

I think I saw this on House.
posted by ddd at 2:03 AM on February 2, 2015 [13 favorites]


I didn't even know the RCMP could do that. I wonder what would have happened if they'd found a couple pot plants in his computer room.
posted by Mitheral at 2:27 AM on February 2, 2015 [1 favorite]


Admire his efforts to increase his productivity?
posted by ddd at 2:38 AM on February 2, 2015


The difference is that I lived to tell it (or not, in some cases).

You are large, you contain multitudes?
posted by Segundus at 2:42 AM on February 2, 2015 [2 favorites]


I have a lot of sympathy with James Kim's decision to strike out on his own looking for help, even though it's supposedly the wrong thing to do, and it lead to his death. He had done the "right" thing, staying put and waiting for searchers, for a week already, with no sign of help coming. He had no cell signal. I suspect that his wife may have stopped lactating (she was nursing their youngest child) after that long with starvation rations. It would be incredibly difficult to resist the idea that you're all going to die here if you do nothing, and head out looking for help.
posted by thelonius at 3:31 AM on February 2, 2015 [7 favorites]


I don't think I'd allow people to hike a place like the Athabasca Glacier without a SPOT or the like. "Here's your rescue signal. If you want to climb here, you have to carry one. It's free to borrow, but if you lose it we will fine you lots of money for being so careless with our trust, so strap it on and bring it back. Otherwise, just be careful. We love you. Press the button and sit still if you get into trouble." And have it set to automatically send out a tracking signal every few minutes, with no way to disable it, regardless of any indication of trouble.
posted by pracowity at 3:56 AM on February 2, 2015 [8 favorites]


Not that I think we should leave hikers or mountaineers to die either, but I just don't understand how in many places society will spend tens of thousands of dollars and person-hours to save a hiker freezing to death in the wilderness but do nothing at all for a homeless guy under a bridge in the same danger.
posted by lollusc at 4:07 AM on February 2, 2015 [84 favorites]


Just for the record, the man is insane. Walking across a crevasse field without even rope? It's amazing he lived.
posted by sonic meat machine at 4:25 AM on February 2, 2015 [7 favorites]


Joachim Georg is an outlier adn could not be located
posted by zamboni at 4:41 AM on February 2, 2015 [16 favorites]


It's funny – I read this at least as much as a story about how cognitive biases can lead searchers to make mistakes than about the hiker's stupidity. Since emergencies are pretty much by definition the result of a failure of events to pan out as expected, I'm struck by the searchers' tone of bafflement that he wasn't conforming to their expectations.
posted by oliverburkeman at 5:10 AM on February 2, 2015 [9 favorites]


But this kind of emergency is completely expected. It's what happens if you wander off into the wilderness and get stuck from winter weather.
posted by thelonius at 6:02 AM on February 2, 2015


Search and Rescue is a remarkable construction of civilization.

...which is why it is a wasteful extravagance that must be rendered illegal and replaced by subscription-based corporate survival-loyalty programs that will inevitably be eliminated as insufficiently profitable, leaving everyone worse off.
posted by aramaic at 6:22 AM on February 2, 2015 [4 favorites]


Not that I think we should leave hikers or mountaineers to die either, but I just don't understand how in many places society will spend tens of thousands of dollars and person-hours to save a hiker freezing to death in the wilderness but do nothing at all for a homeless guy under a bridge in the same danger.

My first inclination is to make a joke about race, e.g. African American Boycott of LL Bean Enters 80th Year

But on reflection it's more of a city mouse, country mouse distinction. People in isolated or rural areas, I've found, are much more likely to go out of their way to help their fellow human.

Part of it could be the bystander effect, in cities you see no one helping the person in need, so you don't do it. A car accident in the middle of nowhere? It's you or nobody. It could be because in less populated areas people are rare, and we automatically pair rarity with value.

I really don't know, but I see it frequently.
posted by leotrotsky at 6:29 AM on February 2, 2015 [4 favorites]


This is just one reason why I prefer to remain in dense, populated areas. Sure, I'm more likely to be run over by a bus or gunned down by a desperate mugger or trigger-happy policeman, but at least nobody will have to go searching for my body.
posted by Faint of Butt at 7:12 AM on February 2, 2015 [1 favorite]


Yeah, I was a bit taken aback by the tone in 'the search' article, listing up all the costs to 'the taxpayer' of saving a man's life and tapping its pen meaningfully on the bottom line. $30,000 CAD now and then is a small price to pay when the alternative is living with having abandoned someone to die alone of exposure, and is exactly the sort of cost that should be borne by society as a whole to avoid it overloading any single source of funding.
posted by Drexen at 7:12 AM on February 2, 2015 [1 favorite]


(And of course, the solution to the hiker-vs-homeless paradox is obvious enough; neither type of abandonment should be tolerable to a civilized society).
posted by Drexen at 7:14 AM on February 2, 2015


Drexen: “$30,000 CAD now and then is a small price to pay when the alternative is living with having abandoned someone to die alone of exposure, and is exactly the sort of cost that should be borne by society as a whole to avoid it overloading any single source of funding.”

That's easy to say, and of course on the face of it it's true. When the alternative is abandoning a person to death by exposure, society ought to step in and do something; we all agree there. But how do you know when that's the alternative? When you're actually running a search and rescue operation, you have to answer that question every day, and it's difficult. Moreover, those costs, and the attendant effort, are such that they often mean diverting resources from one search to another based on guesses about the probability that someone is going to turn out to be safe or not. When a guy just up and walks out of his own accord, with no help, after a long and expensive search that (it turns out) could have ended much sooner if even one or two factors had gone differently, there are questions that need to be answered about why. Money may seem like a crass way to measure the urgency of those questions, but keep in mind that that money reflects all the person-hours and resources devoted to the search which couldn't be devoted to another search for another lost person.
posted by koeselitz at 7:26 AM on February 2, 2015 [5 favorites]


I don't think I'd allow people to hike a place like the Athabasca Glacier without a SPOT or the like.
posted by pracowity
yeah, but then you get the issue of inexperienced hikers pulling their SPOT and requesting rescue because they forgot to bring water or because they want to ask a ranger to deliver some extra jackets up to them because they didn't plan their clothing properly. It's great that more advanced technology allows us to bail out novice in over their heads, but that shouldn't be a replacement for experience and it shouldn't be a failsafe for emboldening beginners to take on terrain that is beyond their skills.

For myself, I'd be interested in seeing some kind of gradiated qualification system for hikers registering to visit certain backcountry areas. Like, say, in order to visit Athabasca solo, you need to provide some kind proof that you've done x number of glacier trips before or you have to go with a guide. If you don't show qualification, you can still choose to go, but if you need SAR, you foot the bill. States like New Hamphire are starting to institute programs to basically fine hikers who they considered to be negligent in their backcountry practices and required unnecessary search and rescue.
posted by bl1nk at 7:29 AM on February 2, 2015 [1 favorite]


I just don't understand how in many places society will spend tens of thousands of dollars and person-hours to save a hiker freezing to death in the wilderness but do nothing at all for a homeless guy under a bridge in the same danger.

The guys doing search and rescue realize it might be them in the woods someday.
posted by Mitheral at 7:30 AM on February 2, 2015 [6 favorites]


Not that I think we should leave hikers or mountaineers to die either, but I just don't understand how in many places society will spend tens of thousands of dollars and person-hours to save a hiker freezing to death in the wilderness but do nothing at all for a homeless guy under a bridge in the same danger.
Why spend all this time and money fixing a toothache when you have cancer? One is a discrete event that has a direct solution and the other is a symptom of a chronic dysfunction within society. I agree that both should be addressed, but it also takes a different set of people and skills to address one vs. the other.

Also, parks and the outdoors fall into societal budgets of 'recreation' and 'natural appreciation'. We interact with nature in an aspirational way, and that makes more of us desirous to spend money on it or support it. The homeless of our society is a constant reminder that we've, in various ways, failed our fellow man, and you can only wring so much support out of guilt and shame.
posted by bl1nk at 7:33 AM on February 2, 2015 [4 favorites]


A story on a wilderness rescue. It shows how even an experienced day hiker can have problems. There are actually some good comments on the story, and in one the author says her husband is looking into a personal locator beacon for future hikes.
posted by gudrun at 7:34 AM on February 2, 2015 [1 favorite]


The only thing more dangerous than ignorance is not realizing how ignorant you really are.
posted by mikeh at 7:51 AM on February 2, 2015 [2 favorites]


Oh God, the James Kim story.

At the end of 2006, I was tutoring co-workers in English, for an Air [Country] project we were on. They needed conversational skills – an integral part of our job was phoning up partner airlines across the world to verify that ticketing agreement tests had run properly. But, naturally the first thing a human being does when a brand-new person from across the world phones them is more along the lines of "awesome! You are in [Country]! How is the weather there? What's your favorite food and what's your favorite place to visit there and why?"

Since I was from a part of the world they'd never heard of (sigh, Oregon, forever assumed to be stuck "in the Midwest" or "near Los Angeles"), I used news examples from the state. I'd worked at Crater Lake, everyone on our French team were seasoned hikers (the Riviera is in the foothills of the Alps), thus we naturally got onto those subjects.

The Kim story came up; I assumed the family would be found eventually. However, out of a sense of responsibility, having been raised an outdoorswoman, and a lot of my colleagues getting hyped by the idea of one day hiking/climbing/skiing in Oregon, I did also tell them that a few people a year got lost in the wilderness and passed away; ditto for a few unfortunate people who got caught in the Pacific's undertow in Oregon. (It ain't the Mediterranean.) When I learned that James Kim had been found dead, my heart dropped... we'd all hoped he would make it. I'll never forget the looks on their faces when I had to tell them.
posted by fraula at 8:13 AM on February 2, 2015 [1 favorite]


Not that I think we should leave hikers or mountaineers to die either, but I just don't understand how in many places society will spend tens of thousands of dollars and person-hours to save a hiker freezing to death in the wilderness but do nothing at all for a homeless guy under a bridge in the same danger.

To be fair, we spend quite a bit on that too. Perhaps not enough, but also not nothing. And hiker or homeless, some people are not easy to help.
posted by rodlymight at 8:31 AM on February 2, 2015 [2 favorites]


Also, it's more clear what to do to find a hiker - very physical, concrete actions. Helping homeless people is not as easy for people to understand. Helping young kids in school is not as easy for people to understand. I sometimes think that codifying what is known about these murkier issues, so that voters and politicians can all proceed with all relevant information, and so that we can check to make sure politicians have all relevant information, would be really helpful.
posted by amtho at 8:50 AM on February 2, 2015 [1 favorite]


Mitheral: Orange plastic leaf bags or drum liners are lighter, cheaper and can double as ponchos/rain jackets. I have several in my hiking emergency sack.
Time to drag out this story again. Kids, learn from your Uncle Broom's mistakes, and come prepared intentionally.

The most important item in a survival pack is a plastic garbage bag. In case of a downpour, it can become an instant poncho (poke three holes in the bottom corners and middle, and thrust head & arms through, forming a tight seal). It quite possibly saved our lives (4 hale but foolish 22yos) on a canoe trip once, when it unexpectedly turned cool and rainy for hours. For the first guy we cut out big neck & arm holes; this allowed all the water pouring down his head to drain down his trunk, and by the time the rain ended he was white-lipped and shivering uncontrollably. By the 2nd guy we discovered we could force our heads through a pinhole in the bag, which would snap tight to a fairly watertight seal about our necks - our arms and heads were cold, but we weren't near hypothermia like he was. (We used every bag, so we couldn't really fix his.) (What would the last guy have looked like if we had one less bag, since just a fraction of the water getting in nearly lost the first guy?)

Bears, suspect water sources, and walking lost without a compass are unlikely to do more than greatly dismay you. Wet clothing can kill you in a few hours time, a mile from your car.

Mitheral, TYVM for the orange-bag suggestion. Going to replace my bags with ones more visible.
posted by IAmBroom at 9:00 AM on February 2, 2015 [13 favorites]


thelonius: I have a lot of sympathy with James Kim's decision to strike out on his own looking for help, even though it's supposedly the wrong thing to do, and it lead to his death.
I contend he absolutely did the right thing. He waited until it seemed absolutely necessary, tried, and failed. Sometimes the right thing is not a sure bet. But it was absolutely the right thing for the father to do, at that point: a potential suicide mission to save his family.
posted by IAmBroom at 9:05 AM on February 2, 2015 [9 favorites]


> Mitheral, TYVM for the orange-bag suggestion

Seconded! I'm the Outdoor Mom for a Girl Scout troop, and I'm going to add those to the girls' packing lists.
posted by The corpse in the library at 9:06 AM on February 2, 2015 [2 favorites]


oliverburkeman: It's funny – I read this at least as much as a story about how cognitive biases can lead searchers to make mistakes than about the hiker's stupidity. Since emergencies are pretty much by definition the result of a failure of events to pan out as expected, I'm struck by the searchers' tone of bafflement that he wasn't conforming to their expectations.
You're reading a story about how one single rescue operation went badly because it was atypical, and deciding therefore that emergency rescue personnel should never rely on expectations - even though such expectations aid them 99% of the time. Most people in emergency situations are fairly predictable. This story wouldn't be interesting if it were likely.
posted by IAmBroom at 9:13 AM on February 2, 2015 [2 favorites]


Paraphrase from a radio interview with a forest ranger: "We don't bill for the cost of search and rescue for lost hikers because we don't want their friends and relatives going out on their own to look for them. That would be much worse."
posted by ovvl at 9:25 AM on February 2, 2015 [25 favorites]


I was rescued. I was a kid, 10? Just decided to cut through the woods from a campground to the fort. I was sure I was following a path, well at first. It was just an afternoon in the summer but I figured out that I was doing circles. I'd started a simple lean to in case I had to spend the night but heard a shout just before they were to shut down for the evening. It was on the ocean and the fog horns were really eerie while very alone in the woods. Just a short cut. If I ever get to live away from the urban jungle I'll certainly be a search and rescue volunteer. The only thing thing I remember the guys asking is if I was really lost (as opposed to off smoking or something). Also they were not at all surprised, the fairly small forest was incredibly dense and I was far from the first to loose the way.
posted by sammyo at 9:44 AM on February 2, 2015 [2 favorites]


I've climbed Mount Athabasca and even that relatively compact glacier is spooky to travel across, never mind the huge, jagged Columbia icefield. You can see the big crevasses but you're never sure about what you can't see, the known unknowns. People do die in those crevasses, even when they're doing things properly, if they fall far enough or get wedged in tight - I would have thought this would be the prevailing theory of the searchers, not that this guy 'didn't want to be found'. As others have said though, once he realized his mistakes Joachim did seem to act fairly sensibly.
posted by Flashman at 9:47 AM on February 2, 2015


I would agree with IAmBroom on James Kim. He was a smart guy, I don't doubt that he knew he was reducing his personal survival odds, but he was giving his family another potential survival route. As I recall, they only found the family in time because a chance atmospheric event caused a cell tower ping, and Kim was only a mile or so from winter cabins with emergency equipment. So a slight change of conditions and maybe the scenario goes the other way (or worse, neither happens.) When you've got two little kids to protect, you do these things.
posted by tavella at 9:57 AM on February 2, 2015 [2 favorites]


To be fair, we spend quite a bit on that too.

Yes. Lots of money. Homeless people cost a lot more than the occasional lost climber.
posted by pracowity at 10:19 AM on February 2, 2015 [1 favorite]


I just don't understand how in many places society will spend tens of thousands of dollars and person-hours to save a hiker freezing to death in the wilderness but do nothing at all for a homeless guy under a bridge in the same danger.

SAR is simple, comparatively. It's sometimes technically difficult, and I have enormous respect for skills and training of the women and men who do it. I've worked closely with them on occasion. However, emotionally, ethically, it's very simple. No one ever has sleepless nights wondering if we should save a person lost in the woods or rescuing a sailor at sea.

"Rescuing" the homeless can be heartbreaking and complicated, from what little I know. It's not simple. There are a whole host of ethical, social and psychological issues.

Anyway, in Canada, most of the rescue services have the option of recovering costs for the operation to rescuee. It's not always or often done, but has been used for people who intentionally endanger themselves, like skiiers going out of bounds and the like.
posted by bonehead at 10:32 AM on February 2, 2015 [3 favorites]


People like this used to die. But we've gotten so good at search and rescue, we now have the expectation that everyone can be saved all the time. And that's just not ever going to be the case.

Whatever money you're spending on S&R, we need to spend double on last-mile education in parks and wilderness areas.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 10:40 AM on February 2, 2015 [1 favorite]


inexperienced hikers pulling their SPOT and requesting rescue because they forgot to bring water or because they want to ask a ranger to deliver some extra jackets

I have a friend who works at one of the SPOT companies. People do this all the damn time. Skiers are notorious for wanting pickups, apparently.
posted by bonehead at 10:44 AM on February 2, 2015


I don't find Joachim's actions once he was in trouble that odd; it's generally recommended that if you have a secure spot, you should stay in place and wait for rescue rather than go wandering. And while moving during snowstorms is unusual, he had a perfectly good reason: he was getting dangerously cold staying in place. He misjudged how hard it would be for helicopters and and himself to see each other, but that's easy to do if you haven't done S&R yourself.

The part that was really odd to me was when he got to the park building. There was apparently people there, since he borrowed some change for the phone and candy machine, but he apparently didn't go "lost for a few days, could you give me a ride off the mountain?" I'm pretty sure people would have stood him the cost of a ride and a meal and his wife could have booked a motel room from Chicago. Instead he went "I've got a candy bar and a bivy, I'm good!" and camped out there overnight until they reopened in the morning.

So he definitely seems to have an unusual combination of somewhat foolish actions (not going to the trail head for Mount Snow Dome and instead heading off across a crevasse field towards it) and a sort of mental serenity and extreme physical endurance that allow him to get himself back out of the trouble that brings.
posted by tavella at 11:06 AM on February 2, 2015 [3 favorites]


Just for the record, the man is insane. Walking across a crevasse field without even rope? It's amazing he lived.

A rope doesn't do you any good if you don't have a partner to use it.

Even then it's no sure thing. A person can become wedged in a crevasse so tight by a fall that all your partner can do is talk to you and keep you company over the hours as you slowly freeze to death.
posted by JackFlash at 11:58 AM on February 2, 2015


Yeah, the last bit where he runs into people on their way back, finds his own car gone so hikes back to the park building, sees it is closed and then camps out for another night is just beyond my comprehension. Although by that point I had already accepted that his decision making process was more than a bit flawed.
posted by any portmanteau in a storm at 11:59 AM on February 2, 2015


I don't think it was necessarily a *flawed* choice; he was apparently physically fine, and wasn't going to be hurt by sleeping out another night. It was just... at that point I would be like "oh god, take me where there is a lot of food and warmth I don't have to generate myself". He was clearly in a very different mindspace!
posted by tavella at 12:06 PM on February 2, 2015 [2 favorites]


The part that was really odd to me was when he got to the park building. There was apparently people there, since he borrowed some change for the phone and candy machine, but he apparently didn't go "lost for a few days, could you give me a ride off the mountain?"

If he's talking about this park building, it's a big tourist destination, which serves several hundred people at once during peak periods. I would think it's difficult to pick out one group from among 100 (many of whom are in chartered tour groups) to ask that question. One family, sure, ("Hey buddy, can I get a ride? Spare change?"), but literally hundreds and hundreds of tourists? Hmm...

Like, you wouldn't be standing in front of the Disneyland front gates going, "Can someone take me to San Diego?"
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 12:18 PM on February 2, 2015 [2 favorites]


It even has an inn on the top floor, apparently. I'm assuming his chain of thought was "my car is probably somewhere around here, the parks office will be closed right now, I'll camp overnight and call them in the morning to find out where it is, pick it up and go." And was in sufficiently good shape that he didn't see any reason why he needed to go beg the inn for shelter. Definitely a different mindset!
posted by tavella at 12:33 PM on February 2, 2015


tavella: I would agree with IAmBroom on James Kim.

Yeah, to be clear, I know why he did what he did and I had that same sinking feeling when I found out his body has been found. His story has stuck with me. If by some twist of fate my husband and I were in the same situation, we probably would have done everything those two did, right down to burning the car tires for warmth.

sammyo's story reminds me that when I was a wee one, me and a neighborhood kid wandered off into the desert on our own and were gone for so long my parents and grandparents had rounded up a search party. At the time Palm Desert wasn't the fabulously terraformed destination it is now, and there were huge stretches of desert right outside my back door for two kids to explore. I didn't understand why my mother was hysterical when we came walking back out in time for dinner. In retrospect, I'm probably responsible for 80% of her gray hairs.

The neighborhood kid said he'd found an old plane crash site and wanted to show it to me. I'm pretty sure we saw something metallic and half-buried in the sand, eroded by wind and sun, but I was dubious then (and still am) that it was an actual plane crash site. Probably just junk someone dumped out there. Probably.
posted by offalark at 1:04 PM on February 2, 2015 [1 favorite]


A rope doesn't do you any good if you don't have a partner to use it.

Thus, "without even a rope." Ugh.

When I was a kid, we lived out in the country and I used to range for miles around. Even in the relatively temperate and comfortable Southern US, there are hazards. If you're a hobbyist, or just starting out with cross-country hiking, it's easy to underestimate how tough terrain can be, and how dangerous, leaving freezing weather and glacial icefields out of the equation.

I once got myself well and truly lost, and had to find a brook and follow it to a creek, then follow that to a river, then follow that to a highway overpass that I knew in order to get out. I hadn't brought anything beyond some water and a snack, either, and it was 35 degrees. It probably would've gone badly if it had gotten dark before I found my way to the road, or if I'd fallen into the water.
posted by sonic meat machine at 1:13 PM on February 2, 2015


Just for the record, the man is insane. Walking across a crevasse field without even rope? It's amazing he lived.

I didn't get the impression that he knew he was crossing a hazardous crevasse field. There are other hints in the article that he wasn't adequately familiar with the terrain, and that he may have been misled about the hazards that were present in proximity to the hike that he was attempting.

Having dealt with trail guides and maps in the past, I certainly find this narrative to be plausible. Good information exists, but it can be obnoxiously hard to find -- at least in the US, almost none of it's available electronically, and you generally need to cobble your own guide together from several separate sources.

He wasn't an idiot, but he was definitely in over his head, and seemingly did not have access to good information.
posted by schmod at 1:45 PM on February 2, 2015 [1 favorite]


He wasn't utterly blind to the hazards of the ice field, he decided he couldn't go back the way he came after the snowstorm, because it meant he couldn't see the terrain well enough to avoid the crevasses. And he did make it across initially, so apparently he was not totally nuts to think he could pass through it. He also rejected another potential route back after determining it was too crevasse-filled. So I have mixed feelings; he was definitely not fully prepared because he got stuck out there after a foreseeable hazard like a blizzard in Alberta in September, but he also did seem to have a clear grasp of his capabilities and pretty good judgement of the terrain.
posted by tavella at 2:03 PM on February 2, 2015


One thing I did like was this:

“An analysis of his Internet research revealed that he had repeatedly researched a non-technical route up to the AA col between Mount Athabasca and Mount Andromeda. He was also active on a number of websites where adventurers and “survivalists” share information about their conquests. His comments on these sites gave the impression that he had an understanding of some fundamentals of winter travel... In reality, Joachim had no mountaineering experience.”

I know those aren't necessarily mutually exclusive, but – well, that did make me do a quick glance over my shoulder. Who knew that pretending to be an expert on the internet could get you killed?
posted by koeselitz at 2:36 PM on February 2, 2015


(I guess I'm probably safe if I ever need to be rescued, though. "Ha, look at this guy's posting history. We're dealing with an idiot here, folks – make sure you check all the silliest and most obvious places, because that's probably where he wandered off to.")
posted by koeselitz at 2:39 PM on February 2, 2015 [4 favorites]


I'm extremely impressed that the S&R team's reaction after the fact was "we need to learn from this experience", rather than "oh, this guy was just an idiot".
posted by dmd at 3:56 PM on February 2, 2015 [5 favorites]


The Kims' story is particularly terrifying to me because they weren't trying to do anything involving crevasses or glaciers or even trailheads. They were merely driving to a hotel after eating dinner at Denny's. It's jarring that something so utterly mundane can go so terribly wrong.

Looking at Google maps, I still can't make rhyme or reason of the roads leading through Siskiyou National Forest. They don't look like something planned out to connect point a to point b, so much as a mess of spliced, crimped, and tangled threads left behind after a week-long sewing project.
posted by evidenceofabsence at 4:10 PM on February 2, 2015 [1 favorite]


They were mostly built to connect logging crews with stands of timber.
posted by Mars Saxman at 4:51 PM on February 2, 2015 [1 favorite]


I did wilderness search and rescue for 10 (and a bit) years. So a couple of comments on random stuff.

SAR, in general, easy to fund - in many places the people involved are volunteers and need only equipment (and, depending on the area, gas money) - and a bit of money from the state or local sheriff goes a very long way. It isn't hard to get people motivated to go spend a couple days in the woods - even with the possibility of a dead body (and body recovery - a slow and often difficult process) on the back end. And this isn't an every day thing (except in a few very popular wilderness areas). Helping the homeless is a daily committment, with few guarantees of success and often little other reward.

SAR people really don't like it when people are capable and just call for help because they're tired or want someone else to do the work. Those people should be billed nor only for the direct costs, but also the indirect costs (volunteers who take days off, for instance). But people who are really lost or injured (or dead), better to have trained SAR teams out looking than random people (who are just as likely to cause more problems). (There are exceptions - but they're fairly rare.) You want to help with an SAR mission? Bring food (check first to see how to do it), offer to ferry people around the search area in your car (check first to see whats needed). Donate to your local SAR team.

Bright orange is always good, but don't assume you're all that visible - I've been in a search plane and flew over search parties in orange vests and couldn't see them.

SAR people like sharing both their successes and their failures. It is a very good way to learn - someone else's disaster might help your team avoid a similar problem.
posted by Death and Gravity at 5:13 PM on February 2, 2015 [1 favorite]


The James Kim story is quite sad, but he did everything wrong you could possibly do wrong to get into the jam in the first place.

First he missed the turnoff onto the Roseburg-Coos Bay highway which would have taken them to their intended destination at Gold Beach. Instead of turning around and going back to the correct highway, they decided to continue on the inter-state to Grant's Pass. This was the first mistake.

Now at Grant's pass, they could have continued on the highway to Crescent City and back up and been at Gold Beach in a couple of hours. Instead he decided to take a one-lane gravel logging road short cut through the mountains in winter. That was his second mistake.

This logging road is not plowed and generally there is absolutely no traffic for most of the winter (this was December). Instead of turning around as the snow got deeper and deeper as he ascended the mountains, he continued to stubbornly plow on for more than 20 miles until they got stuck. This was his third and ultimately fatal mistake.

From that point he worked heroically to keep them alive, but he had multiple chances to avoid the situation in the first place. The sort of determination that keeps you persevering onward when things start looking bad can be a good trait in your work life but fatal in other circumstances.
posted by JackFlash at 5:16 PM on February 2, 2015 [4 favorites]


I'm extremely impressed that the S&R team's reaction after the fact was "we need to learn from this experience", rather than "oh, this guy was just an idiot".
As Death and Gravity indicated, an admirable hallmark of most mountaineers that I know is that there is a constant iterative drive to learn from both success and failure. Groups like the American Alpine Club produce accident yearbooks that describe every known climbing or mountaineering accident that results in a fatality or serious injury in almost forensic detail. The aim is not to be a source of morbid entertainment, but as an encyclopedia of process mistakes that could, if remembered properly, result in a saved life.
posted by bl1nk at 6:41 PM on February 2, 2015 [1 favorite]


Cool Papa Bell: "you wouldn't be standing in front of the Disneyland front gates going, "Can someone take me to San Diego?"

Do people just not hitch hike anymore? If I was at the lodge and needed to get to town I'd just stick out my thumb if there was any traffic at all.
posted by Mitheral at 6:45 PM on February 2, 2015


Hitch-hiking in the park is pretty easy - it's how seasonal workers and dirtbag climbers get around - but the nearest place he could have reliably found beer, nachos and shelter is an hour away, and he still would have had to get back up there to fetch his car.

I used to read 'Accidents in North American Mountaineering' in the library when I should have been studying but now, lo and behold it's indexed and online. Here e.g. are the kinds of things that have happened to people on Snowdome (& for the Columbia Icefields in general)
posted by Flashman at 7:28 PM on February 2, 2015 [1 favorite]


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